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Lowe: Portland Is The Best NBA Story Outside Oakland

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The Blazers continue to exceed expectations and have once again turned the head of ESPN's Zach Lowe.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers got a heavy dose of praise from ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, who covered a variety of topics from Damian Lillard's leadership to the Portland's developing defense in his latest piece.

Lowe starts by emphasizing the trust placed in Lillard following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and rest of the starting five.

Lillard's brand of quiet, empowering leadership was a big reason the Blazers were confident they could rebound from the departure of Aldridge, Robin LopezWes Matthews, and Nicolas Batum -- the last of whom left in a trade that Neil Olshey, Portland's GM, began discussing two months before Aldridge left.

It sounds hokey, but Lillard legitimately inspires his teammates, and the Blazers understood he was too good for them to tank. You tank to get stars, not alienate the ones you already have by punting their prime seasons.

The Blazers began to rebuild around Lillard with hopes that C.J. McCollum would continue his development, and surrounded the duo with players who were in the same phase of their careers. The combination has exceeded expectations.

Whoops. The Lillard-McCollum Project has worked better than even Olshey expected. Portland is the best NBA story outside Oakland -- a selfless, hard-charging group that has blitzed to a 17-4 record since early January and seized a playoff slot that looked hopelessly above their pay grade two months ago.

General Manager Neil Olshey deserves much of the credit and is the main reason Lowe believes this rebuilding process will not fizzle. Olshey's rebuilding strategy is different than any other seen around the league, and it has paid immediate dividends.

The Blazers are so far ahead of schedule, rival executives are fretting they will turn into the next version of Phoenix -- the would-be sad sack that exceeds expectations in Year 1 of a rebuild and burns its long-term plan in a fit of irrational win-now exuberance. That worry is misplaced. Olshey is a careful, patient GM who appears to operate with some degree of autonomy from ownership. He is not going to sign an expensive 33-year-old star to chase a mid-rung playoff seed next season. Olshey zooms in on targets that fit Lillard's age curve. He drafted Al-Farouq Aminu with the Clippers and lavished him with the first deal in free agency while everyone else chased stars.

One of the major deficiencies of the Blazers early in the season was defensive, something that Lowe analyzes extensively with this conclusion: the effort is there.

And that's what you notice most of all: These guys try hard. They shove enemy guards away from picks, contort themselves around screens and execute the specifics of Stotts' game plan every night. The increased pressure has produced an unusual heap of turnovers for a Stotts team.

The overall tone of the article is positive and appreciative of what the Blazers have built.

Regardless: Can't we just enjoy these Blazers for a minute before worrying about how they'll ever battle for a ring?

...

They are a joy -- a testament to the hoops magic that can happen when the right players and coaches come together, and work for the greater good.

This summary just begins to delve into the praise Lowe heaps on the Blazers. Read the entirety of the article, here.