The Portland Trailblazers must rescue the Summer from boredom.

July 20, 2009

aldridgeby Jack Maidment

On the day that we are told that the Detroit Pistons have lost Walter Hermann to Tau Ceramica in Spain, and that the Cleveland Cavaliers have signed Jamario Moon to an offer sheet and that Blake Griffin has been ‘unjustly’ named MVP of Summer League, it becomes clear that there is literally nothing of any real interest happening in the NBA today.

Back up bench players departing for Spain can hardly be labelled exciting news, but the nature of 24 hour news and the fact that we are all greedy like fat kids with cake ensures that hoop heads around the world get a fix that might kkep them happy for around 2 minutes.

Until something more nourishing (read: anything at all) makes itself apparent, we will all have to make do with the speculation and overly hyped non events that are currently making up the bulk of our NBA diets.

So what is there to look forward to before the season begins in all those days time?

There are only two concrete definites: Lamar Odom’s contract and the money waiting to be unleashed in Portland.

So unleashed may be a bit strong, but there is certainly money to be had playing for the Trailblazers. The problem is that there really aren’t too many players left, if any, capable of justifying the almost $8 million in Kevin Pritchard’s pocket.

Turkoglu committed then bolted for Toronto and the ‘toxic’ offer they submitted for Paul Millsap just wasn’t enough to scare the cost effective folks in Utah. Which realistically only leaves David Lee as a target for the Blazer’s, though there is a very strong possibility that the Knicks will re-sign him anyway: by waiting for other teams to show their hands, New York stays in a strong position for when they negotiate Lee’s deal.

As for Lamar Odom, there seems to be a simple two horse race: the Lakers and the Miami Heat. The smart money would be on L O to remain in LA. Why would you leave? Quarrelling over one year and a few million seems ridiculous for a multimillionaire with a realistic chance at 2,3,4 more NBA Championships.

Neither storylines are exactly dynamite, but a combination of the two would certainly spice up the summer.

Portland are just about the only team with the cash Odom wants, but do the Blazers want Lamar?

Let us hope that the answer is yes, or we may be relegated to a summer of truly mind numbing proportions.

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Portland Trailblazers sign Paul Millsap to offer sheet: Utah Jazz 7 days to match.

July 13, 2009

milby Jack Maidment

The Portland Trailblazers may have just witnessed their number one free agent target choose the international city of Toronto over their fair state, but Hedo Turkoglu’s face has quickly faded from Kevin Pritchard’s memory.

The Blazer’s General Manager whose tenure has been characterised by aggressive recruitment has switched his affections to the pursuit of the Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap who experienced a break out year, largely as a result of Carlos Boozer’s lingering injuries.

An average of 13.5 points and a streak of 19 straight double doubles last year has elevated Millsap from low second round draft pick to important NBA contributor.

Portland have allegedly signed Millsap to an offer sheet although details of the deal are not forthcoming. The Utah Jazz have 7 days to match the offer.

Given the fact that the Jazz have already committed just about all of their money for next year, mostly on Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer’s decision to return to Salt Lake City, the chances of Millsap playing for the Jazz next season seem slim.

For the Blazer’s, Millsap will provide excellent cover off the bench for LaMarcus Aldridge: a player who can score, rebound and play defense.


Hedo Turkoglu chooses Toronto Raptors, Portland Trailblazers look for Plan B.

July 4, 2009

hedo

by Jack Maidment

Fresh off of a trip to the NBA Finals, the Orlando Magic’s free agent small forward Hedo Turkoglu has elected to join the Toronto Raptors after much switching and swaying.

It was widely believed that Turkoglu had agreed terms with the Portland Trailblazers for 5 years and $50 million. However, Toronto offered $6 million more for his services and looked to have signed Turkey’s finest export.

The move forces the Raptors to allow their free agents, Shawn Marion, Carlos Delfino and Anthony Parker, to seek employment elsewhere or face the penalty of the luxury tax.

Turkoglu’s decision further emphasises the dominance of money in today’s game: he trades playoff contention with the Blazers and the Magic for a team which was flat out awful last year.

The hope for the Raptors is that Turkoglu can fire this team back into the playoffs and in so doing keep Chris Bosh in Toronto. Two big tasks indeed.

But, on paper at least, the Raptors should be infinitely better this year: Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in the middle, Hedo at the 3, DeMar DeRozan growing into the 2 and Jose calderon running the floor at the point.

