Blazers look to build on solid foundation
PORTLAND — Not a whole lot has changed for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The starting five — LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews — are all returning to a team that won 54 games and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals last season.
Most of the Blazers' bench is likewise back. The only two additions the team made in the offseason were center Chris Kaman and guard Steve Blake.
In other words, the Blazers aren't fixing what isn't broken. They're just going to work on the details — which include convincing the rest of the NBA that they're legit.
"I think we can be good — we can be really, really good," Matthews said. "I think we deserve to be talked (about) as contenders in the West. I really believe that."
It starts with Aldridge, who averaged career highs with 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in the regular season, joining just two other players to finish in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding. He upped his scoring output to 26.1 points per game in the playoffs.
Lillard averaged 20.7 points and 5.6 assists as he continued to skew the NBA growth curve after jumping from Weber State to Rookie of the Year to All-Star over two seasons. But the 6-foot-3 point guard's profile really took off after his series-clinching 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left against Houston to propel the Blazers to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Adding Kaman to spell Lopez will help give the Blazers more interior scoring power, while Blake will provide veteran stability at the point when Lillard rests. The two additions should also help Portland's bench produce more points, something that has hurt the team the last two seasons.
The Blazers also need to continue to focus on their defense, which was ranked 16th in the league last season. That was up from 25th the season before, so coach Terry Stotts will be looking to build on the changes that made a difference.
"We need to be a better defensive team. We need to realize what made us a good offensive team and stick with that," Stotts said. "After that, you just play the games."
Here are a few other things to consider as the Blazers embark on the 2014-15 season:
ALDRIDGE'S CONTRACT: Aldridge decided in the offseason to put off signing a contract extension with the Blazers until next summer, when he can command a five-year deal with a max salary. He reiterated at the team's media day that he has every intention of staying in Portland, and the Blazers feel the same: Owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey personally visited Aldridge over the summer to make sure he knows he's wanted. "It was just great to be able to sit down with LA and get a chance to really understand his thinking about the team," Allen said.
LILLARD'S RISE: Lillard's star is rising so fast that he's getting his own shoe. Adidas will unveil the DLillard1 in early 2015, but Lillard has already been teasing the signature sneaks on Twitter. It looks as if Lillard's logo is a combination of the D and his No. 0, along with wings that incorporate adidas' three stripes. Lillard is determined to keep the shoes as reasonably priced as possible.
NO ROOKS: The Trail Blazers did not have a selection is this year's NBA draft for the first time since the 1998, so there are no rookies on the roster. The team's least experienced players are guards CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe, who both played in Portland last season.
BATUM'S SUMMER VACATION: Batum didn't have a whole lot of time off this summer. After wrapping up the season in Portland, he joined the French national team for the FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 14.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. His high point came in a 27-point outburst to lead France to the bronze medal with a victory over Lithuania.
BLAKE'S BACK: Blake is embarking on his third tour with the Blazers after signing a two-year deal with the team this summer. He last played for Portland from 2007-2010, becoming a fan favorite before going on to play for the Lakers, Clippers and Golden State Warriors. The 6-foot 4 guard, who will backup Lillard, has averaged 6.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 rebounds over an 11-year NBA career.