With the No. 6 and 11 overall picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers did exactly what we thought they would do: go with Damian Lillard at six and, because Austin Rivers wasn’t available, pick up Meyers Leonard at eleven.
And with loads of cap space headed into a relatively decent free agent pool, the Trail Blazers, again, did exactly what we thought they would do: make a run at one marquee free agent in Roy Hibbet (God, that would’ve been a great acquisition), and match any offer, no matter how gaudy and over-priced it may have been, on restricted free agent Nicolas Batum.
But now that the dust has settled and team rosters are finally coming into shape, the question of whether or not this year’s Blazer squad is, in fact, enough seems to be a point of speculation, yet again.
Well first, we should define “enough.”
Enough for a championship?
That only leaves the plausible idea of the Blazers returning to the post-season, after a paltry 28-38 regular season in 2011-12, with minor changes to the roster and a still unfinished head coaching hunt. Seems kind of dull when you put it that way, but it’s always darkest before dawn.
Jason Quick from The Oregonian reported that general manager Neil Olshey has narrowed his coaching search down to two candidates: interim head coach and the widely-regarded “in-house favorite,” Kaleb Canales, and Dallas Mavericks assistant coach, Terry Stotts.
Terry Stotts and Kaleb Canales are the two finalists for the Trail Blazers head coaching position, The Oregonian has learned
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) August 2, 2012
It puts a stake into my hobgoblin idea of Stan Van Gundy running a Lillard-Aldridge pick-and-roll system, but I’ll take any semblance of Rip City forward progress at this point.
So Portland will have what seems to look like a reliable head directing this coachable team for 2012-2013. Not super-stacked or powerhouse, but coachable nonetheless.
The Blazers’ front office, before and during Olshey’s tenure, have also done a great job of ridding the team of its so-called cancers. Marcus Camby was dished off to the Rockets, now with the Knicks; Greg Oden’s oft-injured self was released, Jamal Crawford opted out and signed with the Clippers, Raymond Felton was sent to the Knicks in a sign-and-trade for Jared Jeffries, and Gerald Wallace, who I viewed as an asset, was dealt to the now-Brooklyn Nets in return for the pick that landed Lillard in Portland.
The Blazers are still in an all-out war to keep Joel Przybilla from signing elsewhere, but rumor has it Milwaukee is offering him slip-free shower floors.
How can you argue with that?
Portland does have Victor Claver and Joel Freeland, two proven European studs, en route to Rip City, and they did re-sign J.J. Hickson for another year, but the only center currently under contract is the rook, Meyers Leonard, and no amount of Summer League success or training camp drills will adequately prepare him for the onslaught of crafty, super-athletic, attacking guards that have a target on his face.
Damian Lillard will have a stand-out rookie season and probably average somewhere in the ballpark of 16 points, six assists and two steals per game, falling just short of Anthony Davis in the Rookie of the Year race.
LaMarcus Aldridge will add on to his lone All-Star appearance with yet another outstanding season, and Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum will continue lighting it up from three, and hopefully add onto their developing offensive arsenal
The wild-card is Elliott Williams.
The potential, skill and efficiency are there. The play time is lacking.
Then there’s Leonard. If he’s good, he’ll post 11 points, nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. That’s only if he’s good, gets quality minutes AND stays out of foul trouble.
So is this roster enough?
Had the Blazers landed Hibbert with the max offer sheet they threw at him, Portland would be flirting with a five or six seed in the West. But until Olshey can find a quality, veteran center to start over the rookie, I have to go with the under.
There’s still hope, if he can convince Jermaine O’Neal to come to Portland, rounding out the starting five with a shot-blocking, mid-range stroking big man. But if the roster stays as is heading into the season, it’ll be yet another long year passing by that L.A. doesn’t see post-season playoff action, and nobody wants that for the franchise centerpiece.