2011-12 Season Summary:
At the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, the Portland Trail Blazers were my sleeper pick to make a run in the Western Conference. I looked like a genius early on as the team won seven of its first nine games. Things quickly turned downhill though as Portland missed out on the playoffs and now enters the offseason with a boatload of needs.
Injuries once again played a factor for the Blazers� roster before the season even began. Chronic knee injuries forced Brandon Roy to retire. Greg Oden�s 837th comeback attempt came to no avail as the injury-riddled big man had to undergo a third microfracture knee surgery. Portland eventually released Oden who finished his five-year career in Rip City playing in just 82 regular season games, cementing his status as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
With the Blazers fading midway through the season, the team held a firesale prior to the trade deadline, dealing veteran starters Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby for expiring contracts and draft picks. The franchise also fired seventh-year head coach Nate McMillan.
There were some bright spots along the way. LeMarcus Aldridge shook off an early season injury to put together another highly productive season even though he was forced to play more center than in the past due to injuries and trading of Camby. Portland signed J.J. Hickson after he was waived by Sacramento and Hickson returned to his Cleveland playing stature, putting together an incredibly strong end of the season which should do wonders for his value this summer in free agency. Guys like Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Jamal Crawford filled their roles, but were unable to emerge as a consistent number two scoring option alongside Aldridge.
The point guard play was the Achilles' heel for the Blazers. Raymond Felton proved not to be the answer in his first season in Rip City while backups Nolan Smith and Jonny Flynn (after the Camby trade) were lackluster in a reserve role. A lack of depth, especially in the frontcourt also played a factor in Portland�s downward spiral.
After the season, owner Paul Allen wrote an open letter to the Blazers fans expressing his disappointment in the way things turned out and denying reports that he was trying to sell the team. Allen also mentioned starting a new chapter for the franchise. Likely armed with two lottery picks (four overall selections) in the 2012 NBA Draft and a ton of cap space, Portland figures to be major player this offseason while undergoing a slight re-building effort.
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Kurt Thomas
PF: LeMarcus Aldridge
SF: *Nicolas Batum/Luke Babbitt/#Shawne Williams
SG: Wesley Matthews/#Jamal Crawford/Elliot Williams
PG: Nolan Smith
NBA Free Agents:
*SF-Nicolas Batum (RFA)
#SG-Jamal Crawford (PO)
#SF-Shawne Williams (PO)
PG-Raymond Felton (UFA)
PF-J.J. Hickson (UFA)
PG-Jonny Flynn (UFA)
C-Hasheem Thabeet (UFA)
C-Mehmet Okur (UFA)
C-Joel Przybilla (UFA)
PF-Craig Smith (UFA)
2012-13 Team Salary: Approximately $25.6 million (in guaranteed contracts)
NBA Offseason Needs:
1. Point Guard:
I would actually be pretty shocked if the Blazers re-signed Felton for starter money. There are some solid veteran free agent point guards available this summer, and Portland has the cap space to make a serious run at one (Steve Nash anyone?) The team could also look to address its need with one of its lottery picks, though this is a weaker draft class in terms of impact point guards. Whatever the method, the Blazers need to get more out of the point guard position than they did this past season.
I am not sure Williams is worth a max deal, but if that�s what it takes to re-sign him, the team might have to open up its checkbook. Expect Williams to make a decision on his future prior to the start of the Olympics since he doesn�t want to be playing in London without a contract in case he gets injured representing Team USA.
Right now, LeMarcus Aldridge and veteran journeyman Kurt Thomas are the only post players under contract for next season. I think Aldridge is best suited playing the four, so first and foremost, Portland needs to find a veteran center who can step into the starting lineup and allow Aldridge to be at his more natural position. Re-signing Hickson would be a wise decision if the price is right since he played really well during his short stint in Rip City. Adding a couple more big bodies wouldn�t hurt either.
3. Depth on the Wing:
Portland traded Wallace, Batum is a restricted free agent, and Crawford can (and likely will) opt out of the final year of his contract which leaves Matthews, Babbitt, and Williams as the only wing players guaranteed for next season. The Blazers have coveted Batum since his arrival, so I would expect them to do everything in their power to sign him to a long-term extension, even though it might cost a pretty penny. If Crawford does indeed opt out and sign elsewhere, the team will have to find someone who can replace his scoring punch.
4. General Manager:
The Blazers run through GM�s like Kim Kardashian or Alyssa Milano run through ball players. Their current general manager, Chad Buchanan, still holds an interim tag after taking over for Rich Cho a year ago. Cho was given the boot after just ten months on the job when he replaced the fired Kevin Pritchard. So yes, Portland is technically looking for its fourth general manager in less than two years.
Ideally, the Blazers should get somebody in that spot before the NBA Draft and free agency begin. Allen has sat on his hands for a nearly a year, but rumors have already picked up steam this offseason regarding possible candidates.