To this point in the storied history of the Portland Trail Blazers, no period of time stands out more than the three seasons from 1989 to 1992. While the team took home its only title in the 1976-1977 season, there was no greater period of dominance in Blazers history than the start of the 1990s. Under head coach Rick Adelman, and led by Terry Porter, Cliff Robinson, Kevin Duckworth, and superstar Clyde Drexler, the team combined to win 179 in three seasons.
The 1990-91 season is the odd one. The Blazers set a team record with 63 wins, sent three players to the All-Star game (Porter, Duckworth, Drexler), and won the Pacific Division by five games. Yet they were the only team in the aforementioned three year stretch to not make the NBA Finals.Johnson and the stunned the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals.
That brings the question to the current team: can they break the 63 wins record? The Western Conference has not gotten any easier over the years, and the Eastern Conference is not likely to be as bad as it has been over the last two seasons.
The team this year may not be equipped to handle this task. The potential is there, however, and a simple guide to 64 wins can give the team a new record, and with it a new NBA Championship banner to hang in the Moda Center.
Step One: Ensure C.J. McCollum is ready to start next season
The Blazers do not need McCollum to become Michael Jordan. All that will be asked of him is to do what Wesley Matthews does now: be a plus defender and score 10-15 a night. McCollum can do the latter, and the former can be developed more this season.
Step Two: Sign a dominant center in the 2015 free agency period
The free agency pool for next year is shallow at shooting guard, but rich at the center position, and Portland has the chance to bring back a player they missed out on in Omar Asik.
Portland will have the salary available to do it. Assuming Aldridge takes the five-year, $108 million contract next season and Steve Blake picks up his player option for next season, Portland will have $48 million committed to Aldridge, McCollum, Blake, Damian Lillard, Nic Batum, Thomas Robinson, and Will Barton. This means that Robin Lopez and Matthews walk, the Blazers decline the player option on Meyers Leonard, decline to offer a new contract to Joel Freeland and Victor Claver, waive Allen Crabbe before the July 31 deadline, and release Chris Kaman, whose contract is not fully guaranteed next season. With a projected 2015-2016 salary cap at $66.5 million, the Blazers would be able to offer Asik a 4-year, $62 million deal to create a dominate starting five.
From there, the Blazers can fill in the pieces with veterans like Drew Gooden and high-risk, high-reward projects such as Xavier Henry, plus the 2015 NBA Draft to go slightly over the luxury tax threshold while running with a team that can take on anyone in the league.
Step Three: Select a small forward in the draft next season, allowing Nic Batum to walk after next season in order to pay for Damian Lillard's next contract.
Advanced metrics give Portland a five win improvement over last season with a lineup of Asik, Aldridge, Batum, Lillard, and McCollum, and the metrics do not take into account McCollum's improvement in step one. Asik's antics may have caused headaches in his last few stops, but the leadership of Aldridge and coach Terry Stotts can help him grow and mature as a player.
With this game plan in mind, 64 wins and a title are certainly in the picture. All that matters after that is execution.