ESPN: Blazers Rise To No. 14 In "Future Power Rankings"

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The Portland Trail Blazers rank No. 14 in ESPN.com's latest "Future Power Rankings."

The Portland Trail Blazers rose to No. 14 in ESPN.com's latest "Future Power Rankings" after placing No. 23 back in August 2012.

The "Future Power Rankings" -- compiled by Amin Elhassan, Chad Ford, Tom Haberstroh and Kevin Pelton -- assess the potential of current players, the quality and stability of management, the team's salary cap situation, the appeal of the team's market and the team's upcoming Draft picks.

Here's KP2's explanation for Portland's placement.

After trending backward throughout Future Power Rankings history, the Blazers made a move in the right direction thanks to Damian Lillard's Rookie of the Year campaign. While Lillard might not have the upside of some of the younger players in last year's draft, he provides a long-term answer at a position that had been problematic in Portland since the Damon Stoudamire era.

Last year's Blazers featured a competitive starting five and the worst bench in recent memory. Luke Babbitt was the only Portland reserve to rate better than replacement level; collectively, they were 10 wins worse than replacement level. So the Blazers must improve the second unit and fill the starting center spot with J.J. Hickson almost certain to leave as a free agent. After upgrading the offense immediately, head coach Terry Stotts must also produce similar improvement at the defensive end.

There's urgency to win soon because of LaMarcus Aldridge's contract. Aldridge can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015, and teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets could have cap space to bring him back to his native Texas.

If Portland doesn't return to the playoffs next year -- a challenge in the West -- Aldridge could begin putting subtle pressure on GM Neil Olshey to find a trade lest he walk. Since Aldridge is the oldest member of the Blazers' core, that wouldn't be a disaster, but the team would be challenged to get equal value in return.

This year's top-five: Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. This year's bottom-five: Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats.

The Blazers were ranked No. 13 in February 2012, No. 10 in March 2011, No. 5 in March 2010 and No. 1 in November 2009.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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