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Season Preview

Friends, fans, people of all ages, another year of Blazer basketball is upon us. On October 26th the Blazers will tip off against the Suns in the Rose Garden. The wait is finally over. Before we preview the season for the Blazers, let us recap the end of last season and take a quick look at the offseason that was.
After a second first round exit from the playoffs in two years, many fans and people within the organization began looking for solutions. With the biggest free agent class maybe ever ready to cash in, the Blazers settled on the draft and finding a free agent that fit their team. But soon after the playoffs ended, Paul Allen decided for some strange reason that Kevin Pritchard wasn't right for the GM job. Many people, including this writer, were outraged by the decision to relieve Pritchard of his duties. Allen not only told Pritchard he was on the hot seat, he fired him mere hours before the NBA draft. Can you say awkward? I'm surprised the Blazers didn't take Tajuan Porter with their first round pick. Pritchard remained classy throughout the whole situation, and even made a classic draft day trade that had come to be his calling card. We said goodbye to Martell Webster and hello to Luke Babbit, who is basically Martell 2.0, a shooter with good athleticism. Martell never really paned out as the Blazers hoped he would, and considering they basically chose him over Chris Paul AND Derron Williams, eventually something had to be done. With Pritchard out as GM, the evil Vulcan empire began to search for a replacement. Rumors of Danny Ferry, Rick Sund, and even Billy King swirled throughout the city. Considering that Danny Ferry only made one NBA finals run with Lebron on his team, and Billy King took Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Derron Williams, not to mention the immortal Sheldon "the landlord" Williams (whose only claim to fame is that he is married to Candice Parker and she could actually beat him in a game of one on one), over our own Brandon Roy in the 06 draft, the options seemed limited. Eventually the evil empire settled on Rich Cho, an up and coming assistant general manager with the Sonics/Thunder. Cho has had experience as an assistant GM, but has never had the big time job. It is yet to be seen if he can step into Kevin Pritchard's shoes and make a move to make this team a legit title contender for years to come.
The drama continued as the offseason went on. Lebron physically ripped the hearts out of Cleveland fans and stomped on them repeatedly, and he may have destroyed the Lebron vs Jordan argument in the process. David Kahn continued his reign of terror by giving Darko Milicic $20 million and suggesting that Darko was underrated. KAHNNNN!!! Finally we had Rudy wine, get fined, and wine some more. BUT, this season could be the most anticipated NBA season in a very long time. Will Lebron channel his rage against the bad publicity, cut out the silly pregame dances, and play like there is no tomorrow every game (ala Jordan in 96 following the first comeback in 95 and the playoff defeat to Orlando)? Can the "Big Three" and the island of misfit toys in Miami win 70 games? Who takes the last shot in game 7 of the NBA Finals for that team? Can Shaq lumber up and down the floor well enough to possibly have another Finals showdown with Kobe? Will a team in the West step up and legitimately challenge the Lakers? Will a certain 22 year old lead the league in scoring two years in a row? Will Carmelo stay in Denver? With the impeding lockout next year, how will it effect the trade deadline? Will Kobe ever age? Will Greg Ostertag make a comeback? Will LaMarcus Aldridge ever learn how to spin baseline when he is posting up? Will Rudy ever stop whining and focus on his defense? Can Marcus Camby/Greg Oden/Joel Przybilla stay healthy for an entire season? Will Brandon Roy take control and become a top 5 player in the league? Did the Blazers grossly overpay for Wes Matthews? The list goes on and on. The 2010-11 season is shaping up to be the most exciting season since Jordan's first comeback.
Before the season even started, new GM Rich Cho made his first trade. The Blazers sent Jerryd "hard off the back rim" Bayless to New Orleans for a future first round pick. Blazer fans that I know are either pleased or disappointed with the deal. Bayless showed lots of potential and flashes of brilliance, but also showed lack of growth and immaturity. Im sad to see him go, but maybe it was for the best. In other news, the team signed Fabricio Oberto, waived Jeff Pendergraph :(, and Patty Mills made the cut. Now that we have the official roster, let the breakdown of the roster begin.
Starters: PG Andre Miller, SG Brandon Roy, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Marcus Camby
Bench: PG Armon Johnson, Patty Mills, SG Rudy Fernandez, Elliot Williams, SF Wesley Matthews, Dante Cunningham, Luke Babbit, PF Dante Cunningham, C Fabricio Oberto, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla.
