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Have the Portland Trail Blazers Starting 5 Reached Their Peak?

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An inquiring mind from Paraguay wants to know how much more the Blazers can squeeze out of their starters. We take up the matter.

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Hi Dave,

i hear much about changing the starting line up, more than everything else, my question: has this line up reach his top production after two 52/51 wins seasons?, or may we think that the system (Stotts) who had reach it.
Im a fan of blazeredge from Paraguay (its ok if you google it).

Ruben

Greetings to you in Paraguay! We send love to our international audience. I believe Antarctica is the only continent we've not answered a Mailbag question from so far. Your question is great, so let's get at it.

The starting lineup has not reached its peak production. They won 54 games in 2013-14 with a great offense and a decent defense. They won 51 this season with good offense and defense. If they can combine the two, fielding a great offense alongside a good defense, they'll improve. Portland's oldest starter is just hitting 30 so they have plenty of prime years left to try.

The catch is, they need to be healthy. Injuries scuttled this season. If Wesley Matthews suffers lingering effects fromhis Achilles rupture we may not see this starting lineup intact again. That would be a shame, but sadly typical for Portland.

Assuming the lineup does return with all 5 players in good health, two issues confront the Blazers:

1. How much improvement is enough?

It's easy to forecast the Blazers getting more wins than they did this year. Presuming they'll make it to the Conference Finals at least once isn't out of line. If they're not within a stone's throw already, they're close enough that a short catapult shot would get them there. But they're a long way from being the clear-cut favorite in the Western Conference, let alone winning an NBA Title. Is 58 wins and a couple third-round appearances enough to justify keeping the starters together and paying them the amount a mature roster demands?

If legit championship contention is the goal, the Blazers have work to do. They keep running up against teams who can take advantage of Robin Lopez's lack of mobility, Nicolas Batum's lack of scoring, or Damian Lillard's lack of defense. We can chart a course where none of those faults prove fatal, but Portland's playoff opponents would need to land just right. If that unlikely event ever happened, it'd only be good for a single year...hardly a foundation on which to build a franchise's future.

2. How much help do the starters need?

The bench continues to be a weak spot for the Blazers. If they're going to make the leap from 50-ish wins and lower-round exits to 60-ish wins and deep-run contention, the bench might make more difference than the Starting 5.

Improvements to the bench could earn the Blazers those crucial extra 4-5 wins in the regular season, giving them a prime seed in the playoffs. Versatility from their reserves would also help solve that "running up against stylistic roadblocks" problem. Even if the starters technically wouldn't be that much better, they'd look better with more accomplished players behind them.

I believe the current Starting 5 is good enough to sustain 50+ wins for the foreseeable future. I do not believe that they're good enough to make the Blazers serious championship contenders on their own without bench help. But with the right players in reserve and a dose of good health, they could make a run at the title.

This leaves the Blazers in a sticky situation, caught between good and potentially great. They might be 2 players away from doing something really special but 10 other teams can make a similar claim and all of them will be looking for the same kind of help the Blazers will require. Moving from dismal to playoff team is relatively easy compared to moving from playoff team to legit contender.

On the other hand, few teams can even dream of making the NBA Finals. The Blazers have only been there (or been close) 3 times in their history, a total of 5 seasons out of 45 played.  If there's a ghost of a chance, I'm not sure they dare give up on it...especially if giving up means starting over.

On the other, other hand 2nd- and 1st-round exits do not a contender make, and that's as far as this lineup has gotten. Recall the famous definition of insanity, "Doing the same things over and over while expecting different results."

Now that I've talked myself around in a circle, let's throw the floor open to you, Blazer's Edge readers. Ruben and all of Paraguay want to know, have LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Damian Lillard reached their peak? Give us your take in the comments.

You can send your own question to blazersub@gmail.com just like Ruben did. We accept international delivery on all e-mails. Or you can phone in a question to our Podcast Line at 234-738-3394.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge