How quickly the landscape changes. Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers lost in the playoffs to the eventual-champ Dallas Mavericks. It was a disappointment, Portland was entering the playoff a dominant team. The second half of their season had been much better after acquiring Gerald Wallace. Entering last season, even with the disappointment of losing Brandon Roy to "retirement", the Blazers were expected to still be competitive. Instead, Portland played sub-.500 basketball, finishing 11th in the West. This season expects to be even worse. 11th in the West would probably be a pretty solid result for the Blazers, who find themselves rebuilding once again.
Luckily for Portland fans, among the most passionate in the NBA, this doesn't look like it should be a particularly lengthy rebuild. LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as one of the top power forwards in the game. A true franchise player that Portland can build around.
The Blazers also retained restricted free agent Nicolas Batum, matching the 4-year, $46 million offer sheet Batum signed with Minnesota. The issue with retaining Batum is whether or not he'll live up to the contract. Despite leading all Olympians in groin-punches, it remains to be seen if Batum will continue to grow and develop beyond what he currently is on the court. Personally, I think there's something there. I'm not sure if it's worth that contract, but it's a risk worth taking for Portland. I don't fault them at all. Of course, the entire way Portland handled Batum's contract was a mess. SB Nation's Mike Prada covers it nicely here.
The Blazers also picked up Damian Lillard with the 6th overall pick in the draft, which someday might be considered the steal of the draft. Lillard is likely to be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year, especially if the Blazers exceed expectations. Lillard, Aldridge and Batum give Portland a clear core group to build around. It's just the rest of the roster that gets ugly fast.
Portland might have found a cure for the common Hickson. By retaining J.J. Hickson on a one-year deal, they encourage him to keep playing like it's a contract year. Of course, he was entering a contract year in Sacramento, and was waived outright by midseason. I look forward to Hickson completely checking out when Portland gets off to a slow start.
The Blazers also picked up Meyers Leonard in the draft, a solid candidate for the "First Name And Last Name Should Be Swapped" all-stars. I wasn't impressed with Leonard at the draft, but he played ok in Summer League and probably won't be completely awful. He is very raw, though, and will probably get to learn some lessons the hard way this season.
Wesley Matthews has disappointed in Portland, but should be fine for what the team currently is. Beyond that, this team is woefully thin. The team is expected to give meaningful minutes to players like Sasha Pavlovic, Ronnie Price, Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, and Jared Jeffries. Yikes.
I expect the Blazers to contend for one of the worst records in the West. A last place finish in the West isn't out of the question, especially if any one of Portland's big three miss any length of time with injuries. Lillard's potential for immediate impact, and respect for LaMarcus Aldridge are the only things that make me think the Blazers will avoid absolute last place.