Can Portland Contend With This Group?

Perhaps this is the question that stimulated the LaMarcus Aldridge trade talks. Fans that think Aldridge should be traded generally don't believe that this group of players can ever contend for a title, which is a completely fair argument. Left and right you see teams breaking up their core of players, knowing that it is a wasted effort to keep them together. Is that something Portland should do? The Blazers have stayed strong with their group thus far.

Right now Portland has two All-Star caliber players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Recent history shows that a duo of two isn't enough to contend. Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire couldn't get over that hump. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming weren't on that level. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, John Starks and Patrick Ewing, the list goes on. Of course there were duos that did succeed at contending and winning championships. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O`Neal come to mind right away. The thing is, those guys are superstars, and we are going to safely assume that Lillard and Aldridge don't reach their level of dominance for now. They are two All-Star caliber players, that's it.

When I refer to "this group", I am referring to only a small amount of the team. those players being Lillard, Aldridge, Batum, McCollum and Robinson. This is Portland's best three players, and two guys that are young and haven't stepped on the court in a Blazers uniform. If the Trail Blazers aren't going to blow this roster up, that doesn't mean no one on the team in expendable. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez aren't safe from being traded. This only means that the Blazers very best won't be moved.

The Trail Blazers will need either someone to step up, add talent without breaking up the main pieces on the team or both. All eyes on Nicolas Batum... It is concerning that Batum's per 36 minutes PPG average fell 3 points from the 2011-12 season to the 2012-13 season. His PER and field goal percentage both dropped notably. It is hard to blame Batum for his drop in production last season. After all, Damian Lillard's arrival definitely takes away from Batum's scoring opportunities, and maybe he should take some of the blame for Batum's efficiency dropping, as his point guard skills aren't anywhere as good as they can be. Batum still has to step it up and needs to be more involved. Next season is the season where it all has to come together for him, all of this potential that has been discussed about him for the past few years has to start turning into results.

Will the Blazers once again be a middle of the pack team? It's very likely, but hold up for just one second. If there is one year that you want to be an average NBA team, it's 2014. The strength of the 2014 draft is just that good, or at least advertised to be that good. Same thing right? What I'm getting at is the chances of Portland picking up a really solid player in the middle of the first round will be much higher. This allows them to build and keep this group in tact. It is vital that Portland hits a home run with next year's pick, the opportunity will be there at a good spot. The Blazers don't have to be major contenders in the 2013-2014 season, but some major progress should be shown in season after that point.

There is still the possibility of the Blazers hitting the 2014 free agency. They will be able to free up at least around 10 million in cap space while keeping the main components of the team together. Larry Sanders, Andrew Bogut and Eric Bledsoe are all somewhat realistic targets for the Blazers.

Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum are young and promising, but as of now they aren't going to start or get huge minutes. So unless this team blows up its roster, it is very important that these young guys keep their head on straight and accept their roles on the team. If they stick with that, the could definitely be the first ones off the bench.

To sum it up, a lot of things will have to go Portland's way for them to be serious contenders with this group. It won't happen this season, and if it doesn't happen in 2015, the front office should really consider blowing things up. Tank for Seventh Woods? I kid, but this season is definitely one to look forward to in terms of individual player improvements and a first look at some of the new guys. As of right now, the front office has shown that they are going in a complete opposite direction of creaking up the core of this team. Yes, that's the same opposite direction of trading Aldridge, so I think the trade talks should cool down for a little bit now.

So cheers, BEdgers, and remember that being optimistic is always okay!

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