While the rest of the NBA was focused on Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade switching teams, there was one that was making moves no one seemed to care about, maybe until next June when they could be the last ones standing. The Portland Trail Blazers are establishing themselves as contenders, not only in the Western Conference but the NBA.
Last season they finished 44-38, which was a great achievement considering the loss of one of their cornerstone players, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers were picked to miss the playoffs but Damian Lillard missed the memo on that one and along with C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu helped usher in a new era in Portland.
That was just the beginning.
This offseason brought more hope for 2016. Expectations were already high following their success, but the addition of Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli has the Blazers fans thinking more than 1st or 2nd round. Let’s be rational here and examine the competition. The Golden State Warriors have a four-headed monster with Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant. The Spurs now have possibly the best frontcourt in the NBA with Gasol, Leonard, and Aldridge. The Clippers can’t finish; the Grizzlies have too many health concerns, and the Thunder, well it’s the Westbrook show. Those were the four teams above them in the final WC standings at the end of 2015.
While some of them may have improved, in the process they also lost some key pieces, all except for one. The Blazers played the free agency market like a seasoned vet, they waited, they didn’t go fishing for the top players, they needed players that fit a system, not a marketing plan. Lillard is the leader, McCollum is the quiet assassin, Aminu is the do-it-all service man, Meyers Leonard, the rebounding sharp-shooter, Allan Crabbe the defensive ace, Mason Plumlee, the post defender and now Turner, Mr. stat sheet filler. The Blazers are loaded from 1-12.
Can they beat”, Yes, just like any other team in the league but unlike the rest of the teams that added stars and B-rated players the Blazers will have no chemistry issues to deal with. They rode their success together, and while the Warriors must figure out how to implement Durant shots, the Spurs will have to go through Gasol, and the Clippers struggling to figure out how to win the Blazers players have one motto, do your job.
The roles have been set, the roster is loaded, the fans are excited and the only thing left is to prove that last season was no fluke. This is how you build a winning team, piece by piece. You don’t need to sign every superstar that’s available; you make superstars, and that’s exactly what the Blazers have done.
While the rest of the NBA is focused on the next Big 3 or 4, the Blazers will be quietly winning and by the time you turn your head to notice they may be in the middle of a champagne bath.