Portland’s Playoff Prospects

Oct. 12, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talks with center Meyers Leonard (11) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 104-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

I love the playoffs. I especially love the playoffs when the Blazers are playing. When an entire city like Portland gets behind a team, it is truly special. Some of my fondest sports memories as a kid were during the Blazers’ romp to the Western Conference Finals in the 1999-2000 season. The number of Blazers flags, posters, billboards, etc. I saw everyday was stunning.

As a result, I always subconsciously want the Blazers to make the playoffs. As I got older and transitioned into a more jaded experienced fan, I started to see the necessity of rebuilding a team, earning lottery picks from bad seasons, and playing the long-term game. The ten-year old Jason inside of me, however, is still always there rooting for the playoffs. This is exacerbated by the fact I have only been to one playoff game in person, and I was so young I barely remember it.

With that being said, I think the Blazers need to take a long, hard look at the upcoming Western Conference, and think carefully about where they belong. I sat down and took a close look at how things may pan out, and I cannot wrap my head around how stacked the West will be this year.

I formally predict that the Thunder (now with Rustlin’ Westbrook back!), the Spurs (who says we are old now?), and the Clippers (we have a real coach!) will be in the running for the #1 seed. The Rockets and the Grizzlies very well could be, but I personally have them on the next tier. I don’t think it’s realistic for the Rockets to instantly gel with the Dwight Howard addition, and I think I am more pessimistic than most about the Harden / Howard combo (not that it will be bad by any stretch).

The Grizzlies have relied on the bruising combo of Marc Gasol + Zach Randolph for their identity the past few seasons, and my concern lies with Randolph. He is already 31, and while he was able to turn back the clock and assuage fears of his demise in the playoffs, the truth is that he struggled during the regular season. He will only get older, and struggles during the regular season for a team = a lower playoff seed.

After these five, it gets murky. The Nuggets turned in quite a magical season last year, and then promptly fired their Coach of the Year, got rid of their General Manager, and let arguably their best player escape in free agency (talk to David for stronger opinions about this turn of events). I still expect them to make the playoffs, but not as nearly as high of a seed next year.

Golden State is quite the enigma to me. I love the Andre Iguodala signing, and him plus a healthy Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson is just scary on paper. There are just too many “ifs” for my liking though – namely centering on Curry and Bogut’s abilities to stay healthy. IF the whole team does stay healthy, then watch out. On the flip side of the coin, I am not sure it is reasonable to assume health for their guys, and the loss of Jarrett Jack will hurt.

This is already SEVEN playoff slots potentially accounted for (of course, nothing is absolutely certain). The Timberwolves with a healthy Rubio, a healthy Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic (if they bring him back) could make noise, and the addition of Kevin Martin is huge for them. The Mavericks with the Mark Cuban + Dirk Nowitzki combination are hard to write off. I could actually see the Lakers, in an odd twist of fate, “exceeding” their current rock-bottom expectations on the backs of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, especially since Mike D’Antoni will actually have an offseason during which to implement his vision.

This leaves the Blazers in a tough position. Of course, if all expectations are defied and they merrily romp through the West to stroll into the playoffs- awesome. I would love it, especially since it would be great “big game” experience for the young guys. With that being said, while I expect improvement next year, I just don’t know if trying to make noise in the playoffs should be the Blazers’ goal next year. When push comes to shove, I do not think it would be wise for the Blazers to sacrifice in other areas (such as young player development) in an all-out attempt to reach the playoffs.

The clock is very much ticking due to LaMarcus Aldrdge’s contract expiration in two seasons, but rather than think shortsightedly about next season, it would behoove the Blazers to take a longer-term view. The team has assembled some great young pieces, and to shunt their development to the side in a misguided attempt to make the playoffs as an overmatched 8th seed is simply not wise. I love the playoffs as much as the next guy, but in this day and age of the league, patience truly is a virtue.

Topics: Portland Trail Blazers

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  • mmesserly

    I thought about this last night, I have the Blazers finishing 10th in the West with the Lakers and Nuggets earning the 7th and 8th seeds. I believe the Blazers, Mavs and Twolves are interchangeable for the 9 – 11 seeds. Asides from Aldridge and Lillard, the roster is made up of reasonably adequate NBA players mixed with unproven rookies and 2nd year players. That’s not going to be enough in the loaded West.

