Sam Amick of SI.com offers this 2012-13 Northwest Division season preview, in which the Portland Trail Blazers are picked to finish fifth.
The rebuilding has begun for the Blazers, who are now under the leadership of former Clippers general manager Neil Olshey but won't be enjoying the fast track that he orchestrated at his previous job. Olshey tried, to be sure, making a max offer to restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert on July 1 that would have made the Blazers a contender, but Indiana matched. So Olshey focused on the draft, taking promising young point guard Damian Lillard (Weber State) at No. 6 and athletic center Meyers Leonard (Illinois) at No. 11. They both have serious potential, but will take some time to develop while playing major roles right away. Locking up his own restricted free agent, small forward Nic Batum, was an important move (yes, even at four years and $45 million) to keep the Lamarcus Aldridge-headed core in place. New coach Terry Stotts, who had a 115-168 record as head coach in Atlanta and Milwaukee but carries a solid reputation after serving as Rick Carlisle's assistant in Dallas, will be doing the developing on a day-to-day basis.
Is Damian Lillard for real? With Raymond Felton in New York and the Blazers looking to build their new young core, Portland was ecstatic to take the little-known point guard out of Weber State back in June. Despite hailing from a small school in the Big Sky Conference, Lillard showed off his shooting and slashing skills throughout the draft process and found his way up the boards faster than anyone. But now that he'll be looking after the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, Lillard will have to show he can handle a heavy load early on.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter