ESPN writers Kevin Arnovitz, Justin Verrier, Chad Ford, Jeremias Engelmann, and Kevin Pelton conducted a roundtable discussion of the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, in which the five of them personally answered the question: Are Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers contenders in the West?
Although consensus seemed to be that the Blazers were more or less a top-5 team in their conference, by the end of the Insider article, the answer to that question was a resounding “No” from each contributor:
Fact or Fiction: The Blazers will make the Western Conference final four.
Arnovitz: Fiction, for no other reason that the field is large and the Jazz might be just a smidge better this season. That said, the Trail Blazers show up for big games and cut their teeth during a magical run last spring. In short, it's improbable, but certainly not unfathomable.
Verrier: Fiction. The Blazers should again be in the middle of the traffic jam for the bottom half of the West's playoff bracket, but it's hard envisioning an encore with as much gusto considering last year's path to the second round was cleared by injuries to their opposition's two best players.
Ford: Fiction. I have them fifth in the West, but the distance between them, the Jazz and the Clippers is very short.
Engelmann: Fiction. My projections see five teams battling for the No. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with the Blazers being one of the weaker teams of those five. That would result in a less than 40 percent chance of having homecourt advantage in the first round, making it unlikely they'll advance.
Pelton: Fiction. Certainly, their chances are better than they were this time a year ago, when it proved to be fact. But I wouldn't put the Blazers among the top four teams in the West entering this season, and things get muddled outside of that group.
They did offer, however, their takes on how the Trail Blazers could have vaulted into the upper echelon of the Western Conference during the offseason. Among familiar notions like Noah Vonleh meeting his potential or the team trading for a high-level difference maker, there was some rather bold analysis:
What needs to happen for the Blazers to be a power in the West?
Engelmann: That window was open this past summer. But the Blazers, in my opinion, blew it when they signed Crabbe and Turner to a combined $145M. Had they used the money to sign Jared Dudley and Matthew Dellavedova instead, I'd declare them a powerhouse now. As it is, they probably have to hope for further internal growth.
There is some merit here. Yes, the Trail Blazers spent a lot of money on Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner, and yes, they probably will have to rely upon internal growth, but the statement as a whole is a potent reminder that everyone has a different answer to these questions and only the reality of the situation matters. We will not know what that reality is until the regular season is well under way, though it seems likely that the path Portland is on will be more fruitful than this suggested alternate.
Take expert opinions with a grain of salt and form your own. How do you think the Trail Blazers will shape up this season?