The Portland Trail Blazers have had a rough past couple of weeks. First, Brandon Roy, once the face of their franchise and still beloved, was forced into medical retirement because of ongoing knee issues. Then, center Greg Oden had another set-back after signing a one-year deal to remain with the team. If that wasn’t enough, the heart issue that scared power forward and team leader LaMarcus Aldridge in his rookie season returned, putting him on the precautionary shelf for a couple of weeks. Despite these nightmarish occurrences, though, Portland’s current roster can make some noise during this lockout-shortened season.
Portland got younger at the point and shooting guard positions, trading for Raymond Felton at the cost of fan-favorite Andre Miller while also drafting Nolan Smith.
Felton should spread the floor more on offense than Miller did, partly because he is a better — though still not great — three-point shooter. Though Miller was extremely durable, so much so that he could probably play for many more years, the Blazers acquired fresher and faster legs to utilize the speed and athleticism of other players.
A hole is left due to Roy’s sad departure from the NBA, but Portland should make due. They are in the hunt for Jamal Crawford, who is choosing between suitors. Crawford, a proven albeit streaky shooter, would benefit the Blazers greatly. They haven’t had a player who can spread the floor and shoot threes. Nicolas Batum has a dependable stroke from deep, but Wesley Matthews is far from a specialist. Crawford would give Portland what it lacks — instant offense. The team does have intriguing, though unproven options to get time at the point and shooting guard positions in Smith and Elliot Williams in the event that Crawford signs elsewhere, and it would be nice to see what these two first-round draft picks can do.
Considering that Aldridge has increasingly lived in the post the past couple seasons, having players who could stretch out defenses and launch accurately from 25-feet would make Portland multidimensional and that much more dangerous. The inside-outside game would drastically improve.
Rumors swirl that Portland is in discussions to trade small forward Gerald Wallace for three draft picks, but if the versatile and energetic 29-year-old is held onto the team is set at this position. Between he and Batum, the Blazers have the right mix of finesse and uncanny aggressiveness. Both are very exceptional defensively along with being dependable offensively. Wallace is the more versatile of the two, as he is able to play power forward effectively, which helped Portland greatly last season and undoubtedly should continue to reap benefits.
Aldridge, if he quickly recovers from his heart issue, will be the guy once more in Portland. He came into his own in Roy’s absence and has grown ten-fold over the past two seasons. As previously mentioned, he is far from the one-dimensional jump-shooter of old, with an always increasing amount of moves in the post. He has adequate depth behind him, too.
Wallace, in some scenarios, qualifies, as does Chris Johnson, who provided a spark last season, as well as the recently signed Kurt Thomas, and Earl Barron. Johnson is the most intriguing of the three true power forwards behind Aldridge, providing length and a tremendous work ethic. He added 18 pounds to his lanky frame, bulking up and ready for an increased role and increased production. Signed from the Developmental League last season, he is one of their more energetic players. A major factor in how Portland fairs this season could rest on how much or how little head coach Nate McMillan utilizes what he brings to the table.
Though it is difficult to rule out Portland making a move for a center, this is the most clear-cut position depth-wise. There isn’t much depth to speak of, unfortunately. There was the hope that Greg Oden would be healthy entering the season, but a recent set-back may cause the recently re-signed former first-round pick to miss the entire 2011-2012 season. This forces Marcus Camby to carry most of the load. He will have Aldridge’s help in some lineups, but Thomas is 39 and neither Johnson nor Barron appear equipped to play the center position for long stretches.
What could make the problematic situation at center less so is what Portland is asking for at every position — good health. The team has been riddled with injuries through the years, and it is due, with many players in their primes or just scratching the surface, for a injury-free season. Regardless of whether Crawford is added or not, the Blazers have a solid core that can contend in the always brutal Western Conference. The team is in a rough patch right now emotionally, with the news regarding Oden, Aldridge, and especially Roy still being processed, but the outlook is once again bright for the current roster.