The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout had not lasted so long. The NBA season is only one week away, and the flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason are already in progress. And, boy, are they in progress. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks … months … this preview IS never-ending, afterall).
The Previews: Dave/BlazersEdge
The Trail Blazers are something like a gnat. They won’t go away. Thankfully they are out West so the Magic rarely have to deal with them. Yet, with the Nets and Blazers trying to swing a deal that would send Brook Lopez and the Blazers’ Gerald Wallace to Orlando and Dwight Howard to New Jersey shows where they are out.
Portland is going to try and reload in the wake of Brandon Roy’s retirement. LaMarcus Aldridge is their centerpiece. Every other player is seemingly expendable in comparison.
It is truly a new trail that Portland has to blaze moving forward now.
Some degenerative knees forced Roy into retirement after repeated attempts to come back. He played in only 47 games last year and 65 the year before. In his remarkably short five-year career, he never played more than 78 games in any one season. But during the Playoff series against Dallas, Roy looked like he might have been turning the corner toward finally having a healthy season. He may not be as explosive as he was, but he could still score. Roy had some magnificent Playoff performances to remind us of his talent, shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and averaging 9.3 points per game in 23.0 minutes per game.
Roy is gone though. His injury forced Portland to use its amnesty clause on him so they could free up cap space to try and fill that void. Jamal Crawford was the lucky winner of that cap space. And he should be quite the gunner and perimeter scoring option for the Trail Blazers.
Gerald Wallace gave the team a jolt after a mid-season trade. But his name is back among the rumor mill thanks to the Dwight Howard saga going on here in Orlando. Nate McMillan has expressed his excitement in having the always-going, always-hustling Wallace on his team for an entire year. Wallace is certainly the kind of player you want on your team. That is probably what New Jersey was thinking when they tried to get Portland to include him in the trade.
And that trade offer, which would have seen the Trail Blazers get nothing but draft picks in return for helping broker that deal, shows the direction Portland wants to go… or at least the debate going on in the higher offices.
LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be the focal point and future of the team. Aldridge emerged last year as an All Star after averaging 21.8 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game, posting a stellar 21.5 PER. Aldridge, a former No. 2 overall pick in the draft, is a great young player for Portland to begin this latest rebuilding project.
The question remains though whether Portland is willing to go through years of poor play to get out of the trap of mediocrity that injuries have put them in. Because not only has Roy succumbed to injuries, but former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden still has not played a full season in his career. Portland seems ready to move on. And seems ready to take a step back to rebuild a bit.
It is a position the Blazers are not used to being in.
The question is whether penny-pinching owner, and supposed hard-liner during the lockout, Paul Allen is willing to be patient while he waits to build and then gives interim general manager Chad Buchanan the freedom to go out and spend some money. That is a question that might need answering some time in the future.
As it stands now though, Aldridge is a solid player. He is not a superstar player. But he is who the franchise has chosen to build around. Everyone else seems available if it brings the Blazers what they want — some draft picks and flexibility for the future.
Contradictorily though, the Blazers still want to be competitive. It is hard to figure out what this team wants.
On one hand, this is a team that can still be very competitive. Aldridge, Crawford, Wallace and point guard Raymond Felton form a pretty strong starting lineup along with Nicolas Batum or some other option at center. But on the other hand, the team is a collection of good talent. But certainly not one that is competing for a top spot in the Western Conference any time soon.
With Roy leaving, it certainly feels like a brand new day for the Blazers. Where that road takes them? Who knows at this point.
How the Trail Blazers Will Beat the Magic: Portland swept its season series with Orlando last year. How did the Blazers do something that very few teams have done in the Stan Van Gundy era? Hustle. Pure and simple. Portland was willing to work hard and get after it against Orlando. Last year the team certainly had the talent to compete and win if the Magic were not on their game. In the first meeting in Portland, Dwight Howard was on his game. Nobody else was. That night probably made it clear to Otis Smith that his team as currently constructed was not going anywhere after Howard had some choice words for his teammates after the game. The second game, Orlando was without Dwight Howard because of a technical foul suspension and fought extremely hard (losing only because of a few execution errors late in the game). The Blazers might be in between deciding whether to win or whether to rebuild, but there is one thing Nate McMillan will have his team doing. And that is playing hard. That always makes Portland a very dangerous team to face.
How the Magic Will Beat the Trail Blazers: It is clear Dwight Howard can have some pretty big games against LaMarcus Aldridge. It is also clear from those two games last year that focus, effort and execution are bigger keys to victory against the Trail Blazers. That first game was marked by the lackluster play the Magic had outside of Howard’s 39 points and 15 rebounds. The Trail Blazers turned that game into a near route as Howard could not carry the team by himself. It will be important if Howard is still on the team in January when these two teams ahve their only meeting that the rest of the team play with a level of urgency and effort that matches their star player. Really, energy and effort are the keys to getting the kind of season the Magic need.