For a few hours in the early morning of July 1, it looked as if the Trail Blazers might instantly be postseason contenders. New G.M. Neil Olshey flew cross-country to the Washington offices of agent David Falk and made a maximum-contract offer to restricted free-agent center Roy Hibbert. Olshey envisioned a powerful pairing of Hibbert and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a fellow All-Star, but it was not to be: The Pacers matched.
Just like that, Portland was back in rebuilding mode—which seems to suit Olshey, 47, who drafted a promising point guard (Weber State's Damian Lillard), a 7-footer with potential (Meyers Leonard of Illinois) and a talented scorer (Memphis guard Will Barton). He also re-signed his own free agent, defensive stopper Nicolas Batum. Olshey also brought in former Hawks and Bucks coach Terry Stotts, who's known for his ability to develop young players. It won't be the quick-fix route that Olshey pulled off in his former job with the Clippers, but the groundwork has been laid.
COACH: Terry Stotts (1st season with Blazers)
2011--12 RECORD: 28--38 (4th in Northwest)
OFFENSE: 97.2 ppg (16th)
DEFENSE: 97.8 ppg (18th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 21.5 ppg (20th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
that I think it's going to come back to hurt him and them. He is long and he defends, but he isn't a great shooter.... Wes Matthews comes in and plays with a lot of energy, and he can get streaky. But he defends and gives you a lot more across the board than, for example, Jamal Crawford.... J.J. Hickson was so bad last year in Sacramento, and then he went to Portland and looked so good. He was supposed to be such a promising young player in Cleveland that they wouldn't trade him, and I thought that was one of the most ridiculous things ever. He does everything O.K. and nothing great.
Aldridge and Batum continue their ascent, Lillard does his best Westbrook impression, and the team is in a race for the playoffs.
Olshey's long-term approach makes the short term bleak: The young players don't develop, and Portland picks in the top 5.
Consecutive games played by Wesley Matthews, the second-longest active streak behind Russell Westbrook (293). Matthews was the first Blazer to play every game in two straight seasons since Greg Anthony.
SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ALDRIDGE)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BATUM)