With Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers as expected were a top team in the Western Conference this season. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez stepped up big time and the Trail Blazers looked like contenders. They traded away a future first-round pick to the Denver Nuggets to acquire Arron Afflalo and add depth at shooting guard. All looked promising in Portland.
Suddenly, Wesley Matthews fell to the ground holding onto his achilles. He looked like he was in serious pain. Matthews self-snapped his achilles and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. Arron Afflalo then injured his shoulder before the playoffs and only averaged 10 points per game over the 25 games he was on the team.
In a joke of a division, the Trail Blazers won the Northwest Division and guaranteed themselves a top-4 seed in the Western Conference, even though they didn’t have the fourth best record in the West. In the first round of the playoffs, the Trail Blazers didn’t have enough to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies. Damian Lillard was locked down by Tony Allen and LaMarcus Aldridge got bullied out of the paint by Zach Randolph. The Trail Blazers never had success against the Grizzlies, losing all four regular season match ups and only winning one of their five games in the series.
The Trail Blazers are entering the offseason with their identity at risk. LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, along with other bench players are pending free agents. Damian Lillard is a free agent in 2016. If the Trail Blazers let these players walk, Lillard may do the same next offseason. With money to spend, Portland needs to keep their valuable stars happy and on the roster. The Trail Blazers also need to find a bench, which was atrocious against the Grizzlies in the playoffs. Lets see who could be in the great Northwest next season.
SF Justin Anderson, Virginia
Justin Anderson is a versatile, well-rounded prospect who is a workhorse. He possesses the ability to score from behind the arc, mid-range, and inside the paint. He stands 6’6″ and weighs 230 pounds. He has NBA-ready size and the Trail Blazers need an NBA-ready player to come off the bench. He is a solid defender whose size helps him cover multiple positions. Anderson doesn’t excel in one area but has the skill to contribute to every aspect of the game. With Anderson, the team comes first.
PG Tyus Jones, Duke
Tyus Jones is a smart point guard and advanced his IQ with Coach K as his mentor last season. Jones is a smart passer who rarely turns the ball over. He knows how to win and knows how to keep composed when the pressure is on. The Trail Blazers have struggled when the pressure is on and struggle when Damian Lillard is off the court. Jones would be a valuable backup to Lillard who is really the only point guard on the roster. Jones’ IQ and rarity to turn the ball over makes him NBA-ready. He was the most underrated player on the Duke roster.
SG R.J Hunter, Georgia State
R.J. Hunter is possibly the best shooter in this draft that can shoot threes from anywhere on the court. He isn’t afraid to shoot and grew up with proper training as his father was a basketball coach. I see his NBA potential as a rotational three-point shooter. He would be a bench shooter early in his career and the Trail Blazers would be wise to develop a bench shooter. Their bench currently has no one who averaged over seven points per game. Hunter could spread the floor on the second unit.
PF LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge is the longest tenured player on the Portland Trail Blazers and has never played on an NBA team outside of Portland. Aldridge is the face of the Trail Blazers and has been for years. He is the best power forward in basketball who possesses the athletic ability of a power forward who is the size of a center. He averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game over 2014-2015. The Dallas Mavericks have the money for a max contract and Dallas is where Aldridge is from. A four-year deal in Dallas may be more valuable.
SG Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers
Wesley Matthews is a three-point sniper. He has found a home in Portland and averaged at least 13 points per game over the last 5 seasons. He has shot over 38% from behind the three-point line in every season in his NBA career. Last season, Wesley Matthews was the reliable three-point shooter and third scoring option the Trail Blazers have desperately been looking for. He tore his achilles which is hurting his value. Staying with the theme of going home, San Antonio will be in the lookout for a shooting guard. Portland will need to spend some money to keep Wes.
C Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Opposing teams would have tough times rebounding over LaMarcus Aldridge (if he re-signs) and Greg Monroe. When Josh Smith got released by the Pistons, Monroe averaged a double-double per game. He has been most effective next to Andre Drummond, which is why I believe he would be successful in Portland next to Aldridge. He has averaged 15-16 points and 9-10 rebounds per game over the last 4 seasons. Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman are likely to hit free agency so there isn’t a center on the Trail Blazers depth chart. Monroe would be a smart signing.
LaMarcus Aldridge has a huge decision to make. Does he stay loyal and stay in Portland or take the four-year deal and from another NBA super-team that could contend for an NBA championship? The Portland Trail Blazers have never been past the Conference Semifinals with Aldridge and got swept by the San Antonio Spurs the one time he was there. The Trail Blazers are the only team that can offer Aldridge a five-year deal, which is appealing. With their identity on the line, it’s time to give Aldridge the money he deserves.