Portland Trail Blazers: 5 storylines entering 2014-15 NBA season

Plenty To Talk About

The Portland Trail Blazers have officially begun training camp, which means one thing.

Basketball is back in Rip City.

As fun as the offseason has been for fans across the league (we can thank LeBron James and Kevin Love for that), it was a relatively quiet summer for the Trail Blazers. The two moves that made headlines were the signings of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, but there’s plenty to talk about with the new year on the horizon.

Thomas Robinson  looks to build upon last season. (Photo: Jamie Francis/The Oregonian)

Thomas Robinson looks to build upon last season. (Photo: Jamie Francis/The Oregonian)

Bench Production

It’s no secret that Portland’s bench has been atrocious the past two seasons. In both of those campaigns, the second unit ranked dead last in numerous categories, but you have to wonder how much of that has to do with talent, and how much of that is because of Terry Stotts’ rotation.

While it’s impossible to argue the team’s reserves deserve more minutes, at some point, Stotts has to throw the youngsters into the deep end. This year general manager Neil Olshey brought in players such as Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to increase production, but there’s something of a youth movement that could eventually take place off the bench.

Although players such as Allen CrabbeVictor Claver and Joel Freeland all have potential, we’re looking at guys like CJ McCollum and Thomas Robinson as the potential X-Factors. Dorell Wright can certainly earn minutes if his shooting improves to the levels it was before he came to Portland, but it’s the two youngsters — and even Meyers Leonard — who are most likely to show significant improvement.

Position Battles

The starting lineup is set. There’s no question who will be in the first five come the season opener, as Portland’s starting unit was among the most productive in the league this past season.

What is up for debate, however, is which players will earn minutes in the second unit.

At center, Kaman will see action right away, but you have to ask: Will it be Meyers Leonard or Joel Freeland (or even Thomas Robinson) who steals minutes away when the big man is missing from action? At point guard, you’ve got Blake, CJ McCollum and even Will Barton who will be vying for time.

Minutes will ultimately come down to who performs best. We have a good idea of what the rotation will look like at the start of the year, but that could change depending on who is stepping up and who is underachieving.

Contract Years

Contracts are going to be a huge point of discussion this season. The Blazers have five players who are guaranteed to be unrestricted free agents next summer, and you have seven more who could become free agents via an option in their current deals.

For those keeping track at home, that leaves just three players (Damian LillardNicolas BatumAllen Crabbe) who are guaranteed to be on the roster in 2015-16.

The first thought here is that you have a whole slew of players who are bound to play well. Everyone is looking for a payday, and as a result, we could see numerous contributors put together career years.

The problem is that we could just as easily see a group of guys become a tad more selfish than we’re used to, potentially disrupting the chemistry we saw last season.

Although you shouldn’t expect the latter to happen, you have to wonder who will be distracted by the thought of free agency. This will be a theme all year, and it will last well into the following offseason.

Back-to-Back Healthy Seasons?

As well as the Blazers played last season, you can’t deny that they got lucky.

No, not with Damian Lillard‘s walk-off three-pointer to send the Houston Rockets packing — that was all skill.

The Blazers were lucky because they endured an entire year without health being a problem. This is a franchise that has been beaten and battered by injuries in the past, and making it two years in a row where health is an after-thought will be crucial when it comes to building upon their success in 2013-14.

Building Upon 2013-14

Speak of the devil…

Everything we’ve said up to this point has been leading up to this. Last season was great, and nobody will forget the year that saw the Blazers end the longest streak in the league when it comes to second-round appearances. But that doesn’t mean anyone should settle.

Amid the numerous storylines Rip City has to offer, this one sticks out the most. NBA fans have called last year a fluke across the blogosphere, but proving last season was a starting point — not a high point — will do wonders when it comes to silencing detractors.


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About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
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