Portland Trail Blazers 2011-12 Season Preview
The 2011-12 season for the Portland Trail Blazers looks to be a very interesting one for everyone involved. Coming off a season in which they suffered countless injuries and still managed to make the playoffs with a record of 48-34 only to lose to the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, the 2011-12 Blazers are going to look a lot different than their counterparts from 2010-11. Some of those changes are for the better, some for the worse, but if the ‘Zers can stay healthy this season (knock on wood) people are going to be very happy in the Rose City.
Brandon Roy is obviously the biggest name that the Blazers lost from last season to this one. After starring for Portland for 5 years, Roy was forced to retire prior to this season due to a degenerative condition in both of his knees. Although fans are left wondering what could have been had The Natural been able to play at an All-Star level for the rest of his career in Portland, I admire his decision to retire now and be able to play with his kids in the future rather than play one or two more seasons and never be able to walk again.
Although Oden is still on the Blazers for this season after signing an $8.9 million deal for one year prior to the NBA lockout, Oden suffered a “setback” in his recovery, which may cause him to miss significant time yet again this year. Things aren’t looking good for the former number 1 draft pick but one can only hope that he returns to full health and is able to contribute at even a fraction of the rate he showed he could while playing at Ohio State.
One of the most fun to watch and at times infuriating players on the 2010-11 version of the Blazers was Rudy Fernandez. He would look lost on defense, turn the ball over trying to make a tricky pass, and then just when you lost all confidence in him, he’d hit three 3-pointers in a row. Rudy definitely brought a spark off the bench though and that could be missed.
Miller was one of my favorite Blazers last year. His veteran leadership seemed to give a steadying hand to an otherwise relatively young team who could’ve lost its way in the wake of so many injuries. In the offseason, Miller was traded back to the Denver Nuggets for a second stint in the Mile High City along with the rights for the 26th pick in the draft Jordan Hamilton in exchange for Raymond Felton, whom I’m really excited about. Miller’s leadership will certainly be missed but I think Felton can come in and play with very little drop off in production if any at all.
As I mentioned above, I’m really excited to see what Felton can do in the ‘Zers offense. It seems like yesterday that Felton was leading North Carolina to a National Championship, but coming into his 7th season in the league, I think we might see a breakout year for the 6’1’’ point guard.
The Blazers flat out stole Jamal Crawford. After amnestying Brandon Roy’s contract after he announced his retirement, Crawford and the Blazers agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal. I don’t know how they were able to get the unrestricted free agent to sign for that little, especially considering teams like the Knicks have no one in their backcourt. No one! Before signing Baron Davis, Toney Douglas was in line to start for them with Iman Shumpert backing him up…who the hell is Iman Shumpert?!? But I digress, although Crawford does seem to get lost on defense more than his fair share of the time, he provides a potent scoring threat for the Blazers and even more importantly, he provides them with health. In the last two years Crawford has playing in 79 and 76 games, respectively. A healthy, scoring shooting guard will be a welcome presence on the ‘Zers, especially with the taxing post-lockout schedule.
This wily veteran will provide some much needed depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge and will shoulder some of the load for rebounding and blocking shots. Thomas won’t provide too much of a scoring threat but he knows his role and he’s a good pickup for Portland.
Remember everything I just said about Kurt Thomas? Ditto that for Smith except he’s only played 5 years in the league instead of 16. Smith is going to push people around in the paint, which is something the Blazers haven’t had in recent years. Alongside Marcus Camby, who still blocks shots like it’s no one’s business, Smith will add a physical element to the Blazers roster to compliment LaMarcus’ more finesse style of play down low.
The Blazers are primed for another postseason run. Portland finished 6th in the Western Conference last year and the two top teams in the 2010-11 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, have taken steps back in my estimation. The Spurs are just getting old and haven’t added too many influential pieces and the Lakers lost big when they got rid of Lamar Odom, missed out on Chris Paul, and are now relying on Kobe’s knees to withstand another punishing season controlling the offense. The ‘Zers won’t be the top team in the West, but with a deep bench that will help them weather the no-rest schedule, they could certainly break into the top 5 and make a run into the second or third rounds of the playoffs. Black Friday certainly took its toll and Brandon Roy will be missed, but the new look Blazers have a lot to look forward to.