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Northwest Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Every day before the season, we’re going to preview a divisional opponent.

2010-11 result: 48-34 overall, third in the Northwest Division

Key Departures: Brandon Roy, Patrick Mills

Key Acquisitions: Nolan Smith, Jamal Crawford

Outlook: Here we are less-than a week away from the start of the NBA season and it’s hard to know for sure what to make of the Portland Trailblazers. Are they still a contending playoff team? Are they in rebuilding mode after losing their franchise cornerstone to early retirement? Can they be both?

The loss of fan favorite Brandon Roy, an additional setback to Greg Oden and an influx of youth may seem to indicate a team that should consider rebuilding. Yet, the additions of veterans Kurt Thomas, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford tell us they will look to compete for at least one more season and count on Lamarcus Aldridge to carry them to the playoffs once again.

Looking at their depth chart playoffs are a very realistic expectation for Trailblazers fans to hold this season. They potentially have good depth at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions; good depth at the power forward as long as Aldridge returns to form and can play 36+ minutes; and should be able to get away with their centers as long as Camby and Thomas can be at least serviceable.

However, if Camby and Thomas breakdown, Raymond Felton shows up out of shape and/or the team winds up dealing Gerald Wallace for a few draft picks, the Blazers may be forced into selling at the March trade deadline. Well, if they’re dealing Wallace for draft picks – which has already been discussed —  they’ve probably already gone into rebuilding mode after injuries have ravaged the roster and the losses have already begun to pile up, so nevermind that point.

A couple of things that dejected Blazers fans who watched their franchise player forced into retirement before his time and then amnestied like an overpaid role player (read: Travis Outlaw) have going for them is the continuity of returning head coach Nate McMillan with most of their foundation to provide stability and some young legs to inject energy into the veteran mix. In particular, Nolan Smith could be a spark plug off of the bench in spelling Felton. The addition of scrappy veteran Craig Smith gives the Blazers one of the hardest working bigs in the league off of the bench.

Additionally, they should be more fun to watch as the pace of the game should increase from last in the league with Felton running the point instead of the departed Andre Miller and the defense should still be expected to be about average. While Blazers fans have some trepidation of bringing in Crawford to replace Roy, it’s only from one year (doubtful he’ll exercise his option for the second year) and with a roster full of efficient shooters, Crawford won’t be disrupting the flow of the offense too much.

Although they are not better than the Thunder (few are), the Blazers should easily be a better team than both the Timberwolves and Nuggets, but will likely have to fight the Utah Jazz for second place in the Northwest. With or without Brandon Roy the Blazers will have high aspirations for this season with Lamarcus Aldridge taking over as the new face of the franchise.

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