PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F-C Channing Frye*, G Steve Blake*, F James Jones*, G-FMartell Webster, G Taurean Green (R) *New aquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 32-50(12th in West) Points scored: 94.1 (29th in NBA) Points allowed: 98.4 (14th)Coach: Nate McMillan (third season with Blazers)
Before the preseason opener at the Rose Garden, Greg Oden hobbled into thelocker room on crutches and was caught by surprise: His Trail Blazers jerseywas hanging in his locker. "I just sat down and looked at it for a coupleminutes," says Oden, the top pick in the June draft. "I was imaginingif I could play, how nervous I would be."
But Oden won'tput on that uniform or deal with the jitters for another year, as he will missthe season after microfracture surgery on his right knee. It was a devastatingblow to a franchise that was ready to return to the national spotlight;Portland failed to qualify for the playoffs the past four seasons after 21straight trips.
And the news gotworse. After missing 20 games of his Rookie of the Year season because ofirritation from the talus bone in his left heel, Brandon Roy was sitting outthe preseason as a precautionary measure after the same ailment acted up in theteam's first practice. If rest does not alleviate the pain, Roy facessurgery.
The Portlandplayers who are healthy want to show fans that they shouldn't give up on theteam. There is still plenty of size on the roster with center Joel Przybillaand forwards LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye and Raef LaFrentz, who all stand6' 11" or taller. Aldridge in particular had an outstanding preseason andwill be counted on to increase his production should the Blazers be withouttheir top two scorers from a year ago: forward Zach Randolph (traded to theKnicks in June) and Roy. James Jones and Martell Webster are quality shooters,and there is depth at the point with Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake.
But theheightened expectations that came with winning the draft lottery have come andgone as quickly as Oden's jersey: "When I came back to the locker room athalftime, all of my stuff was gone," he says. "The next time I see it,hopefully I'll be wearing it."
An opposingteam's scout sizes up the Blazers
Their long-termfuture is pretty good with Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Evenwithout Oden, they can develop their identity this year. I think they want toplay like Bill Russell's Celtics, with the great shot blocker and defender inthe middle to get the fast break going. . . . I could see them playing Roy,Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake together, because that will give them solid ballhandling and decision-making in transition, which will probably make NateMcMillan feel more comfortable about loosening the reins and letting them run.. . . Aldridge is a young Rasheed Wallace, minus the personality issues. He isversatile, he has great hands, he can run the floor and he's clearly anunselfish guy, like Wallace, and a team player who makes good decisions. . . .I've always loved Travis Outlaw's athleticism and potential, but he still has alot of improvement to make in his fundamentals--especially his footwork--andhis shot selection is poor.
In the last 10years only two rookies, Houston's Steve Francis (1999-2000) and Cleveland'sLeBron James ('03-04), averaged more points and more assists than Brandon Roy(16.8 ppg, 4.0 apg) did last season.
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NEXT IN LINE Aldridge will have to pick up much of the scoring slack.
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