The Portland Trail Blazers are an enigma.
Portland went from title contenders to clawing for a playoff spot to a bona fide lottery team in 66 games last season. And to make matters worse, it’s unclear whether the Blazers have enough pieces in place to turn it all around this year.
Sure, the Blazers had a strong draft, landing the likes of both Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, but as effective as both rookies can be on both ends of the floor, they’re still just that–rookies. And they’re rookies who are likely to be thrown into the starting lineup right from the get-go to boot.
Usually, when rookies are inserted into a starting lineup—let alone multiple neophytes—it implies a rebuilding period is in full-swing. This upcoming season, though, the Blazers will attempt fight for a playoff spot despite the increase of inexperience in their lineup. To do, that, though, they’re going to need to rely on heavily on both LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. And Portland’s GM Neil Oshey acknowledged just that in an interview with Joe Becker of KGW, saying that Aldridge is already a “real leader” and that Batum “wanted to embrace being one of the leaders on the team.”
But are these two guys going to be enough? Portland has plenty of talent on its roster, yet much of it is inexperienced, and plenty of it comes in the form of new faces.
And knowing that, can this team overcome the clear chemistry issues and growing pains of its young guns to make the playoffs?
I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Aldridge is a “real leader,” one of the most underrated in the league, in fact. And while Batum embracing the role of a leader is good to hear, he remains vastly unproven himself. The swingman is only 23 and has yet to piece together an entire season’s worth of accolades that prove he is ready to stand alongside Aldridge and help take the reigns of this team.
Because ultimately, that’s going to be the Blazers’ biggest downfall—inexperience and uncertainty. Only Aldridge’s production is guaranteed. Lillard isn’t a lock to become an immediate star-studded floor general capable of running a dynamic offensive attack. Leonard isn’t guaranteed to help spread the floor further and take some much needed pressure off Aldridge in the low post. And most importantly, Batum isn’t guaranteed to put up gaudy stat lines on his way to becoming one of the most versatile small forwards in the game.
Is the potential there for all those pieces to fall into place? Yes, eventually. But right now, the Blazers are a team without a clear cut identity, and the bitter taste of last season has not fully been erased. I mean, this was a team that was supposed to contend for a championship last season, not implode and wind up in the NBA’s doldrums.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Now Portland is forced to climb its way out of the basement and re-enter the relevancy fold, which, more often than not, does not happen overnight. Especially when a roster is laden with as many question marks as the Blazers’ is.
So, while Aldridge—health permitting—will undoubtedly go to work next season, it’s his supporting cast and supposed second-in-command that pose the biggest questions and potential obstacles.
And until those questions yield answers, and until those obstacles prove feasible to overcome, there’s no reason to believe that the Blazers are headed back to the postseason. Not yet, anyway.
Dan Favale is an firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.