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It’s been a tough time for fans of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Before the season began, if there was a team that was expected to battle the Los Angeles Lakers for supremacy in the Western Conference, it was the Blazers. The respective projection systems of John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton were bullish on Portland’s chances of winning the West. Why? The Blazers had a rash of injuries last year, yet were able to win 50 games. If Portland could avoid the injury bug, there was enough talent and depth for them to make a run at a championship.
In other words, the expectation was that the Blazers would experience a regression to the mean with injuries. Fast-forward to today and the outlook for Portland in the present and future is getting bleaker as time moves on.
Aside from losing Greg Oden for the season as he undergoes microfracture surgery again, Brandon Roy — the Blazers’ franchise player — is suffering slow deterioration in his left knee that is not deemed fixable and as a result, no longer allows him to perform at an All-Star level. The kicker is that Portland was aware of Roy’s condition when they offered him a max contract in 2009, yet former general manager Kevin Pritchard acquiesced to public pressure and contract demands.
It should also be noted that Roy dealt with surgery on his right knee leading up to the 2010 NBA Playoffs. Needless to say, the Blazers are in a precarious position right now as a franchise.
To gain more insight on the beat in Portland, I enlisted the opinion of Ben Golliver of Blazersedge and gathered his take on a variety of topics — Roy’s injury and its significance to the Blazers, Oden’s future, and more.
What does Brandon Roy’s fall from grace mean for the franchise?
I’m not sure we should call it a fall from grace, perhaps a fall from graceful drives to the hoop. It’s not yet clear what the long-term ramifications of Roy’s bad knees will be, but expectations are significantly lowered in the short term, and hopes for competing for a title in the mid-term are slowly slipping away. A lot depends on how effective Roy can become in his limited state, and how well he adjusts mentally to the physical changes. If he is a productive and efficient (but limited) player this time next year, it will make life significantly easier for new GM Rich Cho. If not, his five-year contract is a huge weight on the team’s salary cap.
How tough is it to witness a player like Roy, who was a budding star in the NBA, quickly become merely good than great in the blink of an eye? How has the fanbase responded to his deteriorating abilities?
It’s brutal, and people respond to this type of thing differently. Because there hasn’t been a singular incident — no specific injury, collision, surgery, etc. — it’s mostly a long, long, agonizing wait for fate. No one is happy about that, but there’s a spectrum of response. Some are ready to rebuild, others are urging patience, some are angry at the basketball gods, some chalk it up to the bad luck of the Blazers, some maintain faith in B. Roy, who has delivered time and again for this team. But, yeah, it’s brutal for everyone. Expectations were very high for this team and Roy was the Tim Duncan type foundation upon which everything else was built.
Does Greg Oden have a future with the Blazers?
Team insiders continue to say “yes.” I wrote a long piece assessing the risk involved and arguing that, pending his rehab progress, it might not be the worst idea to part ways this summer. The odds are huge and stacked against Oden, but he remains determined, which is great news.
I think what is clear, though, that Greg Oden the original concept (franchise center, cornerstone, championship building block) is almost certainly done. That doesn’t mean Oden the successful NBA player doesn’t have a future.
What’s up with LaMarcus Aldridge? Taking a quick look at his numbers, he’s declined across the board so far this season. What’s the deal?
There are areas where Aldridge has improved this season, and I don’t think he’s having a bad season, although everyone (including myself) always expects more from him. There are a few explanations for any statistical drop off. The Blazers offense is sputtering right now. It was always an intricate approach that relied on outside shooting and Brandon Roy’s playmaking, and with Roy limited and a bunch of inconsistency from the wings, there’s more stress on everyone else. Teams are free to double Aldridge at will now, and they do. He’s never been great at handling doubles, and while he’s getting better at it, he’s not as efficient as you’d like. Also, Aldridge is playing huge minutes this season, is forced to expend a lot of energy rebounding and his defensive role — whether he plays 4s or 5s — varies regularly. Finally, the addition of Wesley Matthews, and the team’s need for him to create scoring opportunities for himself, has added an even more perimeter-based approach to the offense. Aldridge now plays regularly alongside three guards — Roy, Andre Miller and Matthews — who have the ball in their hands regularly. In prior years, Portland’s perimeter guys have been more in the spot-up vein.
I like to thank Ben for taking the time to answer my questions.