Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Portland Trail Blazers (Last Year: 33-49)
2012-13 Season Summary:
In a mini re-loading effort, the Portland Trail Blazers put a solid starting five on the floor this past season led by LeMarcus Aldridge. The addition of NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard provided an enormous spark and should solve the long-term point guard question for years to come. J.J Hickson picked up where he left off after signing with Portland midway through the previous season to provide an inside presence while Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum played their roles well.
Where the Trail Blazers really faltered was with their bench, which is easily the most talentless bunch in the NBA. The team averaged a league worst 18.5 points per game, which isn't surprising with the collection of no-namers and four rookie reserves head coach Terry Stotts was forced to put on the floor.
Still, Portland was in the playoff hunt in late March, but laid an egg down the stretch, ending the season on a 13-game losing streak. Injuries to Aldridge, Matthews, and Batum didn't help the situation and rather than ending the year on a high note, the Trail Blazers have limped into the offseason with very little momentum.
2013-14 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Meyers Leonard/Jeff Withey
PF: LeMarcus Aldridge/Thomas Robinson/Joel Freeland
SF: Nicolas Batum/Victor Claver
SG: Wesley Matthews/Will Barton/Allen Crabbe
PG: Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum
NBA Offseason Transactions:
The Blazers acquire PF-Thomas Robinson from the Rockets for the rights to Kostas Papanikolau and Marko Todorovic, and two future second-round picks.
NBA Free Agents:
SG-Sasha Pavlovic (UFA)
C-J.J. Hickson (UFA)
SF-Luke Babbitt (UFA)
SG-Elliott Williams (UFA)
PG-Nolan Smith (UFA)
PF-Jared Jeffries (UFA)
2013-14 Team Salary: Approximately $42.4 million
NBA Offseason Team Needs:
1. Depth. Everywhere:
Priority No. 1 is adding some improved depth and talent off the bench. As you look at the depth chart entering next season, who is Portland's sixth man? Eric Maynor (who is a restricted free agent?) Will Barton? Ish. The Trail Blazers must get more out of their reserves at every position to take some of the pressure off the starting five and be better prepared in case of injury. With a good amount of cap space and a lottery pick, Portland has the ability to target some affordable veterans in free agency and another young piece to improve the second unit.
2. Physical Inside Presence:
With J.J. Hickson a free agent and surely due a significant pay raise and long-term deal, the Trail Blazers have a decision to make as to whether he is worth signing to a pricey extension or just let him walk. If Hickson does not return, Portland must find a physical presence down low to play alongside the softer LeMarcus Aldridge since Meyers Leonard is nowhere near ready to assume that role.
3. Draft Better:
Look at the list of free agents; you see three recent first-round picks who have pretty much been busts in Nolan Smith, Elliott Williams, and Luke Babbitt. Busts to the point that Portland decided not to exercise its team option and none even reached restricted free agent status. The Trail Blazers obviously hit a homerun with Lillard last year, and the jury is still out on Leonard, but with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Portland needs to find someone who can develop into a solid player and not somebody who ends up being off the team in two or three years.
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