Starting 5 in PDX
Once upon a time, you knew exactly what the Portland Trail Blazers’ lineup was going to look like from year to year. Sure, the guys toward the bottom of the bench would shift on occasion, but for the most part, the rotation was set regardless of the season.
Now, with the team constantly rebuilding, it has become tough to picture what the team will look like entering the new year.
Despite all of the changes, the lineup is finally starting to come together. There’s only one position that is ultimately in question out of the starting five, and it’s the same one that has been up for grabs since the drafting of oft-injured Greg Oden.
The Blazers have a good idea of who their starters will be in 2013-14, but with no guarantees in the NBA, educated predictions are as good as we can get in the midst of the offseason.
Point Guard: Damian Lillard
Consider the point guard position locked up for the foreseeable future.
Damian Lillard is coming off of in incredible first season. He was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, he proved he can be a facilitator and he showed that he has the ability to score at the professional level.
The youngster was brought in to be the point guard of the future, and he proved that he can be just that right out of the gate. The only way Dame loses this spot is if he gets injured, and if that happens, Rip City just might fall into a permanent state of depression.
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews
There’s two ways Wesley Matthews is out of the starting unit next season. The first is that he is included in a trade to bring back a center. The second is that he is moved to the bench as a result of a big-time signing at the 2-guard position.
Both seem unlikely at this point, which leaves Matthews in for the time being.
Matthews is the vocal leader of this team. He’s still young, but he’s become a veteran amongst rookies and sophomores—all of whom need guidance in times of adversity.
As a shooter, it’s true that the he has lacked consistency as a result of his health. However, he’s deadly from deep when he’s feeling it, and after an offseason of rest, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be on top of his game when the new year tips off.
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
After signing a massive contract last offseason, you’d better believe Nicolas Batum is going to be in the starting lineup.
Like Matthews, Batum has been guilty of inconsistency. Also like Matthews, it is widely because of health.
The small forward has the ability to impact both sides of the floor, and while he must improve both offensively and defensively to justify his payday, his upside is among the best in the league at his position.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
The power forward spot in Portland is a tough one to predict, which is unfortunate considering it is home to the team’s best player.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been exposed for not enjoying the city—or the rebuilding stages. While he says he hasn’t requested a trade, it’s becoming clear that his time in Portland may be winding down.
As much as Aldridge may want out, the Blazers aren’t stupid. Neil Olshey isn’t going to trade him just for the sake of trading him, and unless a lopsided deal comes Portland’s way in favor of the organization, there’s no need to trade your only All-Star.
The team has already rejected two separate offers that included David Lee and the No. 1 pick in the draft respectively, and unless someone can do better, Aldridge will be in the lineup come opening night.
Center: Chris Kaman
This is the big one.
At this point in the offseason—aka, before Dwight Howard makes his decision—nobody knows who is going where. There are a number of centers on the market, and the truth is that all of them are plan B’s and C’s compared to the best big man in the game.
With Portland never being considered a suitor for Howard, the team made it known that Kaman was near the top of its wish list. Nikola Pekovic is an option—although he might be too expensive—and Marcin Gortat would be solid, but he’s been recently taken off the market.
However, with Asik being a bit of a stretch for Portland, Kaman becomes the next best option.
Robin Lopez, Samuel Dalembert and Zaza Pachulia are all options during the offseason as well. JJ Hickson is technically an option too, but his lack of defense makes him a virtual guarantee to be playing elsewhere next year.