As we all know, the season has been over for a few weeks now. Some are watching the playoffs, or at least certain series in the playoffs, and many have been thinking about this year's roster and next year's potential.
Potential is a major word when it comes to examining the guys who suited up for the Blazers in 2012-13. Or, perhaps, untapped potential would be a better term for it. The Blazers had a very young and inexperienced bench for the season and Coach Terry Stotts opted to play the starters heavy minutes. On the other hand, looking long-term, would it have not been better to have focused a bit more on player development than trying to accumulate a win total which equaled a paltry 33 games?
Obviously, the bench needs help. GM Neil Olshey is working on that. I'm confident that having an experienced, qualified general manger to build the roster will pay huge dividends. The draft is June 27 and free agency talks begin on July 1.
Everyone seems to have their wish list of each person who should go. Everyone seems to have an idea of which player(s) they want to see on this year's roster. While Olshey and his team is hard at work on constructing the actual roster for next season, we can't really do anything until the draft. Pending the lottery, we are positioned with the 10th pick. I happen to agree with what Mike Rice said in the TrailBlazers.tv Roundtable in that we would likely be better served trading the pick.
No one to whom I've corresponded thinks this will be a good draft class. There's no question it does not measure up to last year's draft class. Perhaps more importantly though, we already have too much youth on the roster. The last thing we need is another young guy from a weak draft who is unlikely to to help us make the roster difference we need.
What do we need? As I see it, we need a couple guys with about three or four years experience, who can come off the bench and contribute on their first play after stepping on to the court. Specific positions aside, that is how we address the bench; free agency or trades.
Of course, we need some help at center; at least a serviceable starter for a year or two until we can be confident that Meyers can step into that long-term role.
Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson
Alas, I'm getting ahead of where we need to be. To look forward, first we must look back. Here is a brief summary, player-by-player, of what we already know:
. The two-time all-star is still the anchor of the team and, at this point, its elder statesman. He arguably possesses the best overall game of any power forward in the league. He leads by example and every other player on the roster should pay attention to that example.
. Nicolas' contributions were tainted by his wrist injury suffered in practice in January. Ideally, he should have rested for a week or two and the best chance would have been to sit him directly before or directly after the all-star break. Prior to the injury, Nicolas was having an outstanding season and certainly was earning the big contract. He fell victim to a coach who played him 37-42 minutes during a stretch when he should have been sitting and healing. Great stat: Nicolas dished out 360 assists this season; he dished out a combined 325 during his first four seasons.
. No one can complain about the rookie season D-Lill produced. Like any player, there are some improvements to be made, but after nearly two decades of experiments, the Blazers have their point guard of the future. He'll be working with Gary Payton over the summer, with some emphasis on defense. Damian will come back better and stronger by training camp.
. I would not question his heart, but I may question his abilities and consistency. The latter is one that really gets under my skin. A couple nights he'll come out and score 18-24 points, then the next couple he'll score 7-13. That's too much of a margin. Despite that, Wesley could be on the trading block, as several teams will be searching for 2-guards this summer.
. This guy proved the critics wrong last season and did what was asked of him -- even though it was not in his natural position. It's hard to imagine that we can bring J.J. back. We don't want to go through another season with an undersized center and he won't get the necessary minutes backing up LaMarcus. The only way I see him returning is if Olshey trades LaMarcus for a center such as Marc Gasol or Roy Hibbert, then we sign J.J. as our starting power forward. I don't think that's going to happen.
. It seems that several are disappointed with Meyers' progress over the season. I am not. Olshey told us all that he it would take longer for a big man to adjust to the NBA game than those players at other positions. Meyers needs a mentor; a teammate-mentor. That's where obtaining a veteran center can help. I have no doubt his offensive game will be fine. He needs to become a defensive presence if we are to view him as the center of the future. As a note, I think that can happen.
Victor Claver and Meyers Leonard
. More than any Blazers rookie (sans Damian), I believe Victor made the most progress over the course of the season. He doesn't seem to be great or horrible in any single part of the game. What Victor possesses is intelligence and a very solid all-around game, and he can play three positions. He deserves to be in the NBA and deserves to be a Blazer. He is only going to get better.
