Blazer fans, unite and be strong. It will be a rough season; there can be no denying that. The Western Conference is better and deeper than last season—and we all know how good it was last year—and unfortunately, the Blazers are worse. The good thing is, for a fan there is always a silver lining and a bright spot.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR
The Blazers looked like it had it all going for them. For years, the starting five was considered one of the best in the league, with depth being the issue always confronting the Blazers. Adding Chris Kaman and Steve Blake helped alleviate some of those, and the results were positive; the Blazers were one of the top three teams in the West and had home court advantage in the first round.
Then, injuries ran rampant. Damian injured his shooting hand. LaMarcus Aldridge tore a ligament in his hand. Robin Lopez broke his hand. Nic Batum injured his knee, then his wrist and then sprained his back. Kaman, who had done an admirable job in place of Lopez, had to sit out with a right ankle sprain and then a shoulder sprain. Through it all, the Blazers somehow persevered and maintained the No. 4 seed.
If good health and the right matchups had presented themselves in the playoffs, the Blazers could have made it to the Finals, and if the Blazers made it to the Finals, they had a chance to win a championship. This was not wishful thinking; it was a realistic scenario that the organization was banking on. To give themselves the best chance, the Blazers needed to get just a bit deeper and a whole lot healthier.
The mid-season acquisition of Arron Afflalo seemed to be just what the Blazers needed. They gave up Will Barton along with two other young players and a first-round pick to get the eight-year vet. Afflalo was supposed to be the leader off the bench, the guy that could carry the second unit. Instead, Afflalo was thrust into the starting role after Wes Matthews went down with a season-ending Achilles tear. Did I mention that injuries ravaged the Blazers title dreams?
Fast forward to the playoffs, and the injury bug was still biting. Afflalo injured his shoulder before the playoffs began and would only play from Game 3 on in the Memphis series.
The good that came out of all the injuries is that it forced Stott’s hand in giving heavy minutes to young players like C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard. Give credit to the youngsters, they performed well and gave Portland plenty of hope that both could develop into household names.
What Happened This Summer
The playoff window closed for Portland, as only one starter remains on the roster. Lopez went to New York, Aldridge to San Antonio, Matthews to Dallas and Batum to Charlotte.
The Blazers had a very good starting five that many said played above their potential. Player for player, the Blazers did not have the best starting five in the league. However, when one took the sum of the parts, the Blazers outperformed most of the league’s starting units.
If there is one thing I have learned in life, there is no use crying over spilled milk. Dwelling on the past is not productive, nor is it particularly pleasant. Instead, it is better to look towards the future. And the future looks bright, albeit a bit young.
The Blazers acquired three new big men in Ed Davis, Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh and added two new wings with Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson. I will go into much more depth next week about each one of the new acquisitions and why Portland fans should be excited about them, but I would like to focus on one in particular.
KEY PLAYER TO WATCH: AL-FAROUQ AMINU
Not only am I excited for this new acquisition, President of Basketball Operations for the Blazers Neil Olshey is also. Since his days with the Los Angeles Clippers Olshey has been high on Aminu (Olshey was the one to draft Aminu) and has even called Aminu a “perfect fit” with Portland.
Aminu is entering his sixth year in the league and is only getting better. The 25-year-old, 6-10 small forward is athletic, aggressive, and an all-around animal. He is expected to be the glue guy who does a little bit of everything (a la Nic Batum) while defending the other teams best player.
The Blazers wanted to get younger at the small forward position (While Batum is only 26, he has been playing professionally overseas since he was a teen and has seen a steady decline in athleticism the past couple of years). Mission accomplished. Aminu is locked in with the Blazers for the next four years, and if one looks at where Aminu did best (in Dallas surrounded by shooters), one can only be excited as Portland could be the perfect fit for him.
Listen. No one is going to sit here and try to convince anyone that the Blazers will fight for a position in the Western Conference playoffs this year. As a fan of the game and a fan of the team, I will not go into any win total predictions, that just will not happen. Undeniably, Portland won’t match last year’s 54 wins.
I also won’t sit here and drop clichés like “we just want to see the young guys develop” or “the most important thing is to see progress.”
It is what it is, and life will be rough from a rational Blazer fans perspective. That’s all the part of being a fan, though. You grit through the pain and bask in the glory. More important than anything is seeing the future. The Blazers have a plan in motion, and things like that take time. I’m excited about the pieces in place, however, as I believe that the Blazers have something special in Damian Lillard, and the surrounding guys seem to have a bit of that something special too.