Wieber: In a dark season, Damian Lillard can shine
Every year since the 2006 NBA draft when the Blazers drafted Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the NBA season has started off with some sort of optimism for Blazer fans. Even when the aspiration of reaching the playoffs was not plausible, fans got to watch a young, talented roster improve each year while drooling at their seemingly endless potential.
Even when their No. 1 selection in the following draft, Greg Oden, ended up needing surgery and didn’t play his first year, the team had so many budding stars they still saw a nine-win increase from the previous season. Most teams can’t afford to poorly use the No. 1 overall pick, but with All-Star Brandon Roy pushing the team night in and night out, the pill that was Oden’s glass knees was easier to swallow.
Last season the team started the season with a strong roster. Roy had retired, but Aldridge was improving at a rapid rate and was quickly becoming one of the league’s best forwards. Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews were also improving at a steady clip and the Blazers had talented veterans to anchor the defense in Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace.
Unfortunately, the year and team proved to be a failed experiment. They spiraled out of contention quickly and the front office waved the white flag of surrender in the form of trading their veterans for draft picks.
This year is different than the previous six years because Blazer fans are going into the year knowing the expectations are low and the team is different. They are expected to again be a lottery team and to have one of the worst, if not the worst, defenses in the league.
They have several new additions to the team that are considered the scraps of the league such as former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison and son of Denver’s head coach, Coby Karl, who will don a number seven jersey, a number that fans will always connect with the former captain Brandon Roy.
In addition to the new players, the team has acquired a new general manager in Neil Olshey and a new head coach in Terry Stotts. It is hard to gauge the possible production with this new team that includes new management and a roster boasting five rookies that should all receive ample minutes on the court.
In the past, major change in the form of trade was not something on the radar. The core of the roster was cemented for years to come. This, like just about everything else, is different this year. The franchise centerpiece, LaMarcus Aldridge, could possibly be on his way out if the right deal presents itself.
There have been whispers floating around the league that the Blazers front office is feeling unsure of their ability to resign Aldridge when his contract expires in three seasons. The chance of them becoming competitive in that short time frame is unrealistic. Even if they were to resign him many question the notion that he is the type of player who yields enough production to warrant franchise centerpiece status. If they truly want to rebuild, trading Aldridge for draft picks would be the quickest way to do it.
In a season that appears to be full of disappointment, the Blazers hold one potential ace in their first round draft pick, Damian Lillard. Lillard put up good numbers at Weber State, but those numbers were put up against meek Big Sky competition. His play in the NBA summer league was tantalizing for Blazer Nation, and although Blazer fans were let down from the lack of production in the regular season as opposed to summer league play when former Blazer point guard Jerryd Bayless lit the summer league on fire, analysts believe that Lillard is more of a sure thing. Vegas agrees, giving Lillard the second best odds (11/2) to win Rookie of the Year only behind the number one overall pick, Anthony Davis (19/10).
With a new front office, a new coach, and many new and lowly touted players, expectations for this experiment are understandably low. The future might be bright though, even if Aldridge is dealt, due to the high potential of Lillard. Also, luckily for owner Paul Allen, Blazer fans have learned to be content with mediocrity.