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Concern for the Trail Blazers’ Future

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Sean Deveney of Sporting News wonders if Portland bought high on players who have regressed toward a lower performance norm.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers spent a lot of money this past off-season, keeping the core together while bringing in some complementary pieces. After a surprisingly successful 2015–16 season and with the $340 million in new contracts the front office handed out, the Trail Blazers faced higher expectations heading into this season.

So far, however, the team has not lived up to those expectations, and concern is growing that the expectations, along with some of the new contracts, may be inflated. In an article posted on Monday, Sean Deveney of Sporting News wonders about the long-term prospects of the Trail Blazers’ current roster:

So it’s not just a slow start that should have the Blazers worried. It’s that they might well have bought high on players who are reverting to their career norms. The Blazers didn’t necessarily overpay for the guys they signed, given the flurry of big-number contracts last year; Crabbe’s $75 million deal was offered by the Nets but matched by the Blazers, for example. The problem is that they paid for more than one guy who had been on an upward trajectory but has taken a bad turn in the first quarter of this season.

That’s led to projections about what the Blazers should do next. They need to address their problem up front, because Portland is now the fifth-worst rebounding team in the league (47.8 rebounding percentage). But the starting backcourt of Lillard and McCollum, as good as it is offensively, is weak defensively, and Portland has allowed the most 3-pointers per game this year (9.9). That puts pressure on the rest of the defense to cover the holes.

With the Trail Blazers nearly a quarter of the way through the season, their defense and rebounding problems go beyond merely a slow start. The lack of improvement by Crabbe and Meyers Leonard along with the early-season struggles of Evan Turner raise questions about the ceiling of the current roster. And as Zach Lowe and Marc Stein pointed out in a recent podcast, the fact that Crabbe and Turner aren’t playing up to their contracts makes them less valuable as trade assets.

Hopefully, a lighter upcoming schedule provides the team with some time to work on improving their defense and rebounding. If it does not improve, though, Portland may end up being a team that hovers around .500. Last season Blazers fans would have accepted that, but $340 million in new contracts bring new expectations and less flexibility.