Point guard: Andre Miller had a very underrated season last year, remember the 52 point outburst vs Dallas? Miller is a veteran and knows how to play his position with ease. He can even post up smaller guards and use his funky pump fake move to drive opposing defenders crazy. With Brandon Roy demanding the ball more, will Andre be able to coexist within the offense? Jerryd Bayless looked like the point guard of the future, but now that title falls to Armon Johnson. Armon looked very impressive in the summer league and could get some minutes this year. Brandon Roy is basically a point guard in a shooting guards body, so expect him to handle the ball a lot, especially in the 4th quarter.
Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy is the unquestioned leader of this team and a top ten player in this league. Brandon has demanded the ball more this season, and expect the Blazers to accommodate his every wish. It has yet to be seen if he can lead a team to the promised land (much like Clyde Drexler), but the future is looking up. Rudy Rudy Rudy. Rudy Fernandez has become more of a distraction than a solid 6th man on an NBA roster. Hopefully Rudy can use this season to prove he belongs in the league, and maybe work on his defense while he is at it.
Small Forward: ESPN fantasy basketball has Nicolas Batum as one of its top sleeper candidates coming into this season. Need I say more? Batum can do it all, including becoming one of the best lockdown defenders in the Western Conference. Wes Matthews used his solid rookie season in Utah to get $34 million from the Blazers. Matthews is also a solid defender and an exceptional athlete and will challenge Rudy for minutes. Dante Cunningham is more of a Power Forward, but he can fill in the 3 spot as well. Dante is a solid NBA player who uses his hustle and defense to get a rotation spot. Dante also has a deadly mid range jumper. Is he the second coming of Cliff Robinson or is it just me?
Power Forward: For averaging 17.8, 18.1, and 17.9 points the last three years, LaMarcus sure knows how to drive Blazer fans crazy. LaMarcus is more of a finesse player (which is a nice way of saying he is scared of going inside with the big boys and would rather shoot jumpers all day) than a true power forward, but rumor has it he put on some significant muscle this offseason. We can only hope he learns how to spin baseline. LaMarcus is primed for a monster season, lets pray he delivers. Dante Cunningham is a very solid backup and figures to get most of the minutes off the bench backing up LaMarcus. It should be interesting to see how me plays with extended minutes. Marcus, Oberto, and even Matthews can also play the power forward spot as well. Nate has lots of options with this roster and can choose to play very big or very small depending on the defense.
Center: Do we have to talk about the center position? Greg Oden was finally looking like the player the Blazers were envisioning when they selected him #1, and then he got hurt AGAIN. Oden participated in 5 on 5 drills on the 25th and should be back around late November if all goes well. Joel Przybilla was doing an amazing job filling in for Oden and finally earning the accolades he deserved, then he got hurt. Then to make matters worse, Joel re-injured his knee in the shower while he was recovering (note to self, beware of showers). Joel is ahead of schedule and should be back within the first few months of the season. Marcus Camby basically saved the Blazers season and earned himself another big paycheck. It is yet to be seen if he can stay healthy for the entire season, (his body is made out of paper mache in case you were wondering). This should be another interesting season for the Blazer centers. Can we expect anything less? Hopefully there aren't any more bumps or showers in the road.
Prediction: With the Lakers solidified as the best team in the West, it has turned into a race for the chance to battle the Lakers in the West Finals. The Thunder and the Blazers look like the up and coming young teams to challenge for the spot, while San Antonio, Dallas, Devner, Utah, and Phoenix look primed to vie for the opportunity. By the way, if you are a Suns fan, would you rather spend $100 million on Amare (who is perfect for their offense), or spend $81 million on Josh Childress, Channing Frye (yes that Channing Fyre), and Hakim Warrick? I thought so. But I digress; the West is in essence up for grabs. Any one of those teams can make a run to the Finals. It depends on who steps up, who gets injured, and which teams play each other in the playoffs. As for the Blazers, they went from 54 wins in 08-09, to an even 50 in 09-10. I'm predicting a 53 win season and a loss in the second round of the playoffs. I believe its next year that we can start predicting that the Blazers can make a run to the Finals. And with that, let the season begin.

Owen Reutlinger

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