John Hollinger of ESPN.com offers his annual preseason projection for the 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers, predicting 27 wins and a tied-13th finish in the Western Conference.
There's a chance the Blazers could ride strong years from Aldridge and Batum, good health, a solid rookie campaign from Lillard, and a strong home-court advantage to the eighth seed in the playoffs. Not one I'd bet on, but a chance. That's the good news.
More realistically, it looks like the Blazers can plan on another high draft pick this June. For starters, the history of rookie point guards is that they get torn to shreds. They learn from it and come out the other end a lot better a year later, but unless you've got Chris Paul or Magic Johnson, chances are he'll take his lumps. I'd say Lillard falls firmly in the non-Magic category.
Second, any health problems are going to be a real issue because the depth just isn't there. Perhaps it all will come together, but too many players here are either unproven (Lillard, Leonard, Claver, Freeland and Smith) or proven but not in a good way (Jeffries, Babbitt, Price and Pavlovic).
Don't be surprised if the Blazers deal Matthews at midseason, which would allow them to take another spin on the free-agent wheel in 2013. This is particularly true if the young guards play well. Remember, soon the clock will start ticking on Aldridge and his 2015 free agency, and this program will have to show results.
In the meantime, look for league-average offense thanks to Aldridge and Stotts' playbook, subpar defense, and another trip to the lottery.
Thanks to thebiglg in the FanShots.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter