2012 NBA Off Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

2011-2012 Record: 28-38, 4th in Northwest Division
Stat Leaders: LaMarcus Aldridge, 21.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg. Raymond Felton, 6.5 apg. Marcus Camby, 1.4 bpg

Depth Chart

C - LaMarcus Aldridge
PF - Luke Babbitt
SF - Shawne Williams (PO)
SG - Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford (PO), Elliot Williams
PG - Nolan Smith

Restricted Free Agents: F Nicolas Batum
Unrestricted Free Agents: G Raymond Felton, C Hasheem Thabeet, G Jonny Flynn, FC Mehmet Okur, C Greg Oden, FC Kurt Thomas, FC JJ Hickson, F Craig Smith

2011-2012 Season Summary: Portland finally turned the page on the Brandon Roy and Greg Oden chapter, but their season quickly went south. Nate McMillan lost control of the team and ultimately his job. New acquisitions Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford were headaches. The team fell out of the playoff race halfway through the season and decided to hit reboot. They were able to trade away Gerald Wallace to the Nets in one of the worst trades in NBA history, and now could have a pick in the 4-6 spots in the first round because of it.

The Good: LaMarcus Aldridge continued to be a very productive big man, posting very similar statistics to his previous season. He is one of the best offensive big men in the NBA, with a variety of low post moves and a good jump shot with nice range. It seems like Nicolas Batum has been in the league for a while but is still only 22 years old. He continues to develop and should become a big part of the teams offense as their number two guy after Aldridge. Wesley Matthews is one of the best three point shooters in the NBA and a good third option. Without Crawford around next year he should put up some bigger numbers. JJ Hickson was a godsend after being plucked off the Sacramento Kings scrap heap. He put up some very impressive numbers late in the season when Portland had no one else to play center.

The Bad: The Blazers hoped to contend for championships led by dominating big man Greg Oden inside and the explosive Brandon Roy outside. They had to move on from both of those players for good before the season started, and they never could find an identity. Nate McMillan didn't last the season, and veterans Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton mostly sulked and pouted their way through the year. The Blazers got old and slow in a hurry, but were able to salvage a pointless season by landing another potential lottery pick. They could be right back into the thick of things next year.

Key Free Agents: It starts and ends with Nicolas Batum. Portland has been slow and steady in developing their prize youngster, and he looks like a breakout could happen at any time. He is a restricted free agent who will sign a big offer sheet that Portland will match. JJ Hickson was a very pleasant surprise and the team might want to resign him. They need bodies in the front court bad.

Projected Cap Space: $30,596,560. Assuming Jamal Crawford does not pick up his player option, there will only be six players under contract next season. Only LaMarcus Aldridge is making over 6.5 million. Even after resigning Nicolas Batum to a contract that could approach 10 million dollars a year, the team will have plenty of money to go after a maximum free agent or two really good players.

Amnesty Possibilities: None. The Blazers used their one time clause on Brandon Roy prior to the 2011-2012 season.

Andre Drummond may want to pray to the basketball
gods that he is not drafted by Portland.
Draft Possibilities: Unless New Jersey lands one of the top three picks, Portland will have picks 6 and 10. This draft is the key to rebuilding the Blazers in a hurry. The team is only set at the 3 and the 4 so they can go after any position. There are six guys in this draft with star potential. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond. Out of those six guys, I think it is most likely that Barnes or Drummond will be available when the Blazers pick at 6. I don't think Portland is salivating at the thought of adding either player, but both guys do fill needs. Drummond, of course, is the talented center with a load of question marks. Will a team that just went through the half decade Greg Oden saga really want to add another young big man with a load of questions? I think they would prefer to go after Barnes, who plays the same position as Batum but offers 20 ppg scoring potential. At 10 I think they would love to grab solid but unspectacular big man Tyler Zeller from North Carolina. He does not offer huge upside but it looks like he could be a quality starting center for the next 10 years. After what Portland has gone through they would love to have that. If they chose to try to get their point guard of the future, either Damian Lillard or Kendall Marshall could be there.

Free Agent Possibilities: Portland has plenty of cap space to go after two or three future starters. First of all, point guard must be addressed. The two big names out there are Deron Williams and Steve Nash. Portland definitely has the clout to throw a maximum deal at Williams, and he would form an interesting duo with LaMarcus Aldridge. The team would instantly be a contender with those two players to go along with the shooting of Batum and Matthews. But how interested is Williams in going to the Northwest? Nash doesn't make a ton of sense for a team that is going to be pretty young next year. Any team out there that doesn't land one of those two is going to go hard after Goran Dragic, who has shown time and time again he will make a good starting point guard in the NBA. He could be had for almost half of what Williams will cost. Portland also really needs a stabilizing presence in the middle. They have the cash to throw a front loaded offer sheet at someone like Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez, but more then likely they will sign a hard nosed role player type like Chris Kaman or Omir Asik to eat up minutes and catch elbows in the paint. Portland should save their money for a year or two while their two future draft picks develop.

Rebuilding, Contending or Status Quo?: Most definitely rebuilding. Like the Jazz in 2010-2011, Portland addressed that the guys they had weren't going to get the job done and wasted no time in rebuilding. And like Utah, they were able to use the Nets to accelerate the rebuilding process. With Aldridge and Batum, who are just now entering their prime, as their go to guys, two potential top ten picks and plenty of cap space, this is a team that should be right back in the thick of the playoff hunt as soon as next year.

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Jonathan Carrano

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