Can't wait for the new NBA season to start? Here are 7 reasons to look forward to it even more...reasons the Portland Trail Blazers just might be better next year than they were last year.
Every year since...well, since time immemorial, the Blazers have added major pieces in the off-season. Health permitting, October will mark the first time since 2002 that the team hasn't changed the starting lineup between one season and the next. The only rotation player to leave over the summer, Mo Williams, will be replaced by familiar veteran Steve Blake...as mild of a transition as could be envisioned.
By itself, this indicates little but stability. (Though stability has eluded the franchise in the past decade and will be a welcome guest.) But given their recent success and relative youth, continuity could prove a strong building block. Whatever you liked about the Blazers last season should translate into the next with ample room for exploration of new vistas besides.
Though Robin Lopez turned in a heroic effort last year, center remained a concern. Lopez was one man with one style. Opponents who could work around him or get him in foul trouble put the Blazers behind the 8-ball. Joel Freeland spent much of the year injured. Meyers Leonard proved ineffective. Signing Chris Kaman preserves Lopez's primacy but bumps the less experience bigs down the depth chart. Kaman can spot Robin, fill big minutes or a starting role in extreme situations, and doesn't leave the Blazers scrambling to improvise as much. He won't change the franchise's fortunes to the positive as much as he'll keep them from changing to the negative.
Winning teams beat their schedule instead of letting it beat them. Some fights are harder than others, though. Portland faces few mammoth road trips, an average number of back-to-backs, and no truly tortuous months in their upcoming campaign. The docket contains fewer oddities and grueling slogs than any season in recent memory. If the road isn't easy, at least it's paved this time.
With one shot, one series victory, the Trail Blazers established themselves as an interesting team to watch last spring. Let's put that in perspective: San Antonio would laugh at the thought that making the second round of the playoffs was significant. But for a team buried in anonymity--anti-hype almost--those national highlights were a Big Deal. Fans, referees, even players tend to see what they expect to see. Reputation won't win games outright, but it gives a nudge in the right direction when things get close. As with continuity, it's been a long time since the Blazers have had any to speak of.
And speaking of reputation, Season 2 for Damian Lillard started well and ended better than anybody could have expected. Care to bet against this kid at this point or deny the possibility of him doing anything he sets his mind to? 'Nuff said.
The Blazers haven't overtaken the elite teams in the conference but which teams in the lower half overtook them? Our league preview will begin later this month but the short, cursory answer is, "Not many."
Playoff experience tends to be overrated by casual fans. Slipping into a low-level seed and bowing out in the first round does nothing for a team's fortunes. But the Blazers did a little more than that last season. They got a taste of the good life...a couple series under their belts. They understand the steep climb ahead of them better than they did at this time last summer. That should provide determination and a no-prisoners attitude heading into the year. Granted, the team did well at the start of last season. Their 24-5 start will be impossible to top. But when the wind blows foul in 2014-15, they should have more of an even keel to sail through and more incentive to turn back to good.
Got more reasons? List them in the comment section!
Tomorrow: Reasons the Blazers might be worse too...
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard