NBA Future Rankings 27. Portland Trail Blazers
*Photo via USA Today
Is there a franchise that has been bit harder by the injury bug than the Portland Trailblazers? From injuries derailing the career of Hall of Fame center Bill Walton in the late 70s, to Portland drafting injury prone center Sam Bowie in 1984, “Rip City” simply couldn’t seem to avoid bad luck. Not much has changed in recent years as Portland drafted Brandon Roy in 2006 and Greg Oden in 2007. Along with LaMarcus Aldridge, whose draft rights were acquired in 2006, the trio had the potential to bring a championship to the Pacific Northwest. Knee injuries forced the early retirement of budding superstar Roy and Oden has played a total of 105 games since being drafted.
Portland rebounded well, building a contender around Aldridge by drafting point guard Damian Lillard and surrounding their two stars with quality starters. Portland had legitimate title hopes this past season until the injury bug found its way back to Rip City: Aldridge battled through torn ligaments in his thumb, Wes Matthews was lost with a ruptured Achilles, Nicolas Batum dealt with a knee injury and Arron Afflalo hurt his shoulder as Portland was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
*Photo via csnnw
Fast forward two months and five of Portland’s top six have now found new franchises. The lone starter remaining is Lillard who re-signed with the Blazers for $120 million over five years. With their new look roster, Portland will be one of the younger teams in the league and have fallen from a title hopeful, to a potential lottery team.
Portland still has cap room for this upcoming season and will have a massive amount of room the following year with a majority of their rotation due rookie scale qualifying offers and/or have team options. In the next five years, Portland does not have any incoming draft picks (from other teams) but will have to possibly surrender at least three second round selections (2016, 2017, 2020) and a potential 2018 second round swap. The Blazers also owe the Denver Nuggets a first round pick with lottery protections in 2016 and 2017. If the pick isn’t conveyed to Denver in 2017, it turns into a 2018 second rounder.
The Blazers have set an alarming and unfortunate precedent regarding injuries. In a loaded Western Conference that doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, Portland may struggle to return to contender status. There is promise, as Portland is a young squad and has a ton of cap space, but there will always be an elephant; one that crushes bones, tears ligaments and ruptures tendons.
Transaction information courtesy of RealGM, NBA.com