  • Jeffrey Hall

    Most of what happens this coming season will be affected by chemistry and injuries- to all teams, but in particular, to the Blazers. The team this year is much more talented, but how will they mesh? It takes time to get to know how to play with new players. And some players just play better in different systems than others. So in effect, it’s a crap shoot. Based on the remaining starting players and an upgrade to the bench, I can see the Blazers finishing as high as 5th or 6th depending on injuries and chemistry. But a slow “getting to know you” process could as easily put them out of the playoffs- injuries aside. The other factor that seldom gets mentioned is, how much do they want it? How committed are each of the players to bring it every game and improve their own games to improve the team? It’s a job to some, and the more players any team has that think that way, the less likely they’ll be to succeed.

  • Jesse Haffner

    It analyses about NBA teams and players that frankly enrages me. It’s of course formed by the ESPN-ization of sports- the obsession with hype and the “what have you done for me lately. “How does trying to win games and trying to get to the playoffs-hurt the young players??? I’m very much amazed by the fact there isn’t a wave of excitement forming around this next year for Portland. With who they’ve picked up, all of the talent they have, reminds me about the national coverage opinions of their team five years ago. There are multiple bench players who easily have the skill, talent, and athleticism to start almost anywehere else in the league. Years ago between how national coveraged thot of Portland as not having many good players, when in reality they were stacked, but like the past decade and a half-they hugely under-utilized many/most of those players. Specifically, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, and of course most importantly Rudy Fernandez, ontop of the starters in Batum, Roy, Steve Blake, Aldridge, and Pryzbilla. There’s absolutely no doubt that in all the players on this team play the way they certainly are capable of doing, this team is twice the tm Golden State, Minnesota, The Rockets, and Mavs, plus being every bit as good and far deeper than the so-called best of the west in The Spurs, Lakers, and especially the Thunder. There really only one other team as deep and talented and that’s Memphis-the tm this moron says is the weakest. Cuz he says Zack is too old. Did he watch Zack this year? He certainly isn’t the all around star that he was with Portland, but still physically and skills wise is still easily one of the ten best PF’s in the whole league! Now, I am a big Portland fan, but that being said I am just looking at this from an unbiased POV, and when you do and you negate the fact that Portland has under-achieved each yr since that 200 season, setting it all aside and just look at all the potential and along with the already current stars and go-to players Portland has this next year.

    Aldridge is unstoppable and easily is the most versatile PF in the whole league-pretty much has the identical skill set and athleticism as Rasheed did. And just like ‘Sheed Lamarcus is also the single most under-rated and possibly the most dominant PF post-scorer, with either leaners, jump hooks, and of course both have/had unstoppable and beautiful turn-around fade-aways. Then the next 2 most dominant all around players in Lillard and Batum. Nic is IMO-one of the best one on one SF defenders, an offensively can score thru shooting off the dribble, from the outside, or his best is his slashing and ability to take guys all the way to the basketball. And Lillard, is only not just the best scoring PG in the league but he can do wat Miller used to, not only scoring alot-but in ways that don’t detract from his tm’s scoring attempt and is an excellent distributor. Then Matthews is streaky, but a great pure scorer, and now wit the legit Center in Lopez who is a bigger and stronger version of his brother, all they need from his is rebounds, blocked shots, and garbage buckets. Then they have great bench and depending on certain players’ confidence levels, it could be great. Of course first there’s that great athletic, and muscle-bound PF in Robinson who despite not doing well last year-he”l certainly thrive here without any pressure for him to score. And definitely the most under-rated pick up is Crabbe. And i bet that by the end of the year he actually will be the starter ahead of Wesley. He’s bigger, more athletic and has a great outside shot to go wit that length and athleticism. He’s gonna do great. And to top it off you have a few other guys who will certainly give them even more depth and scoring than what they already have: Barton who looked pretty good last year, then Wright who is also going to excel here, then the high-flying Bird-Man esque Meyers, Earl Watson backin up Damian, then the rook McuCullom and lastly Joel Freeland. How can anyone look at a team that between Mamarcus, Batum, and Lillard-has 3 big time scorers while also good defenders. Plus secondary scorers in Crabbe, Matthews, Robinson, Barton, Meyers, and Lopez-who certainly can and will not only score from garbage buckets-but also thru post moves and pick and rolls.

    How can you see this team and see the talent and skill, while also being extremely young and say that this team isn’t as good as th league’s top eshalan or atleast a playoff-bound team. A team who if kept together will in a year or even this year might be able to make run for the title, and will certainly will be in the chase easily for the next four years atleast, but that is of couse provided that Portland’s GM doesn’t do what Portland has been doing incessantly for 2 decades now, and that’s trade away great players for nothin, while also under-utilizing players who in the recent past or later on prove that they were among the league’s elite. Keep this team together and this could be a real good few seasons at the least!