So you’re telling me there’s a chance…
The team from the Great Northwest won 33 games in 2012-13, and it has been absent from the playoffs two years in a row.
That said, the Blazers have been given 100/1 odds (via Bovada.lv) to come away as champs, which puts them ahead of eight squads around the league, and ties them with five others.
Entering the year, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Rip City. The team should be much improved following a constructive offseason, and an increase in wins is practically a given at this point.
The question is whether or not the team truly stands a chance at winning a title, and more specifically, if Bovada actually got the odds right with the season rapidly approaching.
Reason for Optimism
Entering the offseason, Portland fans had visions of acquiring a superstar through free agency. GM Neil Olshey had money to spend, and in the eyes of the fans, the bigger the name the better.
To the dismay of those with high hopes, no superstar ever emerged. But while the core in Portland remains the same, the Blazers will have hands down the most improved bench in The Association.
This year, the team has completely restocked, bringing in Thomas Robinson, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and C.J. McCollum. Last year’s bench was bad on historical levels, but this year’s group of reserves has loads of long-term and short-term potential.
In Portland’s case, having a competent bench is simply icing on the cake, as the starting lineup scored more points than any other starting five in the NBA a year ago. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the clear stars of the show, but Wesley Matthew, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez have a chance to complement the leaders nicely.
In the case of Nicolas Batum, the Blazers have another star waiting to surface. If the swingman can finally break out of his shell, stay healthy and dominate on both ends of the floor, he’ll begin to reach his ceiling, and the team will be in a rare class with three legitimate stars.
One move that has flown relatively under the radar (at least as far as the national media is concerned) is the pickup of Robin Lopez. He’s not a dominant offensive presence, and he’s not even a defensive specialist — so to speak. What he is, however, is a big body that will clog the middle on a nightly basis. He’s not a center who requires 35 minutes a game, meaning Meyers Leonard will have room to grow, and he is the kind of guy who will make opposing big men work—something J.J. Hickson could never claim.
This team has a lot of potential, but the truth is that the stars could align if things move quickly. Expect this crew to be in contention for the playoffs, and expect them to be a team nobody wants to face entering the postseason.
Reason for Doubt
The NBA is a star-driven league, and until we’ve seen Batum stay both healthy and consistent on a regular basis, the team is stuck with a two-time All-Star and a standout sophomore leading the way.
Moving away from the subjective topic of what makes a superstar, is the more objective issue of experience. Portland is relatively young at this stage in the rebuild, and they’re very inexperienced when it comes to postseason success.
The Blazers will catch lightning in a bottle this season and will take down some of the league’s top teams when you least expect it. The problem is that we’ve seen them do that the last two years, and they can’t keep momentum long enough to follow up with wins over the bottom feeders the next night.
Portland is coming off of a season that saw itself lose 13 straight contests to close out the year. The 2011-12 season saw a similar narrative take place as well. Finishing strong is a must when you’re fighting for a playoff spot, and while this year’s team seems motivated, many people were saying the same thing during the 2012 training camp.
So What’s the Call?
When it comes down to it, putting your money down on the Blazers would be ill-advised at this point. The team is going to be much-improved throughout the year, but even if it can steal a seed in the playoffs, it just doesn’t have the experience or top-tier talent to take down a perennial contender from atop the West.
Portland is going to be fun to watch, and the truth is that it’ll surpass a lot of people’s expecations. Bovada isn’t far off placing this team in the middle of the pack, but defeating the Miami Heat out East in a seven-game series just isn’t a possibility .
The problem is that the team needs to prove itself on the court before we let our emotions control our expectations. We want to believe that the uprise is about to take place, but the truth is that we’re at least one or two steps away from that taking place.
If the team finds success in 2014, we’ll re-evaluate this discussion next season. Fans in Rip City are ready for a return to prominence, and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be a whole lot closer to making that happen in 2015.