The Trail Blazers are a tough team to judge going forward.
Portland has the talent to be relevant, but not quite enough to really compete for an NBA title. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are one of the top guard duos in the league, but the rest of the roster is a jumble of decently talented players who don't really move the needle one way or another.
The Blazers really struggled last year when Jusuf Nurkic went down, and he is not expected to be ready to start this season either. Instead of trying to brave for the first half of the season without their key big man, the team went out and addressed the problem by trading for Hassan Whiteside, who had worn out his welcome in Miami. Whiteside has struggled to get on the court for the past few years due to a combination of injuries and inability to contribute. Portland is hoping that a change in scenery and a move out of the spotlight in Miami will help revitalize his career. There is no question that Whiteside has tremendous talent, but he will need to show a stronger mental fortitude to take full advantage of this fresh start.
Portland also traded for Kent Bazemore in a bad contract for bad contract swap that saw Atlanta take on Evan Turner's deal. Bazemore is a better scorer than Turner, and they are equally adequate ball handlers, but the Blazers will miss Turner on the defensive end and in the locker room.
Two years ago the signing of Pau Gasol would have been a big deal, but at this stage of his career, he is merely a depth guy for the Blazers. The team is also taking a low risk flier on Mario Hezonja, similar to what the Knicks did last year. It didn't quite work out in New York, so it begs the question of if it will be any different in Portland. I have my doubts.
The losses of key pieces Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless will hurt this team, and to be totally honest, I’m not sure they did enough to replace them.
The Blazers only made one pick in the NBA draft, selecting North Carolina forward Nassir Little at number 25. Little was highly recruited out of high school but failed to crack the starting lineup regularly at UNC. He showed some issues picking up the pace of the professional game during Summer League, but there is no denying the natural ability he has. Little has the talent of a lottery pick, so if he is able to put everything together, it would make his selection at 25 look like a steal.
Offseason Grade: C | Predicted Western Conference Ranking: 7
The Blazers will go as far as Lillard and McCollum will take them. The team didn't do a great job of adding talent around the star duo, but they took some low risk fliers that could turn into real winners. Bringing in Whiteside to fill in for Nurkic was a smart move because Whiteside’s ceiling is higher than any alternative option that was out there.
The selection of Nassir Little at 25 was also a steal in terms of where he was projected to go. If he lives up the hype that followed him to North Carolina, Portland may finally have found a third star, but that is a big “if.”
Graduate of Loyola Maryland and die hard Boston sports fan. "I rub it in pretty good when I win" - Tom Brady