Last Season: Finishing 53-29 was an absolute shocker from guard Damian Lillard and company. The Portland TrailBlazers (POR) finished as the top-3 seed in the western conference. Lillard represented the Blazers in the all-star game and was the leading scorer of his team. Since Lillard has arrived in Portland, he’s given the TrailBlazers a chip on their shoulder. Portland took down the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) in five games of the first round, where Lillard hit a go-ahead game-winning shot over small forward Paul George to notch 50 points. They left the Thunder in awe, as that would end the Russell Westbrook Era in Oklahoma after 11 years.
Transactions: The Blazers made huge additions as this offseason they traded center Meyers Leonard and forward Mo Harkless for Miami HEAT (MIA) center Hassan Whiteside. They also traded forward Evan Turner in exchange for forward Kent Bazemore straight up as they look to freshen up their front court talent. Forward Rodney Hood resigned with the Blazers, while guard Seth Curry elected to sign with the Dallas Mavericks (DAL). More additions for the front court included Mario Hezonja and Skal Labissiere. Lastly, the Blazers proved to be all-in on Lillard as they signed him to a 4yr/$196 million dollar contract.
Title Hopes: It’s strange for most basketball fans to include Portland in any championship talk as they know the western conference is riddled with talent coming from: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Salt Lake City, Colorado, San Antonio, and Dallas. The Blazers have been only as relevant as Lillard has made them in the past. He and C.J. McCollum partnered together as they mostly reached early playoff exists. Although, last year they were just one round away from the NBA Finals. They didn’t have the talent to match western conference foes in the past but last season was an eye-opener for their potential as a franchise.
There is now a big three with McCollum, Lillard and Whiteside. Portland hasn’t had a dominant big like Hassan since the days of LaMarcus Aldridge, and now they won’t have to rely on just perimeter shooting. The front office of the Blazers has made the team a strong suitor to possibly maintain another top-3 position in the Western Conference. In free agency they landed defense, athleticism, experience, and high basketball IQ. Their predicted lineup will consist of Lillard, McCollum, Bazemore, forward Zach Collins and Whiteside. This starting five has the talent to compete against the likes of any top-tier team because they can dominate both ends of the floor. Head coach Terry Stotts will have to find a way to keep a steady rotation, as he may find himself using 11 players every night. The Blazers have their best team since the Lillard Era began and with the right cohesiveness will find themselves in the championship hunt.
The Tragic Flaw: The Blazers have a great coach, they’re extremely deep, they have an MVP candidate in Lillard who thrives in big situations . . .where’s the flaw? In this case, the flaw comes from the sheer depth and power of the Western Conference. If they have a shortcoming – and they may not – it may be that they don’t have a second MVP candidate, as teams like the Houston Rockets, LA Lakers, LA Clippers and even Utah Jazz do. If anything is going to keep them out of the Finals, that’s it.
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