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An outsider's perspective: Sizing up the Blazers from 3,000 miles away

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I'm moving to Portland from across the country, in Boston. I've been watching and admiring the Blazers from afar for a long time - here's my take on the team and how it's perceived elsewhere around the NBA.

Let's size up the starting five in Rip City.
Let's size up the starting five in Rip City.
Steve Dykes

I should admit from the very beginning that I'm not like you. I'm not from around these parts. I'm an outsider.

I write to you from Boston. Actually, that's not true - I left Boston a few days ago on a coast-to-coast road trip, and I write to you at this very moment from Fargo, North Dakota. And I haven't gotten stuffed in a wood chipper yet, so that's nice. I'm en route to Portland, where I'll be arriving in a few days, as my girlfriend and I plan to begin a new life in the Pacific Northwest for reasons that are numerous and complicated and frankly too boring to enumerate here. Anyway, I'm on my way. And I'm fully prepared to accept my future as a carpetbagging, bandwagoning Blazers aficionado. I hope you'll welcome me.

While I'm somewhat of a newbie to Oregon so far, I'm no stranger to basketball writing, having already published a lot of stuff over at FanSided's Hardwood Paroxysm and Boston SB Nation affiliate CelticsBlog, among other places. And while I've been an East Coaster my entire life until now, that's not to say I lack familiarity with the Blazers - I'm a diehard fan of all 30 teams, Portland's absolutely included.

So for my first piece here on Blazer's Edge, I thought I'd introduce myself by sharing an outsider's perspective on the Blazers. Are they respected? Are they feared? Are they even noticed? What's the perception of Portland from 3,000 miles away?

I'll begin to answer the question by saying this: Last year's run was awesome. It's pretty much impossible to be a basketball fan and not find yourself captivated, at least on some level, by what the Blazers accomplished last season. They went from a lottery afterthought to a Western Conference heavyweight, they landed in the playoffs and they upset a star-studded Rockets team that a lot of people had high hopes for. Suddenly, a team coming off a 49-loss season was in the freakin' Western Conference semifinals against the freakin' Spurs.

That was really cool, but at the same time it was discouraging. I wrote a piece at the conclusion of last year's playoff run about the precarious position the Blazers are in today - they've done so much to improve their team and become relevant in the West again, but where does that leave them? Still with a huge mountain to climb if they want to join the upper echelon with the San Antonios and OKCs and Los Angeleses. At least from my perspective, as admittedly not the most connected Portland insider, the mindset now is one of optimism, but guardedly so.

One thing the Blazers have going for them, no doubt, is their star power. In LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Portland has a two-man nucleus that few in the NBA can compete with, outside of Cleveland and the aforementioned West powerhouses. I'm a big fan of both guys - they both bring unusual twists in their game that make them interesting to watch. Aldridge is a versatile power forward, a guy who has post moves but isn't overly reliant on them, who's just as comfortable knocking down a jumper from 17 feet as he is bumping and bruising down low. As for Dame, he's a dynamic player, insanely fun to watch. Rather than relentlessly emphasize the "I'm so fast you can't stay in front of me!" angle like a Rose or a Westbrook, he's also a creative passer and shotmaker, adding a little variety to his play. No two Lillard games are alike.

Then again, how "super" are the Blazers' stars? How does Aldridge compare to the game's other great power forwards - guys like Love and Griffin and Bosh? Can he be the best player on a real title contender? If not a 1, then at least a 1A? What about Lillard? Is he ready to be The Man right now, or is he merely an All-Star caliber player on the same level of an Irving or Wall?

These contrasts are what make the Blazers interesting to me. They're sort of a West titan, but not quite; they're built around superstars, or maybe not. This team right now is an in-betweener, teetering on the brink of something great, perhaps poised to dive in but perhaps still a bit short. This raises a lot of questions that I'm excited to start answering this season.

I want to know whether Aldridge is still evolving into a dominant force. I want to know where Lillard still has room to improve - maybe his efficiency, his care for the basketball, his defense. I want to discover all the sublime little ways in which Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are underappreciated and underrated. I want to watch Robin Lopez artfully (and often thanklessly) guard the best big men in the game. I want to find out if Steve Blake or Chris Kaman has anything left, and if Joel Freeland or Meyers Leonard had anything to begin with.

Of course, I also want to appreciate more fully that Blazers fandom isn't just about the current roster and its big names. Portland basketball is just as much about history as anything else. It's about Oden and Roy, about Sabonis and Bowie, about Walton and Lucas. It's also about Rasheed Wallace, who fittingly was one of the first players I ever covered when I broke into sportswriting in Boston in 2010. To this day, he's still my Twitter avatar. Love that guy. Ball don't lie.

I love all this stuff. I love basketball in all its forms - East Coast and West, title-chasing and lottery-bound, past, present and future. As for the Blazers, I've always admired the team, being a League Pass and Synergy and blogosphere junkie. But this is my first chance to be here in Portland, immersed in it all, witnessing it firsthand. I can't tell you how excited I am. Needless to say, though, I'll spend all season trying.