The Portland Trail Blazers’ exciting season came to an unfortunately disappointing end to the hands of reigning Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals. While the scores in the series weren’t close, there are still a lot of positives to take from such a successful season and playoff run. Here are just a few.
Development of young players
Coming into the 2013-14 season, the Blazers had eight players on contract that were either entering their first or second season in the NBA. Portland’s run in the playoffs, including the loss to San Antonio, will provide the young players the taste of success but also the disappointment of loss. The fashion in which the Trail Blazers lost to San Antonio will also show individual players areas of their game that need development. Players can use this defeat as a learning experience, and from what the players and coaches said in their exit interviews, they will.
Portland has found its “Closer”
Throughout the season, Portland has turned to one man to close games out, and that man is Damian Lillard. In his rookie season (2012-13), he had two game-winners over the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) and the New York Knicks. In his second year, he added to that resume by scoring game-ending shots over the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, and most importantly, the Houston Rockets. All the contested late-game situations Lillard has experienced, both in the regular season and the playoffs, will allow him to grow as a player. He’s only played two years and is all ready an All Star. The future is bright for him. All his late-game heroics from this season are below.
1. Game-winning lay-up over the Phoenix Suns:
2. Buzzer-beating fade away to beat the Detroit Piston:
3. Game-ending three pointer to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers:
4. Dagger in the Houston Rockets’ season:
Take a look at what the NBA feels are Lillard’s Top 10 plays of this season:
The team is in the hands of GM Neil Olshey
Olshey is widely regarded among the lead as one of the best general managers. In fact, he ranked third in this season’s Executive of the Year voting. While he was manager for the Los Angeles Clippers, he executed the blockbuster trade for All Star point guard Chris Paul. In his two seasons as general manager of the Trail Blazers, he has drafted Lillard and re-signed F Nicolas Batum. He also made something out of nothing in two trades. He got G Eric Maynor at the trade deadline last season for a trade exception. Last off-season, he allowed Portland to play the role of facilitator in the three-team trade that sent G Tyreke Evans to the New Orleans Clippers and brought C Robin Lopez to Portland.
With a few assets and some cap room, I expect Olshey to be very active. In his exit interview (transcript here), he said the team would be aggressive in free agency and opportunistic in looking for trades, which should please Trail Blazer fans. Expect for the team to target a veteran bench scorer or veteran back-up center.
What does this mean for Trail Blazer fans? The future of this team is undoubtedly bright. The core duo of G Damian Lillard and F LaMarcus Aldridge will carry this team far into the playoffs in the coming years. Role players such as G Wesley Matthews, F Nicolas Batum, and C Robin Lopez will provide much-needed back-up to Lillard and Aldridge. This team will be a force to reckon with in the Western Conference for years to come.
Where do you think this team is going? Let me know in the comments below!
–Sagar Trika | @BlazersBySagar