How Far Away Are Portland Trail Blazers from Being Playoff Regulars Again?

Michael DulkaContributor IMay 1, 2013

Apr 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With a solid offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers will be back to being playoff regulars starting next year. The Blazers have missed the playoffs the last two seasons after making it three straight times.

The Blazers aren't far away from being consistent contenders in the Western Conference. 

The core of Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge will only get better having now played together for a full calendar year. The challenge this summer will be to put talent around that group at a low cost. 

Portland wasn't that far away from the playoffs this season. Yes, they finished 12 games back of the eighth seed, but this team was more competitive than their 33-49 mark indicates. 

For much of the year, the Blazers played good basketball and even took down some of the top teams in the league. They manhandled the Spurs 136-106 in San Antonio and went on to win the season series, 2-1. 

During the regular season, the Blazers beat 12 of the 16 playoff teams at least once, including the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference.

This was supposed to be a fairly significant rebuilding year for the franchise, but Lillard threw those plans out the window with his incredible play. His immediate impact has this team thinking they can compete among the best in the league next season.

In order to do so, the Blazers need a strong summer.  

While the Portland will look to bring in new talent this summer, they also have heavy decisions upcoming on point guard Eric Maynor and power forward/center J.J. Hickson. How they spend their money will go a long way in determining the fate of this basketball team. 

While Aldridge has been the leader since Brandon Roy's career crumbled with knee injuries, the team has to shift toward Lillard being the captain. Aldridge is still a perennial All-Star, but the Blazers will only go as far as their rising point guard will take them. 

The Blazers need to use their offseason to bring in some depth in order to solidify their bench. This team has enough talent to make a run at the playoffs in 2013-14 with just a few additions, but it will take one more significant offseason in the summer of 2014 to cement their status as an annual playoff team. 

Portland is at a very fragile tipping point for the franchise. This offseason, next year and the following offseason will determine where the franchise is truly headed.