The Portland Trail Blazers have their work cut out for them in the upcoming NBA season, especially in the revamped western conference. After finishing the regular season in eighth place last year in the Western Conference, Portland remains basically the same team, unlike most of the conference foes who improved by picking up stars this offseason.
Portland traded away Allen Crabbe, which should help their salary cap situation and give them more flexibility in the future.
The Houston Rockets picked up Chris Paul, pairing him with James Harden and the rest of the run and gun system Mike D’Antoni has instituted. This helps solidify them as a top three team in the west.
The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up Paul George, which was a huge steal for them. This elevates them to another level, with a second legitimate star who can score and defend at a high level. Coupled with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, they will be revamped to compete in the west.
The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford to go along with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. This is an intriguing team that could really make some noise in the west as they have a very young talented group that can score. Coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached Butler in Chicago, will be pushing this team to defend.
The Denver Nuggets picked up Paul Millsap, which doesn’t seem like much but he will make their team better. Those last three teams all are in the Trail Blazers’ Northwest Division and will test Portland’s resolve.
Let’s not forget the New Orleans Pelicans, who added DeMarcus Cousins last year to go along with Anthony Davis. They should be improved with more time and experience together.
The San Antonio Spurs added Rudy Gay to go along with their already veteran laden roster who consistently wins at a high level. Finally, the Golden State Warriors are still above everyone in the west; they added Nick Young to give them more depth off the bench.
So how does a Portland team who struggled throughout last season navigate the Western Conference this year?
The start studded combo of Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum will carry this team to wins like it has in years past. But Portland lacks depth and consistency at the small forward and power forward positions. Jusuf Nurkic is a bright spot looking ahead but hasn’t played in more than 65 games in his three NBA seasons so sustainability is a worry.
There are rumors about Carmelo Anthony possibly waiving his no-trade clause to join Rip City and how that it believed to elevate them to one of the top teams in the west. Anthony has never been a good defender. Portland was ranked amongst the worst last year in defensive efficiency. Although it would add star power and firepower, it wouldn’t necessarily elevate them above Houston, San Antonio or others.
Anthony is 33 now and his time as an elite player in the league is short. Adding him definitely brings attention and intrigue but doesn’t push them above the top teams in the west.
As it is now, Portland seems to still be waiting to make a run at the Western Conference crown. Lillard is now 27 and McCollum will be 26 soon. But the rest of the conference continues to pass them by.
As some point they will have to make a run with their two stars by making a trade or somehow pick up a big time free agent to help them contend but it looks like the 17-18 campaign will be another year of mediocrity for Portland.