This past NBA season saw the Portland Trailblazers go through their fair share of trials and tribulations. But under head coach Terry Stotts, the Trailblazers still managed to go 51-31 which was good enough for fourth place in the Western Conference and their first division title since 1999. But in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies proved to be too much for the Blazers who were eliminated in five games. The loss to the Grizzlies made it 14 out of the last 15 seasons that the Blazers have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. And little did we know how much would change for the Trailblazers when they exited the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee on April 29 when their season came to an end.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge entered this off-season as an unrestricted free agent after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in a Blazers uniform where he became the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds and second to Clyde Drexler in points. And with that Aldridge has let the Trailblazers front office know that he doesn’t intend to return to Portland next season as he is set to join the San Antonio Spurs. The past five seasons have seen shooting guard Wes Matthews average 15.4 points per game for the Blazers. And like Aldridge, Matthews is not returning to Portland as he has agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks. Over the past two years center Robin Lopez became one of the top role players for the Blazers, but now he has agreed to join the New York Knicks where he will reunite with shooting guard Arron Afflalo who agreed to a two-year deal worth $16 million with New York after averaging 10.6 points per game for Portland last season. And once you factor in that the Trailblazers traded small forward Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets, five of Portland’s top six scorers will be employed by different NBA teams for the upcoming season.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey did scramble to sign point guard Damian Lillard to a maximum five-year contract that is expected to be worth more than $120 million once it is finalized as he will become the new face of their franchise with Aldridge moving on. The Trailblazers did also sign former Los Angeles Lakers power forward Ed Davis who they hope can fill the void of the departed Lopez, but it is clear that Lillard will be the focal point of this season and in the Western Conference, one man cannot do it by himself; especially from the point guard position.
The Trailblazers play in one of the smaller media markets in the NBA and they’ve always had to concentrate on drafting wisely and efficient trades which they will have to continue doing. And now that the Blazers appear to be rebuilding, Olshey is hard at work attempting to put a competitive team out on the basketball court.
The Trailblazers entered the 2015 NBA Draft with the 23rd overall pick which they used on small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The acquisition of Hollis-Jefferson allowed the Blazers to trade him and backup point guard Steve Blake to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for center Mason Plumlee and the draft rights to small forward Pat Connaughton as both players will certainly become developmental projects for them going forward.
Olshey and the Trailblazers knew coming into this season that they would be rolling the dice as they had a numerous amount of players that had the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents as they were trying to make a push for their first NBA Championship since 1976. And in an era where players are going to for the money as the teams are not loyal to them, they’re going to take the money and run to a new team in a new city that is willing to pay them and in some cases, give them a better chance to win. With the NBA salary cap and free agency, smaller market teams such as the Trailblazers have to build their teams as if they were a collegiate basketball squad being that there is consistent roster turnover. The Blazers have somewhat cushioned the blow of losing Aldrige, Matthews, Lopez, Afflalo, Batum, and Blake, as when the new season begins this October, the folks in Portland will have to get accustomed to a brand new team that’ll be wearing the red and black.