Add the toughness of Reggie Evans and the addition of one scorer on the bench and Toronto will be back in the mix for the 5,6,7 and 8th playoff spot in the East.

The Blazers are left to wonder what might have been as Turkoglu’s experience was what they needed to go deeper into the playoffs. It remains to be seen if they will move for anyone else this off season.


NBA Trade Rumors: Amare Stoudemire to Washington Wizards, Portland Trailblazers like Stephen Curry.

June 3, 2009

nba_g_stoudemire_580by Jack Maidment

With the NBA season nearly at a close the hype mill has just started upping its production, generating the rumours which will keep hoop heads busy until the tip off of the 2009/10 season.

The priority for all but two of the League’s franchises is the rapidly approaching draft which offers teams the opportunity to turn their fortunes around.

Or not. Given the reported strength, or lack there of, in this year’s class, the chance of a dramatic turnaround look slim. Unless you are the LA Clippers.

Even so, there will be a number of players drafted this year who will go on to have a huge impact on their team. Also guaranteed is the ‘diamond in the rough’ which one lucky franchise will uncover with what looks like an inconspicuous pick.

With that in mind, the Portland Trailblazers are rumoured to be locked on to the guy they want, Davidson’s Stephen Curry.

It is easy to see why the Blazers like Curry given his offensive capabilities and his seemingly good fit with a dominant ball handling two guard like Brandon Roy who would free up Curry for spot up jump shots from which he was so effective in college.

The problem for the Blazers lies in the fact that the man they want is projected at around #8, but they wont be on the clock until #24.

All reports up to this point have suggested that the New York Knicks are keen on the slight scoring guard who appears to be the perfect player for Mike D’Antoni’s offensive schemes.

However, the perceived weakness of this year’s class would suggest that team’s will be open to trading down in return for promising players and/or future picks.

Young, promising players is something that Portland has in bunches so it is likely they will be listening intently when the call comes in.

Portland are far from the only team apparently making moves. The Phoenix Suns often trade rumoured forward, Amare Stoudemire, has been linked to a move to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Antawn Jamison, Mike James’ expiring contract and the #5 pick in this years’ draft.

Such a move would almost certainly spell the end of the Suns as we know them, trading their big man who is just entering his prime for an aged forward, cap room and a non to exciting pick.

The Suns would be in a position to strike in the 2010 free agent class, but this draft would almost certainly constrict Phoenix to a second year of mediocrity.


NBA Playoffs: No Time For Fishing

May 2, 2009
$100 Million?
$100 Million?

6 are gone.

 The Utah Jazz, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trailblazers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs have all gone fishing, time on their hands.

 Utah has vowed to improve defensively after falling to the Lakers. Again. The fact that Carlos Boozer is seeking out a $100 million deal probably puts team defense fairly low on team priorities.

 The Jazz need to re-sign Mehmet Okur and Paul Milsap, so the possibility of matching a big time deal for the Booze must be scaring the GM up in Salt Lake something fierce.

 The current economic climate and the allure of the free agent market for the next two years makes it difficult to justify such a blockbuster contract for a player who is unlikely to put you over the hump to the Finals.

 Utah are not the only team with decisions to make. If much of the media is to be believed then San Antonio are either officially at the end of their title contender status or very, very close.

 You can’t beat age. You can deceive it for a while, but it will catch you eventually. Charles Barkley rubbished the idea that an early rest will give Tim Duncan the time he needs to repair, and rightly so.

 If their big three can get (relatively) healthy then they have a shot next year. As long as they bring in some, whisper it, youth.

 The Hornets, despite their destruction by a VERY good Denver Nuggets team, cannot be too worried about their immediate future as long as they have Chris Paul and the rest of their guys get healthy.

 The only team with little to worry about are the Portland Trailblazers. Brandon Roy being hailed as the best player that Ron Artest has played against must fill Oregon with confidence that their team has a player who can lead their team to the Promised Land.

 They are pretty much the antithesis of the Spurs. Old versus young. The likes of Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden (!) are all going to get A LOT better really fast. The Blazers’ future looks pretty enviable.

 Philadelphia are in much the same position as the Jazz with one of their main guys looking around for a new, and big, contract. The loss of Andre Miller to the Sixers would be a huge loss for a team who are light on leadership.

