So with all eyes intensely focused on all things playoffs, I thought now would be a good time to look a little farther ahead. It’s as easy to look back on a failed postseason and say blow it up the same as a successful one makes you want to keep everybody, regardless of if it’s good for the team. So while we are all focused on the now and the ship hasn’t sunk, let us take a look at what the future of this team will be. And--something to keep in mind-- I, for one, have always been a very optimistic, glass half-full kind of guy so I’m going to assume that this CBA dispute will work itself out with little or no impact on the 2011-2012 NBA season (and all thoughts will not include the draft, as I am horrible with knowing anything about the draft class and it’s a bigger unknown than all others, given Portland’s liking to trade up on for better positioning).
more after the jump......
For starters, let’s take a look at who is, without a doubt, going to be here next season. Currently, the Blazers will be welcoming back LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and Armon Johnson. At first glance, not a bad line up until you notice the glaring weakness in the point guard position. All of us have been talking about the much needed PGOTF and many have thought that the Blazers have a shot at landing the likes of CP3. Given how successful his team has been this year, I doubt that he will be demanding a trade as has been rumored in the past. One move I would love to see is trying to land Deron Williams. He is a distance shooting point guard, something the Blazers would love to have, and seems to have a fondness of Wesley Matthews. Combine that with the fact that he probably would love to come back to the west and slap the Jazz around also makes the idea promising. Now, he is under contract next season with 2012-2013 being a player option so making a move for him would have to wait but that also gives Portland some time to try and make some cap space for him and to figure out how to compete with NY as a venue. Admitting that that is a big pipe dream – given the most likely pursuit of Oden – I would love to see Portland bring Andre Miller back. For somebody his age, his body is in amazing shape and his BBIQ is off the charts. This season has seen him break out into a much need veteran leader and that is something that Portland is going to need for a while, at least until our core guys can find their own voices a little more. He has also stated that he would love to continue playing until he’s 40—not that I would take him at that age—but I honestly don’t see THAT much downside to keeping him around for another 2 or 3 years. If Portland isn’t able to land a proven point guard then I can think of nobody better on this roster to teach an up-and-comer the tricks of the trade (insert flashback to the fake timeout).
While on the PG topic, I do not see Patty Mills making a return next season. He is a great energy player that can change the tempo but with Nate leaning more on Roy as a back-up than Mills, I sadly think this is his last year with the team. I love the guy to death and he seems to have played a big part in bringing guys together like nobody else has but Portland is not going to be wasting cap space for such a player, not while chasing a title. Now, the flip side is that I believe Rudy should get an offer due to him being both an energy guy and a scorer (but he NEEDS to be more consistent and prove his worth next year). But how likely is he to stick around if he sees yet another great friend either shipped off and shown the door? We spent an insane amount of time this past offseason talking about him and his poor attitude and I doubt the organization wants a repeat of that. That will be an interesting situation to say the least, but Portland should at least make a play.
The next major position that Portland has to sum up is the glaring hole at center. Camby is a superb player, especially for his age, and another one of those excellent veteran guys. But, as stated, he is getting up there and I believe next year will be his last in a Blazer jersey. With all the question marks hanging over the Oden situation, Portland is not going to be quick to get rid of their one and only true center. Personally, I believe Oden is worth the $8.8 million offer but it better be full of injury and production related incentives. Now if Oden will show loyalty to a franchise that has hung with him during these tough times is another article entirely but the optimist in me thinks he wants to give the Blazers one more shot. And if his contract is not something out of this world and he doesn’t work out the way they would like, I am more than confident that the Houstons of the league would be willing to offer him a home come trade time. If the Blazers are not able to make a home for Oden next season, I think the best player to go after would be Marc Gasol. With Memphis throwing money all over the place for the likes of Rudy Gay and Zack Randolph, and the unknown of next year’s cap situation, I’m optimistic about the Grizzlies not quite being able to make it work. But again, I will admit that that is another pipe dream.
After those two big positions, it really turns into a matter of who is an important part of this team. With the final game of the season being an exhibition match between the two team’s benches, we were able to see who might be worth a shot (though I am aware it wasn’t the best measuring stick). Nate has pretty much stuck to a simple 8 man rotation while everybody is healthy and I believe that is for very good reason. Nobody else can be trusted. Luke Babbitt will probably turn into a trade filler if he can’t get his nerves under control. Armon is an extremely predictable player and not what Portland probably thought they were getting when they selected him so I wouldn’t mind seeing him lumped into a draft day agreement. Chris Johnson is a keeper; just give him unlimited spending power at the buffet line. His BBIQ is up there but he just needs to spend some time on an actual NBA team to reach his potential. Elliot William showed flashes in the preseason that he will be a good fit for this team, is an unknown on the big stage, but deserves his chance to prove his worth. Given that Portland needs more proven players on the bench to lighten the load for the starters, Jeff Pendergraph should be expected to make a return next year. Right now, there is really nobody that can be a solid 2nd at the PF for LaMarcus to get good rest; Jeff would provide just that. He is also extremely loyal, keeping up with the team on twitter and even lending his hand on Talkin’ Ball during the regular season. And if Mills and Rudy are not brought/extended, Portland should look for somebody the likes of JJ Reddick that can be a scoring option to stretch the defense of the bench.
One last tidbit before this wraps up. Brandon Roy has not been himself this season, which we can all agree on. Many have been crying for his head due to his defensive weakness and inability to score like the days of old. But at the same time, that is to be expected. The type of player Roy was makes it extremely difficult for him to adjust midseason, especially seeing as that he sat on the sidelines for a chunk of the season and had to watch the team grow without him. We would all love to see him be the player he once was but it is unrealistic to expect greatness from him right now. If there is the much talked about clause that would allow a team to buy out a player’s contract and wipe it from the books, Roy is not the player that should be used on. Give him the time in the offseason to get all the voices out of his head and to work on whatever game-style he feels he needs to develop. Next year, we will see a different Roy; a more confident one who knows exactly what he needs to be. But to ask him to flip a switch and change his game midseason after an injury is just too much to ask of anyone. So have faith in that regard.