. I feel Joel and Luke suffered the most from Stotts' lack of development. He played in just 51 games, at 9.4 minutes per outing. The problem is, the playing time was rarely consistent. Joel is fierce. He is the type of fighter we need. Joel is one of those guys whose contributions don't necessarily show up in the boxscore, but he is in there fighting night in and night out. He is an NBA player and seems like one of those guys whom, if he were to depart, would end up thriving somewhere and making fans wonder why we ever thought of getting rid of him.
. It seems fans either love Luke or hate him; there's no middle ground. Luke's minutes were very inconsistent this season -- even when it seemed as though he had earned his playing time. The only time he has played consistent minutes in his career was during the last 23 games of the 2011-12 season when Kaleb Canales was the interim head coach. Other than that, Luke has never been given a realistic chance in Portland. His defense and rebounding vastly improved over the previous season. He's another guy who will thrive in the right setting and make us fans wonder what could have been if we had used him properly.
. It would be a shame to have gained a solid backup -- and backcourt teammate for Damian -- at the trade deadline, just to see the team not retain him. I think resigning Eric is a major priority (unless we were to somehow bring back Jarrett Jack). In making an adjustment to a new team, Eric made huge strides. He should have a future in Rip City.
. Willie-B, as I like to call him, did some very nice things on the court during the season. Though slight in build, he is still an opportunistic rebounder and, other than Damian, may be the best at creating his own shot. He needs to learn to keep himself more in control when he has the ball in his hands, but he's proven he's worth a look in the long term ... however --
. Obviously, Elliot didn't get any court time due to injury this season, but we saw at the end of last season his athleticism and drive. Elliot was fun to watch and he will be fun to watch in the future. The problem is, do we need two back-up shooting guards who play pretty much the exact same style? I would love to see Elliot be healed and able to contribute to the team but, given the choice, I think the team will go with just one, and that will likely be Will.
. We really didn't see all of what Sasha could do because he was injured much of the season, though he played some strong defense and did some other nice things for us when he got time on the court. Many are advocating clearing a roster spot by not bringing Sasha back. His price tag is at the veteran's minimum, so I don't think we should let him walk unless we have a guy better to replace him.
I'm not going to go into Jared Jeffries
or Nolan Smith
since they are both gone; other than to say, I'm glad that for their times here, they represented the Blazers with a huge amount of class and dignity. They must have heard true Blazers fans desire that from their players more than anything else. I thank them both, as well as Ronnie Price
, for their contributions to the team this season.
I generally don't get into the business of citing players whom I want to see the Blazers add or draft, and those whom I would like Olshey to seek in a trade. However, without getting into specific acquisitions, here are some names that, realistically speaking, I would certainly favor ending up in a Blazers jersey next season:
Gordon Hayward, J.J. Redick, Jarrett Jack, Tiago Splitter, Nikola Pekovic, Danny Green, DeMar DeRosan, Robin Lopez, Marcin Gortat, Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal. That's not a complete list, but I think it's a pretty good start.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge one Blazer who has moved on. I'm talking about, of course, Kaleb Canales. I had predicted last summer that another team would be looking at him right about now; I specifically predicted it would be a franchise from his home state of Texas. Well, Dallas has Kaleb now. I wish him all the best (perhaps less so when the Mavericks Play the Blazers). As much as any young player, Kaleb made a name for himself as an assistant in Portland; so much so that Rick Carlisle reached up and grabbed him from the lone star state. Congratulations and, again, all my best to Coach Kaleb.
I'm sure we'll all talk more about the Blazers over the shape of the next Blazers team over the next several months. As I said previously, we have some time before we can really do anything. For now, I'm just going to leave it to my ponderings.
In Kassandra's Words features periodic blogs throughout the year. Comments and questions are welcome and encouraged. Seasons begin and end; players come and go; our Blazers are forever. Please follow on twitter: @PDXKass