Compared with last season, when the team was one of the NBA's most pleasant surprises, the Trail Blazers are paying 131.3% more in active contracts, according to Spotrac. Over the summer Portland loosened the purse strings to retain Allen Crabbe (four years, $75 million), Meyers Leonard (four years, $41 million) and Moe Harkless (four years, $40 million). The Blazers also signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal. Those investments have pushed the active payroll, which was ranked 29th in the league last year, into the top five.
Will that money buy a title contender? That's unclear. Retaining Crabbe and Harkless at least made sense in terms of continuity, but handing the hefty deal to Turner—who can't really shoot—could haunt Portland for years to come. And don't forget that CJ McCollum's four-year, $106 million extension kicks in next season. That further locks the Trail Blazers into this core.
There are certainly reasons to be optimistic. McCollum and Damian Lillard have proved themselves capable of shooting Portland to unexpected wins. But both have plenty of room to improve defensively. For now, the Blazers are paying premium bucks and are still a legit two-way star from serious contention.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH TERRY STOTTS (5th season with Trail Blazers)
2015--16 RECORD 44--38 (2nd in Northwest)
PG DAMIAN LILLARD
25.1 PPG; 6.8 APG; 41.9 FG%; 37.5 3FG%
SG CJ MCCOLLUM
20.8 PPG; 4.3 APG; 44.8 FG%; 41.7 3FG%
SF EVAN TURNER*
10.5 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 4.4 APG; 45.6 FG%
PF AL-FAROUQ AMINU
10.2 PPG; 6.1 APG; 41.6 FG%; 36.1 3FG%
C MASON PLUMLEE
9.1 PPG; 7.7 RPG; 2.8 APG; 51.6 3FG%
SG ALLEN CRABBE
10.3 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 45.9 FG%; 39.3 3FG%
PF MEYERS LEONARD
8.4 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 44.8 FG%; 37.7 3FG%
C ED DAVIS
6.5 PPG; 7.4 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 61.1 FG%
A rival scout sizes up Portland
They'll be pretty similar to last year—a top seven offense and an average defense—and they'll be in position to get home court in the first round. People who assume they will take a step back because they had some good luck in the playoffs last year are making a mistake.... They've got everything you want on offense: spacing, shot creators, unselfish guys. They are one of the few teams that can hang in a shootout with Golden State. After this summer their depth is better than people think.... This team starts and ends with Damian Lillard. I think he's the best point guard in the league besides Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. He's good enough to will a team into the playoffs and to make some noise.... CJ McCollum is one of the best ballhandlers in the league. He's got a little Kyrie Irving in his game when it comes to his off-the-dribble moves. He can catch and shoot on threes, too, but he prefers to snipe and find his spots closer in, even though a lot of other guards have abandoned those midrange shots.... I don't understand the Evan Turner move, because now he's probably taking away possessions from either Lillard or McCollum. How they fit Turner in will be the biggest story line.... I would start Allen Crabbe over guys like Turner and Moe Harkless. His ability to space gets the most out of Lillard and McCollum.... I really liked how they started Al-Farouq Aminu as a small-ball four down the stretch. That was easily their best lineup. He's a defensive stopper who can shoot the three a little bit, although his form is terrible.
TELLING NUMBER 131.3%
Until the D catches up with the O, Portland's ceiling won't get much higher.