How Things Have Changed in Portland
*Photo via AP
It's amazing how many things can change over the course of a few weeks.
About a month ago, the Portland Trail Blazers had one of the best starting lineups in the league. They were young and rising and a perennial playoff team. Fast forward a month and the Trail Blazers are without four of their five starting players. Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and LaMarcus Aldridge are no longer with the team.
Nicolas Batum (small forward) is the only player out of the group that was actually traded. On June 24th, the Trail Blazers traded him to the Charlotte Hornets for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. Without Batum, the Trailblazers lack a defensive wing and a corner three-point shooter. Batum was given the task of guarding the opponent's best wing player and now that he's gone, the Blazers need to look for another option as their primary defender.
Wesley Matthews (shooting guard), who suffered an Achilles injury during the season, left the Portland Trail Blazers for the Dallas Mavericks. Matthews was a great three-point shooter and defender, similar to Batum. If he was healthy, the Blazers could have won their first round series and maybe the team would still be intact and we would be having a different conversation. Nonetheless, Matthews will be sorely missed, particularly by their point guard Damian Lillard.
Robin Lopez (center) just recently signed with the New York Knicks, leaving the team without its top interior defender. Robin Lopez is the most replaceable out of the group, however, he was a great contributor to this team. He rebounded well for them last season and played great defense, but the Blazers can still find a replacement.
Finally, the player that changed the culture completely is their former All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus has been an important part of the Blazers since he joined the team in 2006. He became the franchise player several years later and improved every season. During this past season, he averaged a career high with 23.4 points per game. He's been the heart and soul and number one scoring option for the Blazers and they're going to sorely miss him. LaMarcus Aldridge bolted for the San Antonio Spurs this past weekend. Without Aldridge they lose a quarter of their offense and will struggle against the other dominant power forwards in the Western Conference.
Even Arron Afflalo left the team during this offseason. Without these players, the Blazers are just left with Damian Lillard, rookies, and aged veterans. With most of the top free agents off of the market, the Blazers are forced into rebuilding mode for the next few years. They are destined to be a lottery team, especially in the Western Conference, and Lillard is left as the sole leader to turn the franchise back around.
The Blazers are going to need to get a supporting class to surround Lillard to return to the playoff team they have been the past two years. They have a tough road ahead of them and we may not know when the Blazers will return to the playoff picture, but at least with Lillard it's a start.