Portland Trail Blazers: Last year, many people counted out the Trail Blazers before the season even began. Portland turned out to be one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 season and even managed to reach the second round of the playoffs. Rip City was led by its stellar young backcourt of All-Star Damian Lillard (25) and last season’s most improved player CJ McCollum (24). Portland has already signed Lillard to a contract extension that runs through the 2020-21 season, and they just rewarded McCollum with a 4-year $106 Million extension. This offseason, Portland has been one of the biggest spenders in the league. First the Trail Blazers fortified the wings by re-signing Allen Crabbe to a 4-year $75 Million contract and adding Evan Turner on a 4-year $70 Million contract. I like both of these players, but Portland no doubt overpaid on both signings. Both Crabbe and Turner bring solid all around games to the table, and their ages coincide well with Portland’s backcourt. Crabbe proved to be a knockdown shooter, and if it weren’t for McCollum, he may have won Most Improved Player of the Year. Turner had somewhat of a renaissance in his stint in Boston and adds a much needed playmaker to the team. These two players, along with Al-Farouq Aminu (who is now a steal at just $7.5 Million per year the next three seasons) form a formidable and versatile wing rotation. The Trail Blazers took a wise gamble by acquiring former UConn stud Shabazz Napier. It was just two seasons ago that Napier was arguably the top player in college basketball and was selected in the 1st round of the draft. In his first two seasons Napier hasn’t been given a chance to prove his worth. Perhaps he will finally find his home in Portland backing up Lillard and McCollum. Up front Portland still has the immense potential of Noah Vonleh, the best Plumlee brother (Mason), and the always-efficient Ed Davis. In addition the Blazers re-signed Meyers Leonard and Moe Harkless to similar 4-year $40 Million contracts. Leonard is still a very raw player, but the talent is clearly there. It’s hard to find players of Leonard’s size with his youth and shooting ability. Harkless’s play excelled towards the end of the year and was moved into the starting lineup in the playoffs. Like Aminu, Harkless gives Portland a young, athletic, and multi-positional defender. Portland’s final big move in free agency was signing Festus Ezeli to an incredibly cheap 2-year $15 Million contract. When compared to the contracts signed by other free agent centers, Ezeli’s deal represents one of the best value signings of the summer. Ezeli has had a lot of injuries in his short career, but he is still very young and gives Portland a player who can truly defend the NBA’s behemoths. Another boon for Rip City is that they have all of their future 1st round picks and own the Cavs first rounder in next year’s draft. Portland has built a solid playoff team of players in their twenties that should continue to grow and develop in the coming seasons.
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