One week from today, the calendar will officially turn from summer to fall, and players will continue trickling into the Portland Trail Blazers' Tualatin practice facility early as training camp kicks off at the end of the month.
All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have set the tone for their teammates, as reported by Casey Holdahl, getting into the gym several weeks before everyone is required to show up for camp. Clearly, the players understand the importance of training as a team and building on a surprising 54-win campaign in 2013-14 and, naturally, Blazers fans should have plenty to look forward to next season.
Lillard's ascension to the upper echelon -- or close to it -- of NBA point guards in his first two years in the league has impressed not only fans in Portland, but basketball enthusiasts everywhere. Lillard has starred in television commercials, inked a massive contract with Adidas and participated in an unprecedented five different All-Star events. His on-court portfolio boasts a Rookie of the Year award in 2013, the third-most converted three-pointers in the league last year, numerous clutch performances and -- of course -- the shot from Game 6 against the Houston Rockets.
Lillard has justifiably given fans in Rip City plenty to look forward to as they await the opening of the 2014-15 season at the end of October, but Aldridge, the two-time All-NBA Third-Teamer for the Blazers, has been around for eight seasons and has aspirations of becoming the greatest Blazer of all-time. He had career numbers in points, rebounds and assists per game last year, and -- at 29 years old -- Aldridge looks to put in a repeat performance next season.
Aside from the stars, Portland has plenty of role-players hoping to build upon the success of last season. Forward Nicolas Batum has never passed or rebounded the ball as well as he did last season, while center Robin Lopez can say the same. Guard Wesley Matthews set career-highs in scoring, rebounding and made three-pointers. All three players would like to see continued growth in coach Terry Stotts' offense, while also anchoring the defense. Lopez and Matthews are playing on expiring contracts, which could be a factor contributing to extra inspired play as both could see pay raises next offseason if all goes well for them.
How about the bench? GM Neil Olshey brought in guard Steve Blake to spell Lillard as necessary, but wings CJ McCollum and Will Barton have triggered discussion all summer about their readiness to steal some of the backcourt minutes left by the departed Mo Williams.
Free agent center acquisition Chris Kaman is slotted to spell Lopez as the first big off the bench next season, but big man Joel Freeland was having a solid 2013-14 year before it was derailed by a February knee injury. Don't expect the 6-foot-10 Englishman to give up his backup frontcourt minutes willingly, though, as he'll be playing for his next NBA contract, too. To further clutter the frontcourt minutes, power forward Thomas Robinson will be fully healed from an offseason thumb injury about the time camp opens. The No. 5 overall pick out of Kansas is entering his third season and could be an impact player off the bench while Aldridge rests.
Further down the pine, small forward Dorell Wright hopes to have a bounce-back year after never truly establishing himself in Stotts' rotation last year. Center Meyers Leonard needs to show the organization and its fans he has some potential for the future, while guard Allen Crabbe and forward Victor Claver will try to stay off the inactive list.
With the 2014-15 season beginning in just over six weeks, the Blazers have their fans full of anticipation after a successful year that provided a solid foundation to build upon. What are you most excited to see this upcoming season?
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter