Season preview: Trail Blazers
Greg Oden's return, coupled with other additions, has sent expectations soaring
Brandon Roy already has emerged as a leader despite his relative inexperience
Nate McMillan will have to juggle rotations and minutes with a young, deep roster
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Trail Blazers at a glance
Last season: 41-41
Notable additions: Greg Oden (R, missed last season with knee injury) Jerryd Bayless (R) and Ike Diogu (trade with Pacers), Rudy Fernandez (R), Nicolas Batum (R, trade with Rockets).
Notable losses: Jarrett Jack (trade with Pacers), James Jones (signed with Heat)
Coach: Nate McMillan (94-152 in three seasons with Blazers; 306-335 overall in eight NBA seasons)
Reasons for hope
1. The dream deferred. Finally, Oden has arrived. Kevin Durant won a Rookie of the Year award while Oden recovered from microfracture knee surgery, and now Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo or another 2008 NBA draftee could get deprived of one if Oden swipes the honor instead. Officially proclaimed a man-child by teammate LaMarcus Aldridge after Portland's first preseason game -- Oden had 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes -- the big guy could continue to grow before our eyes this season. Every matchup or star challenge -- Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Yao Ming, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson -- figures to be met good-naturedly but forcefully by Oden. His learning curve will drag the Blazers' right along with it.
2. Brandon Roy is a throwback. He also is Portland's best player. Roy is the perfect antidote to all that ailed this franchise during its "Jail Blazers" days, a steady, versatile player with leadership skills who adds a wrinkle to his game each summer, keeps his nose clean and makes a city proud. Already the third-year guard has been the league's top rookie and an All-Star, so the next level of franchise flag-planter awaits. The more he asserts himself at the top of the Blazers' pecking order, the quicker and more completely the rest of them will fall into place.
3. Aldridge will get overlooked. At opponents' peril, that is. Aldridge took a big step forward last season, averaging 17.8 point and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 48.4 percent, and did it against frequent double teams. Those spare defenders probably will drift Oden's way this year, freeing up the 6-foot-11 forward with the nice shooting touch to move more freely and force his way to the foul line more often.
Reasons for worry
1. Bayless facing lofty expectations. There's an impatience in Portland, seeded by Oden's injury last season, to get on with this renewed love affair between the city's fans and the NBA franchise. The thing is, Bayless is a rookie, just 20, and while he might settle in as the Blazers' point guard for another dozen years, he still has to endure his first NBA season. It's not as if this club doesn't have options at the position, it's just that the Arizona product likely will require a certain amount of on-the-job training that might be out of sync for a spell with the Blazers' bandwagon.
2. Gridlock benefits no one. It is possible to have too much talent on one roster, especially when that talent all is at a similar stage. If this were an All-Star team of proven, self-contained vets, they could take turns stepping up, sacrificing and doing everything in between. But most of the Blazers still are developing and aren't fully formed; that's going to require minutes and opportunities, unless guys such as Diogu, Channing Frye, Sergio Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw are willing to settle into lifetime backup roles. (Outlaw could open the season as the starting small forward in place of Martell Webster, who will miss about two months after having foot surgery.)
3. McMillan is a no-nonsense coach. That's just the type we love in the NBA, right? Except that, when a team has an average age of 24.7, there's bound to be some nonsense (hopefully legal, ethical, moral and fun-loving, but nonsense all the same). Preaching defense is necessary, but exploring their potential offensively will keep the Portland players excited and committed, so McMillan's willingness to let up on the reins from time to time could determine how smoothly the work part goes.
Keep an eye on ...
Fernandez. Rodriguez was in charge of the Oohs and Aahs Dept. in Portland for the past two years, a crafty ball handler who dazzled crowds with some of his passes and plays. Now Rodriguez isn't even the flashiest guard from Spain on the roster. Fernandez, acquired in a 2007 draft trade from Phoenix, has signed, bringing with him a reputation as the next Manu Ginobili. If he's three-quarters of that -- his debut preseason game sure suggested that -- he'll be a gem. Plus, Fernandez is such a good friend of Rodriguez's, he might help his countryman's consistency.
The Blazers ranked fifth in the NBA in bench points (34.0 per game) last season -- and they are expected to be even deeper in 2008-09.
The entire NBA respects, is curious about and might even fear a little what Portland, under general manager Kevin Pritchard's team-building and McMillan's coaching, has pulled off. For instance, some believe that Boston's interest in Darius Miles is simply to rehab the discarded forward into playing enough to count on Portland's payroll going forward, limiting the Blazers' free-agency options next summer. Anyone who doesn't have to worry about running into the Blazers in a championship chase, though, should sit back and enjoy their growth.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.