 However, no team that has just exited the Playoffs has more to think about than the once great Detroit Pistons.

 Allen Iverson’s contract is off the books leaving the Pistons with some maneuvering room. The question is when does Joe Dumars decide to pull the trigger: he could go after Boozer or whoever else this summer or he could tread water for a year and wait to make an assault on the fabled free agent class of 2010.

 The one major plus for the Pistons is that players do want to play in Detroit. It’s not like the Memphis Grizzlies who could offer LeBron and co all the money in the world yet would still receive a big fat no in reply.

 Detroit must also decide whether or not to re-sign Mr Technical Rasheed Wallace. As brilliant as he is combustible, and expensive to boot.

 Wholesale changes could be the order of the day in Mo-Town as the team is broken down and rebuilt: will Tayshaun or Rip still be there next year? Or will they be traded for the All Star that the Pistons crave?

 The exit from the Playoffs means that these teams have lots of time on their hands to think.

 The four teams that have game 7s to look forward to will be praying that they are able to put off the inevitable change process by proceeding to the Conference Semi Finals.


Portland Trailblazers: NBA’s Youthful Redeemers Championship Bound?

April 10, 2009
Portland Is Back

Portland Is Back

Prepare to Uprise, Rip City. The excitement is officially back in Portland, Oregon. The team website is emblazoned with slogans full of pride which emphasise the importance of unity in the recent resurgence of the state’s only Major League franchise. ‘Together We Made It Happen, Playoffs Are Back 2009’. It has been a long 6 years for the Trailblazers who have not sampled the delights of the Big Dance since 2003.

 

The rebuilding of the Blazers has taken time and much patience on the part of some of the most loyal fans in sports: Portland holds just about every record for attendance and sell-out streaks. The start of their current journey toward post season glory can be traced back to the 2006 draft when the Blazers took Brandon Roy 6th overall. Despite injury in his first season, Roy contributed straight away, trying to help a struggling franchise. He was rewarded with the Rookie of the Year award.

 

The ability of B-Roy was recognised by Portland’s front office and the franchise identified their young shooting guard as the future of the team. With that in mind, the Trailblazers sent Zach Randolph, captain, to the Knicks, clearing the way for Roy to take up a leading role and to stamp his authority on His team.

 

Portland’s confidence in their man has proven to be well-founded as he has done nothing but improve over his short time in the NBA, both as a player and as a leader of men. Back to back All Star nods pay testament to his talent, the first Blazer to make the mid-season showcase since Rasheed Wallace in 2001.

 

Having identified their leader for the foreseeable future, the Blazers set about acquiring players that could complement each other and grow together. An emphasis on youth has been apparent in Portland where veteran leadership has been replaced or usurped by youthful exuberance and confidence.

 

The core that has been assembled is one of the youngest in the League and based on potential, the Blazers have their destiny in their own hands. Last season they showed what direction they were headed finishing 41-41 on the back of a 13 game win streak.  They did this without their number 1 draft pick Greg Oden who suffered a season ending knee injury before games had even begun. The fitness of their future All-Star center along with some wise picks in the draft bode well for the current season, demanding that other teams not sleep on Portland.

 

And it has come to pass. Despite Oden’s unfortunate injuries, Portland has begun to deliver on their youthful promise. With 4 games to go, the Trailblazers are tied for the 4th seed in the Western Conference, with home court advantage for the first round looking attainable. The Blazers are only half a game back on Houston for 3rd, making the climax to the regular season all important.

 

The playoffs are well and truly back in Rip City and such is the confidence and excitement which surrounds this young team that expectations are well above a respectable first round exit. The reason for this is simple: Portland are a team. They are not overly reliant on one player, beating others with teamwork and consistent production.

 

They are paced by Roy’s 22.9 points per game along with his 5.1 assists. But the Blazers can score in so many ways that teams have a hard time picking how to get beaten. In LaMarcus Aldridge they possess a developing inside presence who can not only bang in the paint but has also been pulling other big men out of their comfort zone by shooting mid range and even 3 point jump shots. Consistently. Aldridge averages 18.4 and 7.5 rebounds and is a great second option on the Blazer offense.

 

Consistent play by their starters is complimented by the League’s second most prolific bench, led by Travis Outlaw who is averaging 12.7, placing him among the candidates for 6th Man of the Year. Any player is capable of big nights off the bench in Oregon: Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Channing Frye, Nicolas Batum. All young, all supremely talented and all loaded with potential.

