New direction in Portland

New direction in Portland
September 4, 2012, 2:38 pm
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What ever happened to the Portland Trailblazers? It seems just like yesterday that they were on the doorstep of being a factor in the western conference for years to come and then poof, they were gone.

After a knee injury to all-star guard Brandon Roy that forced him into a short-lived retirement, the Blazers slumped to a 28-38 record last season. Couple that with Greg Oden -- the former 2 overall pick -- done for good with another knee injury, the Blazers struggled. Last year's swoon cost Nate McMillan his coaching job midway through the season and the team hired offensive-minded Terry Stotts this summer to head up the squad.

It certainly will be a rebuilding season for a young Portland team this upcoming season.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the biggest name that returns for the Blazers. The 6'-11" power forward pumped in 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds a game for the Blazers last year as he made his first all-star game. Aldridge can play center but is better suited at the 4 and that's why the team went after Roy Hibbert but the Pacers matched the offer sheet and retained the all-star center. Unable to get that deal done, Portland drafted center Meyers Leonard out of Illinois with the 11th overall pick.

Leonard only played two seasons at Illinois, averaging 13 points 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a game. Leonard made a huge jump from his freshman to sophomore season and the Blazers hope he can do the same at the pro-level and erase the memory of Oden's disappointing career.

The Blazers also believe they have the team's point guard for many years to come after drafting Damien Lillard, the high-scoring play maker out of Utah State with the 6th overall pick in the draft. Lillard put up 24 points and 5 assists a game in his senior season for the Aggies. Lillard will likely be the starting point guard from the jump with Nolan Smith and Ronnie Price fighting for back up minutes.

Portland opted to match the 4-year 46 million offer made by Minnesota to restricted free-agent forward Nicolas Batum this summer. Batum, only 23 years old, averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds in his fourth season as a pro. The athletic wing player can defend guards and provides solid three-point shooting for the Blazers.

Portland inked forward J.J. Hickson to a one-year deal. In 19 games for the Blazers last season, Hickson averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game.

There are a slew of forwards on the Blazers roster who will fight to earn minutes, including former Wizard Jared Jeffries who came over from the Knicks in that trade for point guard Raymond Felton.

It'll probably be a long season in Portland as the Blazers' roster is extremely young with eight players having less than two years of NBA experience. So don't expect Portland to make a run at the playoffs anytime soon.