2008 NBA Preview: #13 Portland Trail Blazers

Offseason Movement: The two big additions this offseason were Rudy Fernandez, a versatile Manu Ginobili-like Spanish wing and Jerryd Bayless, a University of Arizona combo guard dripping with potential. In addition, the team will get Greg Oden back from an injury that knocked him out of the 2007-08 season.
Keep Your Eye On: Rudy Fernandez
Based on his play against Team USA in Beijing, I think Fernandez is ready to contribute now. He might be a little short (6’5”) to play small forward, but if the team elects to put Brandon Roy and Fernandez on the wing, they’ll be a formidable duo. Fernandez has a nice jumper and is athletic enough to take it to the rack. (He even dunked on Dwight Howard in the Olympics.)
The Big Question: How quickly will the Blazers mature?
A quick look at the team’s core reveals the Blazers’ biggest fault, and maybe its biggest strength: Roy (24 years-old), Oden (20), LaMarcus Aldridge (23), Bayless (20), Martell Webster (21), Fernandez (23), Travis Outlaw (24), Channing Frye (25). They are young. This group could be destined for great things, but it’s a matter of experience and maturity.
Outlook: Bright. Kevin Pritchard has done a wonderful job remaking this roster in short order. The coup was landing Brandon Roy, who turned out to be an All-Star caliber guard. Obviously, the addition of Greg Oden (assuming he pans out as expected) should give the franchise two stars to build around. And even though the team currently has a huge payroll ($81 million), a good portion of that ($38) is being paid to guys that aren’t even on the team anymore. The Blazers project to have a ton of cap space in the summer of 2010, when a number of stars will hit the free agent market. In fact, aside from the fact that Portland is not Brooklyn, the Blazers might represent LeBron James’ best shot at a championship. (Don’t worry, Nets fans, I don’t think that Portland is a big enough of a market for King James.)

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