Blogger Season Preview - Portland Trail Blazers

Welcome to my blogger preview for fans of the other teams in the NBA, part of Jeff at Celtics Blog's ongoing series.  If you're a regular Blazers Edge reader, you probably could have written this for me.  Oh well, without further ado...

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Portland Trail Blazers

Last Year's Record: 41-41

Key Losses: Jarrett Jack, James Jones, Darius Miles, Josh McRoberts, Von Wafer, Rehabbing Greg Oden

Key Additions: Healthy Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, About 15,000 Bandwagon fans, Nicolas Batum, Ike Diogu

1.  What significant moves were made during the offseason?

In the past month, I've heard the Presidential candidates debate ad naseum whether to use a "hatchet" or a "scalpel" to reform government.  I think it's safe to say that General Manager Kevin Pritchard and Assistant GM Tom Penn are scalpel-wielding roster-reformers.  Every move they make is precise and accurate. Like watching a surgeon dissect a dead animal, it's a thing of beauty. What?

The major moves this off-season were: allowing James Jones to leave, trading Jarrett Jack, drafting Jerryd Bayless and convincing Rudy Fernandez to come to America.

Already, it's looking like Pritchard is 4 for 4: Jones is down injured again, Jack's absence cleans up Portland's busy guard rotation, Jerryd Bayless proved to be a steal with the #11 pick by immediately taking home the Vegas Summer League MVP, and Rudy Fernandez has already impregnated half of Portland's women with his mind.  

The sum total of all these moves: the roster is younger, more talented, better balanced and with an added European flair. Don't underestimate the flair. 

Aside from that, there were two other season-long stories that finally played out this summer: exit Darius Miles, enter healthy Greg Oden.   Again, Pritchard goes 2 for 2.

When we look back in 5 years, this summer will be seen as the time that Pritchard made the leap from draft-day genius to all-around wunderkind. KP is so locked in right now it's ridiculous. If he ran for mayor of Portland, he'd win with Fidel Castro like numbers. His campaign slogan: "You Already Know."

2.  What are the team's biggest strengths?

Not to go all Jay Bilas on you, but this year's Blazers' biggest strengths are depth, length, and versatilathleticism. 

Even with Martell Webster out until 2009, just reading the team's roster is enough to send Don Nelson back to the fridge for another beer (or 12): Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw, Channing Frye... put those five together and you've got 100 yards of arms. Good luck game-planning against any combination of those five.  

And more good luck to your second team when Frye, Outlaw and, say, Rudy and Jerryd Bayless converge on your scrubs like pterodactyls.

In all of that carnage and beauty, don't overlook consummate professionals (ok, fine, "white guys") Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla, who bring their consistent brand of do-it-the-right-way ball night in and night out.  Stabilizing influences are a good thing.  At least that's what my psychiatrist tells me. Every week. Twice a week. (Actually, three times a week if you count the mandatory phone session.)

So basically our biggest strengths are everything.  Did I mention Brandon Roy?  He's an All Star. He's really good.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Ike Diogu's midnight snack cravings. 

Not really.

Injuries.  Duh. Just about every name mentioned above, which is just about every name on the roster, has missed time or been on the operating table for SOMETHING in the past 12-18 months.  Oden, Roy, Aldridge Webster, Frye, Blake.  Indeed, injuries are the Achilles Heel for this team.  

Swing and a miss.

Thanks to the team's depth this year, the Blazers should be able to withstand injuries much better than in the past. Unless Steve Blake goes down.  Then the team either turns the ball over (get it?) to Sergio Rodriguez/Jerryd Bayless or is forced to slide Brandon Roy over to the one, playing out of position. Either option is not a good one for this team's playoff chances.  Does this make Steve Blake the team's MVP?  No.  But it does make him dang important to its success and hopes for the playoffs.

Aside from the question at the 1, the biggest weakness is at the 3.  With Webster out for the calendar year, Rudy and Travis Outlaw will both get plenty minutes, plenty shots.  This should help both Rudy's acclimation process and Travis's ego. Double swell, at least for the short-term.  How this shakes out once Martell returns, however, is still an open question.  That could get awkward.

Most likely (and hopefully for Blazers fans), a trade involving Raef Lafrentz's Expiring Corpse Contract, will help clear up the questions at the 3.

(Footnote: Lack of experience is clearly another major weakness.  But it's still a season early, in my opinion, to be focusing on that.)  

4. What are the goals for this team?

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs. 

We haven't done anything until we've made the

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

We are a young team and last year we didn't even make the

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

With our guys a year older and more experienced we expect to make the

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

With Greg Oden added into the mix, that should be good for an extra 5 or 6 wins, so we should have no trouble sneaking in to the 

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

Coach McMillan and Kevin Pritchard are really starting to rub off on me.  I am almost fully indoctricated. All that's left is getting 15 = 16 tattooed on my forehead. Give it about a week and a half.

5. What's the over/under on number of games Greg Oden plays?

This is the question that no one in the Portland media wants to touch with a 10 foot pole. But it needs to be asked. Personally I'd set the line at 60.5.  

If Greg makes it through 3/4 of the season, this team should be a lock for the playoffs, even in the tough Western Conference.  On the other hand, if he's down for long stretches, the team's offense will look entirely different.  What can I say?  For some reason, Joel Przybilla simply doesn't rim rock or draw double teams like big GO.  

With the exception of his AAU days, Greg has never played 60 games in such a short period of time.  He still appears out of shape in preseason games.  His offensive shot is rusty.  He's a question mark.  

But he's a 7 foot question mark that can bam it on your face. He's a question mark the team is thrilled to finally have.  He's a question mark that Blazers fans can't wait to see turn into the answer to their playoff dreams. 

Predicted Record:

49-33, first round of the playoffs.  

Hopefully this doesn't turn out to be a jinx. I'm not sure how jinxes work, but hopefully this isn't one of them.  I'm crossing my fingers (or double-crossing? hmm...)

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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