This has been a tumultuous offseason for the Portland Trailblazers. Whether you're pumped or baffled about the moves and the direction of the franchise, you have to agree to that much.
Living in Portland, my 45 min morning commute is comprised of 35 min of Blazer analysis on the radio. After digesting the reaction of callers and radio hosts, there are a few points I'd like to touch on as we head into next season.
1. Jerryd Bayless - Which Side are You On?
It's amazing how much can change in a year.
Just twelve months ago, Bayless was heralded as (an integral piece of) the future for the Blazers. Today, the overwhelming majority seems to have given up on him, calling for his head and hoping a trade ensues. While I'm somewhere in the middle with regards to Bayless as a player, I am beyond annoyed by the overnight shift from a fanbase of Bayless believers to a fanbase of Bayless haters.
What caused this shift? A few summer league games. Summer league? Yep. This is the same summer league that Oden averaged 42 fouls/game in last year. What was fans' response to Oden's lack of discipline last summer? That he's still young and has plenty of time to learn. So why hasn't the same patience been offered to Bayless? You got me. More on Oden later in this post.
On Bayless, most fans are just now coming to the realization that he isn't a point guard. This is the primary reason for the abandonment of the fan base in recent months.
I knew Bayless wasn't a point guard from day one, but who really cares? The same point guard experiment failed on Monta Ellis in G.S. and Ben Gordon in Chicago. Both of those guys have managed to make a good living in this league, despite their lack of height and lack of a distributor's mentality.
So he can't pass. Big deal! As soon as Blazers' brass stops pushing him as a point guard and gets creative with lineups, he'll be just fine. The fact remains, Bayless is a FREAK athlete... you don't believe me, just youtube his high school and college highlights. He gets to the rim at ease and finishes. He can pressure point guards better than anyone else on the roster save Andre Miller. Let's stop focusing on what he isn't and focus on what he is.
Much has been made of Portland's failure to land Turkoglu and Millsap. What do I think? I think the Blazers are better off. While I love both of those players, they would have put a tremendous burden on Portland's future cap space.
Will Turkoglu really be worth $10mil+ in 5 years, when he's in his late-thirties? I doubt it. Plus, he excels with the ball in his hands as a point-forward of sorts. B Roy is still the pick-and-roller late in games, and I can't say with certainty that Turkoglu would have been as effective playing off the ball.
Millsap would have brought some toughness, but at the expense of $10mil per? Remember, he would have been coming off the bench. It's hard to justify paying that kind of money for 25-30 min per game.
In short, the death of those proposed deals could be a positive in the long run.
On Oden: Sam Bowie or Dwight Howard?
Let me start by saying that Greg Oden will be a much better player than Sam Bowie ever was. However, there are certain things about the former #1 that I am a bit worried about.
Did anyone else find it concerning that Greg opted against training with the team in favor of academic pursuits in Columbus? For a guy who underwhelmed in year one, I would think he'd dedicate every minute of his summer attention to getting better. Not saying he hasn't been working hard, but to even divert some of his attention to the books seems foolish to me at this point. If anything, it just strengthens the argument that Oden just isn't THAT passionate about basketball... at least not compared to the all-time greats people have been likening him to. That worries me.
As I mentioned earlier, the unwavering support for the big fella has been astounding. It's like people forget that free passes aren't given to #1 picks. People so desperately want to see him succeed that they are blinded by all of his shortcomings. This wasn't intended to be Oden bashing hour, but from what I've seen he 1) has no offensive awareness WHATSOEVER, 2) is extremely undisciplined on defense, 3) shows little aggressiveness or passion for the game, and 4) is injury-prone. Yet, somehow, people up here still think he was a better pick than Kevin Durant. Unbelievable.
The Blazers did the right thing by hiring Brian Grant to be Oden's personal trainer this summer. He should do wonders for the big man.... Grant was always a tireless worker and brought toughness to the court. If he can help Oden in these facets of the game, he should be a big-time contributor this year.
Despite all my criticism, I'm not gonna give up on the big guy yet. He is still VERY young and has years to come into his own. He's got the God-given tangibles that can't be taught, now it's just a matter of him taking it upon himself to improve every year. I hope this happens.
This Season and Looking Forward
The Blazers should be a contender this year, even more so than they were last year. I'm expecting a win total in the 55-60 range, which would be good for 3rd or 4th in the West. They aren't quite a championship-caliber team at this point (especially with the offseason improvements by the Spurs & Lakers), but they should make it past the first round. If they can lock down Roy & Aldridge to long-term deals, and Oden makes Pryzbilla expendible, this team could be downright scary in a couple years. There is not a team in the league that is more loaded with young talent. Should be fun to watch!