|NBA Offseason Report Cards|
The Northworst Division has done all right for itself this offseason, at least in terms of shift and change.
Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the top two players in college basketball and probably the easiest 1-2 picks since Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning in 1992, got pumped through lottery luck into the Northwest. Their respective development will be easy enough to track, Oden in Portland, Durant in Seattle, barely three hours apart on I-5 (until the SuperSonics maybe go cowboy on us).
That other Kevin, Garnett, exits the division, ending his stay in Minnesota after 12 individually brilliant but collectively frustrating seasons. Allen Iverson, disappointed that he never got to play with Garnett and now effectively swapping divisions with him, soon will prepare for his first full season with Denver and Carmelo Anthony. Then there's Utah, which ... well, who are we kidding? There never has been any way to make the Jazz "sexy." Wouldn't even dare say the word around Jerry Sloan. But his team still is best of the bunch.
Here is the second in our series of divisional report cards:
Portland Trail Blazers
What Went Right:
They got lottery lucky.
It wasn't quite at the level of Cleveland getting LeBron James in 2003, but adding Oden -- the consensus No. 1 pick -- to an extremely talented core of young players that was showing promise already last season was a bonanza. The positional overlap of players such as Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye is a problem most NBA coaches would kill to have. The only downside is that, in a perfect world, several other NBA franchises needed Oden more to goose fan interest and generate buzz.
Keeping up with Jones.
James Jones didn't get the playing time he wanted in Phoenix, and he'll have to battle for the same thing in Portland. But he still might be the Blazers' best early-season option at small forward while Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw continue to develop.
No more Zach Attack!
Fine, he's an automatic 20-and-10 guy, a gem to behold in the NBA. But on this team, given the me-first way he sometimes plays, and in this market, given his off-court baggage, moving Zach Randolph to keep him away from Oden and other young players was precisely the right move. The Blazers could cater to Randolph for a few years, but their goals are loftier now.
Ditto with this guy. And this guy.
Jamaal Magloire was a bad idea from the start. Portland had just given Joel Przybilla a big deal and drafted Aldridge. Magloire was interested in numbers that could earn him a payday. Fine. He got it. He's gone. As for Steve Francis, he never figured in the Portland plan at all. Better that he was bought out.
What Went Wrong:
They lost some glue, and some shooting.
Ime Udoka, at age 29, finally got a chance and made plenty of it in Portland. He was a tough defender, adept at doing the proverbial little things, and he hit more than 40 percent of his three-pointers. Now he's in San Antonio, on a faster track to a ring than the kiddie Blazers.
Can Paul Allen buy a big load of minutes, please?
Steve Blake had a strong season and was glad to return to Portland with a nifty three-year contract. But with Jarrett Jack in place, Sergio Rodriguez on the rise and Brandon Roy capable enough to initiate the offense, there might not be as much opportunity as Blake, Jack or Rodriguez would like.
We're not going to nitpick the Blazers over a roster that's maybe too deep (horrors!) or the loss of one valuable role player. Not with the Oden mania at full throttle and plenty of high-flying help on board. And just on sheer volume of activity, a team's fan base hardly could ask for more than what Portland gave them.
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