 

Their current record of 50-28 has Portland on course for a first round match up with either New Orleans or San Antonio, and with a home record of 31-7 they have every chance of progressing at least into the conference semis. Beyond that Portland will be in unchartered territory, possibly meeting the Lakers, a team who has been and done everything before.

 

But who knows. Strange things happen in playoff atmospheres. Only one thing is certain. Portland are back.


NBA Playoffs 2009: Where Far From Predictable Happens

April 9, 2009

portland-trail-blazers

Such is the nature of the NBA’s two conferences that every game between now and the end of the regular season are filled with potential consequences for the teams involved. Wins can mean an important jump up the playoff standings or perhaps the appeasement of the front office and fans with a more respectable finishing record. They also mean progressively less chance of obtaining the #1 pick come the lottery.

 

On the flip side, a loss in any of the games before April 15th can mean a dramatic slide down the rankings or perhaps the loss of home court in the playoffs. A loss for certain teams could result in that extra 0.5% chance of draft success.

 

Barring the fact that no teams in their respective conferences will want to hold the 8th seed for the Big Dance due to the teams they will have to meet in the first round, jostling for position is increasingly becoming chess like. Who matches up with whom better? And who do teams really want to avoid?

 

The importance of not finishing 8th in the East and West cannot be overstated. Every team will be trying their utmost to avoid the fate of facing Kobe or LeBron. Regardless of Rasheed Wallace’s statement that they truly believe they have a shot at the title, a meeting with Cleveland, who have held a vice like grip over the top spot in the East, must surely be viewed as nothing more than a formality. As for the Mavericks, nobody in Dallas, save for an ill advised rookie, believe that they have any shot at all at forcing the Los Angeles Lakers into a stumble.

 

In the East, perhaps the most important seedings of all are the 4 and 5. The team that occupy these positions know that they avoid the ‘Big Three’ of Cleveland, Boston and Orlando, giving them a real chance of progressing to the conference semi-finals, subsequently building some momentum with which to bring into a match up against the East’s top 3. Currently the 4/5 appears as if it will be fought between Miami and Atlanta, potentially the most exciting first round duel.

 

Whichever team can hold onto the 4th seed and secure home court for the first round will clearly have the advantage, although nothing is assured, especially when the opposition possess one of the best closers in the League in Dwayne Wade.

 

The Eastern semi-finals appear to be pretty sewn up with 3 of the 4 apparently already chosen. Unless Chicago, Philadelphia or Detroit can pull of a remarkable upset, the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic will progress with the 4th spot being decided between the Heat and the Hawks. Nothing is so predictable out West, where seeds 2-8 are separated by very little.

 

The Lakers will likely face Dallas in the first round although the Mavericks are only 1 game back on 7th seed Utah who as things stand will face the Manu-less Spurs in round 1. The fact that San Antonio are missing one of their three major players must appeal to all the other teams in contention. An aging Spurs who are over-reliant on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker do not match up well with a healthy Jazz who could realistically overpower San Antonio inside with Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko and Milsap all fit and productive.

 

Houston, with a healthy Yao Ming, are a difficult match for anyone in the Western playoff picture. Nobody, not even Superman, can deal with him. If the likes of Von Wafer can provide scoring off of the bench and Aaron Brooks can maintain his composure, the Rockets could have a deep post season run.

 

The real wild cards out West are the Portland Trailblazers. The combination of youth and potential make them a difficult prospect for a first round match up. They have power and length inside in the shape of Greg Oden who is beginning to fulfil some of his promise as he stays healthy, and LaMarcus Aldridge who is flat out scary some nights. Combine this with the leadership and scoring of Brandon Roy and the versatility of the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum and Portland are a tough team.

 

Which leaves New Orleans. Having the best point guard in the League can only be a good thing and as long as CP3 stays healthy the Hornets have always got a chance. The fact that they are as banged up a team as there is in the playoffs is some what misleading as a full strength Orleans is capable of going deep into the latter stages of the playoffs. To have a real chance they need everyone back to compliment Chris Paul, especially the inside presence of Tyson Chandler.

 

The West is wide open and the East is far from decided. Drama is assured, but it is hard to look past a Cleveland Lakers final.