The Portland Trail Blazers proved to be a legitimate contender in the West by making it to the second round of the playoffs. But in order to make it past the likes of San Antonio or Oklahoma City they will need to make some adjustments and sure up their future core. Before free agency gets under way the Blazers need to focus on the current state of their team. Here are some key things that need to happen this off-season.
Lock up LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. The Blazers cannot afford to lose him, or even get to the summer without signing him to an extension. It is hard to gauge whether Aldridge is leaning toward signing an extension or bolting to another team. Before this season Aldridge sounded like he was going to leave, but that was before the Blazers went on a tear and finished 54-28, good for fifth in the West. Everyone knows he wants to win, and the Blazers are in position to do that for a while with Damian Lillard and a solid starting lineup behind Aldridge. Chicago and Dallas are rumored to be in play for Aldridge. Chicago provides a winning culture under coach Tom Thibodeau and a solid roster that includes Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. Aldridge went to the University of Texas and is a Dallas native, making the Mavericks a constant threat to steal the Blazers All-Star. But Portland still might be the best winning situation for Aldridge considering the current state of the team and the money the Blazers can offer him compared to other teams.
Young players need to develop
The Trail Blazers have some solid young talent on their bench. Thomas Robinson, CJ McCollum, Will Barton and Meyers Leonard have shown glimpses of great play during their playing time. Robinson has proven to be an energizing power forward off the bench that is perfect for any teams second unit. He had some great games, but he needs to be more consistent with his play to keep getting minutes. Leonard fell in and out of the rotation because of Robinsons play, and Robinson should continue to get the bulk of the minutes unless he can step up in a few areas. Leonard was been pushed around in the paint by thicker, stronger centers. He developed a nice jumper this season but he must establish himself as a defensive presence. McCollum showed off his nice crossover and jumper this season in limited minutes. His minutes were limited though because he was not much of a defender and his assist rate was low. Barton really came on at the end of the season and at times in the playoffs. He continues to show he is a serious threat as a scorer and incredible athlete. If he develops a decent defensive game his minutes will continue to rise.
The Blazers are close to seriously competing with the best in the West and the entire NBA. An off-season of development and minor tweaks should push them into contention. No major overhauls needed here, just more smart moved by Coach Terry Stotts and GM Neil Olshey.