Playoffs: Did not qualify
Draft picks: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton
Signings/trades: Victor Claver (2009 draft pick), Joel Freeland (2006 draft pick), Jared Jeffries, Ronnie Price, Sasha Pavlovic
Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Jonny Flynn, Craig Smith, Kurt Thomas, Hasheem Thabeet, Joel Przybilla
Projected starting lineup
C - Meyers Leonard
PF - LaMarcus Aldridge
SF - Nicolas Batum
SG - Wesley Matthews
PG - Damian Lillard
What to expect
A few years ago, the Portland Trail Blazers looked like one of the strongest up-and-coming teams in the league. Greg Oden was beginning to develop, Aldridge was turning into a star and Brandon Roy was looking like one of the best guards in the league. Oh, how things change.
Due to incessant injuries, Oden and Roy's careers as Trail Blazers were cut short. Oden was finally waived last March and Roy retired after 2010-11 season (he has since returned and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves). That left Portland with Aldridge and a bunch of unproven talent around him.
That being said, the Blazers look to be on the path to redemption.
With Aldridge's continued development and the improvement of players like Batum (whom the team paid a nice sum of money for this offseason, via ESPN.com) and Matthews, Portland has a nice-looking nucleus yet again. It added rookies Lillard and Leonard to the mix, and some feel that Lillard, not Anthony Davis, may actually end up being the best player to come out of the 2012 draft class. Not only that, but the Trail Blazers also drafted Barton out of Memphis in the second round, a player many feel could be one of the draft's biggest steals.
What Portland lacks in experience it makes up for in young talent, and that should make it one of the more interesting teams to watch this season. How will these young guys gel? Is it possible that the Blazers could end up being a legitimate contender in a couple years?
The biggest problem with the Trail Blazers lies in their depth. They really don't have much of a bench, with past draft picks like Freeland and Claver finally coming from overseas to headline Portland's pine. Yes, there is J.J. Hickson, but that's about it, unless Barton steps up in his rookie year.
Still, I don't think a lack of depth is too big of a concern with the Blazers right now. They know they are not ready to contend for anything just yet, so they are more worried about the progression of youngsters like Lillard and Leonard and seeing someone like Batum have a breakout year. Plus, should Portland earn a top-12 pick in this year's draft (through the Gerald Wallace trade in 2011, the Charlotte Bobcats own the rights to the pick if it is outside the top 12, via ESPN.com), it will have an opportunity to add to its talent pool.
This is a year to merely watch the young guns develop around Aldridge. There is absolutely no pressure on the Trail Blazers to make any sort of run for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Key player: Lillard
With not much quality behind the rookie at his position, the reigns at point guard will completely belong to Lillard for the 2012-13 season.
The question about Lillard is whether or not he is a true floor general. He was a prolific scorer at Weber State, averaging 24.5 points per game in his final season. He only averaged four assists in that last year—his best mark in college. Of course, he was by far the most talented player on his roster, so Weber State needed him to score. But will he be able to learn the "true" point guard role in the pros?
Personally, I don't think he'll have much of an issue with it. Take a look at Russell Westbrook. No one really considers him to be a "true" point guard, and yet he is still widely renowned as one of the elite players in the game. Lillard can be that type of player. I'm not saying he's a carbon copy of Westbrook, because really, he's not much like him, but he can be an elite scorer at the point guard position.
With the lack of overall depth on the roster, Lillard has a big opportunity to prove himself right out of the gate. He is a prime candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Many feel Barton should stayed in school an extra year, but regardless, he ended up on an NBA roster, and one that should give him a great opportunity, to boot.
I'm honestly not too sure how Barton slipped all the way to No. 40 in the draft. After all, this is a versatile wing who averaged 18 points off 51 percent shooting during his second and final year at Memphis. Not only that, but he pulled down eight boards per game. Barton possesses the tools to be a very solid defender on the next level, as well.
The 21-year-old should get plenty of playing time during his rookie year, as he is Portland's primary shooting guard behind Matthews. Don't be surprised to see him eventually overtake Matthews in that starting role in a couple of years, too. The kid has very nice potential.
Playoffs: Will not qualify
It's pretty tough to gauge the Blazers this season, but unless Aldridge has a prime Kevin Garnett/Tim Duncan type year or Lillard breaks the rookie mold, it's difficult to see them faring much better than 30-35 wins.
There is certainly talent here, but the lack of experience and depth will be what ultimately makes Portland one of the bottom-feeders in the West this year. However, with the right draft picks and offseason moves, the Trail Blazers could very well be a force in a couple seasons. We all know what Aldridge can do, and if guys like Lillard, Leonard and Barton impress while players such as Batum and Matthews improve, Portland is going to be pretty good soon.
This year, though, in an ever-improving Western Conference, it's hard to imagine the Blazers being anything more than an exciting group of young guys to watch.
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