The Portland Trail Blazers turned heads when they finished the regular season as the No. 3 seed in a loaded Western Conference. Heads turned back after the Blazers were swept in the first round of the playoffs lower seed New Orleans Pelicans. After a relatively quiet offseason, Portland will bring back a similar roster to last year, and hope to catch a little more of last years’ magic in a bottle.
Team Name: Trail Blazers
Last Year’s Record: 49-33
Key Losses: Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Georgios Papagiannis
Key Additions: Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Gary Trent Jr, Anfernee Simons.
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Brian: The closest thing to significant moves were the signing of Seth Curry and allowing lockerrom favorite Ed Davis to walk for just 4.4 million dollars. Otherwise, the Blazers offseason was pretty linear.
Steve: President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey will attempt to resurrect the careers of both Curry and Stauskas. Both players are looking to bounce-back in 2018-19, and they will get plenty of chances on the Blazers’ unproven second unit.
Along with those additions, Jusuf Nurkic received a contract extension this summer. How the big fella responds to his new deal will be an interesting storyline to follow.
2. What are the Blazers’ biggest strengths?
Steve: Everyone is aware of Portland’s stellar backcourt, but competent defense is an area that doesn’t get enough attention. The Blazers try to limit opponent’s three-point attempts, and they’ve successfully out-rebounded teams on a nightly basis. If Zach Collins performs well in Davis’ place—Portland is line for another strong year.
Brian: The offense of backcourt duo Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is far more important to the Blazers success than anything else. The defensive schemes of Head coach Terry Stotts are a distant second.
3. What are the Blazers’ biggest weaknesses?
Brian: The Blazers are very thin in the front court. Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu are the only reliable bigs day in and day out. Maurice Harkless and Zach Collins have both showed that they can contribute, but consistency remains unproven. The rest of the front court is void of any type of reliability.
Steve: Portland’s overall depth is concerning. Curry missed all of last season due to injury, and they failed to add a veteran after Davis signed with Brooklyn. These concerns could turn into nightmares if the Blazers encounter injuries.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Steve: The Western Conference continued to add talent this summer, and it will be an up-hill climb for the Blazers to stay relevant. Hopefully this season will give Portland a clear answer on how they should move forward. Is there a viable path to title contention with the current roster? If the answer is no, it might be time for Portland to entertain the idea of a rebuild.
Brian: The goals for the players, as stated repeatedly, is to make the second round. Judging by the moves made by the team this summer, the front office seams to be content with just a playoff birth.
5. What are your projected win totals?
Brian: Last year I had them at 50, they had 49. This year, because of the overall strength of the West and the lack of improvement on the Portland roster, I’m going 42.
Steve: Lillard will continue to carry the Blazers through the lulls of the season. It will be tough to match last season’s record, so I put them right at 45 wins.
6. Does Damian Lillard repeat as a first team All-NBA selection?
Steve: Lillard is in his prime, so I don’t see why he can’t repeat. If Portland’s supporting cast does a better job of opening up the floor on the offensive end, Lillard’s numbers should improve. It will be a tough, but the Oakland native regularly overcomes the odds.
Brian: Not if they are only getting 42 wins