|Quite simply, the Trailblazers are set to make a strong
run for the title in the 99-00 season with the roster that they already have. They have
twelve players under contract for next season, each capable of large contributions, and
most qualified enough to start. The Blazers only have three
free agents, Jermaine O'neal being the only one of value. Reserve guard Brian
Shaw's one-year contract has expired, and there is little
room on the roster to re-sign him. Gary Grant will also become a free agent, but he was of little importance to the
Blazers the past season. O'neal will draw strong interest around the league, and will
probably find more money elsewhere.
are no positions on the roster that are desperately needed to be filled. The one spot that
could be of some use to the Blazers is finding a new center to step-in for Sabonis when
his legs can't take the pounding anymore, but there will be no centers available this late
in the fan draft who are good enough to be eventual starters for a playoff team. Until the
Blazers come across a top center in the free agent market or in a future draft, former
Iowa State Cyclone Kelvin Cato should be a capable reserve, with guys like Brian Grant and
Raheed Wallace capable of playing center when both teams move to smaller lineups.
The Blazers are at least two-deep at every position, due
largely to wise moves in free agency. Last summer the Blazers picked-up shooting guard Jim
Jackson under a three-year contract, and the year before, the Blazers signed Sacramento
King Brian Grant to a seven year deal, although Grant can opt out after next season. The
front office pulled off the Gary Trent-Kenny Anderson-Alvin Williams for Damon
Staudamire-Walt Williams-Carlos Rogers deal over a year ago, and the Blazers are still
profiting while the only player still on the Raptors from that trade is backup guard Alvin
Williams. By these wise decisions, the Blazers created one of the youngest and deepest
teams in the NBA, and found themselves in the conference finals this year.
If there is one team that doesn't need any help in the
offseason, it is the Blazers.
Arvydas Sabonis, while one
of the oldest centers in the league, is still a very capable starter. He is possibly the
craftiest big-man in the game, and one of the most creative passers in the history of his
position. The problem is that he is quickly wearing down. We all hear the line If he
were to have played in the NBA instead of Europe all those years, he would be considered
one of the greats to play our game. His greatness in his youth was probably all
true, but perhaps the largest truth in the saying is that he is no longer the player that
he once used to be. While still productive (12.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.4 apg), better statistics
can be found on many other centers around the league. Sabonis is working under a
three-year, $30.4 million contract that will expire in 2001, when most people expect him
to retire. Sabonis backup will be third-year man Kelvin
Cato, who was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, but
traded to the Blazers for the draft rights to Chris Anstey and monetary considerations.
Cato made a name for himself in college as one of the nations premier shotblockers.
Last year, he averaged a blocked shot every 9.8 minutes, but the problem was that he only
saw roughly 12.7 minutes per game. He only shot .450 from the field, and was a pitiful
.507 from the 3-pt line. He averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season in
spot duty. He is currently under a three-year, $3.4 million rookie contract that will
expire after next season. When Sabonis goes to the bench, the Blazers normally move to a
smaller lineup with Brian Grant or Rasheed Wallace playing center, so Cato usually
isnt in during the thick of battle. However, he is still a young and athletic
prospect at center who many in the organization think can take over for Sabonis after he
retires. Center is not the strongest position for the Blazers, but they certainly are in
better shape than a good part of the league, and would have little playing time available
for a rookie at this position.
The Blazers are fortunate enough to have two superstars
under contract at this position, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Both Brian Grant and Rasheed
Wallace played selflessly last season. Grants
tough-man, gritty style of play worked well to help the Blazers bang against bigger teams
last season. Grant stepped-up his play during the opening rounds of the playoffs. He
gained much notoriety with his play against Karl Malone in the Western Conference
semifinals when he outplayed one of the greatest players to play the game. However, he was
shut-down for the most part against Tim Duncan in the conference finals. Grant provides a
great low-post presence for a young team, and gives them a sense of toughness. He was
signed to a seven-year, $63 million contract in 1997 that has a player opt-out clause
after next season. He is expected to stay in Portland and complete the remainder of his
contract, and is considered one of the only untradable players on the team. His 1998-99
statistics included 11.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game after he started 46 of the 48
games that he played in this year. The other superstar at PF for the Blazers is young
Rasheed Wallace, who is an electrifying athlete with an array of monster dunks in his
arsenal. He has all the talent in the world, but his temper holds him back at times. He
only started 18 of the 49 games that he played in, but was still his teams
second-leading scorer with a 12.8 average in 28.9 minutes of playing time per game.
Wallace agreed to take a reserve role to help the team, and came through in a big way.
These are two guys who any team would like to have, and who play too well to allow any
rookies to get playing time at their positions.
Walt Williams is probably
the least spectacular player in the teams starting lineup, which is a good sign at
how good this team really is. He only started 16 of the 48 games that he played in, but he
provided a great shooting touch and veteran leadership to the team. Williams is one of the
premier shooters in the league, hitting .438 of his three-pointers on the year (he only
shot .424 from the field last year). But shooting is possibly his only true asset. He only
averaged 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last season. Williams is signed through
2002 under a five year, $20 million contract. Williams primary backup is
68 swingman Stacey Augmon. Augmons primary asset is his defense. He averaged 1.2 steals per
game in under 20 minutes a game. However, that is where his talents probably end. He only
averaged 4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game, and didnt make a single
three-pointer on the year. Augmon is still a good team-player who plays quality minutes,
but he wont ever contribute much on the stat sheet. He becomes a free agent after
next season, when it will be debatable if his career will have any more options left open.
The only other forward on the Blazers roster is Carlos Rogers, who plays both
forward positions. Rogers spent all but two games of the season on the injured list with
tendinitis of the knee, although it is debatable as to whether the Blazers even wanted him
around. They became so overcrowded on their 12-man roster that there was simply no room
for Rogers. He used to be thought of as a budding superstar, but never really lived up to
his potential because of bad work habits. He was traded to the Blazers in the Damon
Staudamire deal, and was signed through the year 2002 while still a Raptor. He is making a
bit under $3 million a year, so he isnt the most burdensome bench player in the
league, but the Blazers would probably love to unload him. The small forward position is
very weak for a championship team, but is it really too much to ask that a team start at
least one role player? Augmon and Williams both only specialize in one category apiece,
and Rogers may never see playing time in Portland, but three is already a crowd on this
roster, so an extra rookie probably wouldnt help much.
This is the position that they are the most well-stocked
in, perhaps too well-stocked. Their starter is Isaiah Rider, the leading scorer on the team, and one of their emotional leaders.
Rider averaged 13.9 points per game last season on .412 shooting, along with 4.2 rebounds
and 2.2 assists per contest. Rider plays the game with emotion, and was one of the
Blazers top players in the playoffs. He only averaged 29.5 minutes a game during the
season, much less than most starting shooting guards in the league. The Blazers would
probably like to get rid of Rider because of his childish personality, although their will
not be many suitors who will bang down the Blazers door for him. If they cant
unload him, he will become a free agent after next season, when his seven-year, $25.6
million contract expires. Before last season began, the Blazers stole one of the top free
agents in the league for $6 million over three years. That man was Jim Jackson, who was one of the top scorers
in the league while on the Mavericks roster. Jackson brings good athleticism and
scoring ability to the Blazers, seeing 24.0 minutes of action per game last season. Only
shooting .278 from three-point land during the season, Jackson scores most of his points
in the post, which frees-up room for players like Walt Williams to knock-down
three-pointers. Jackson is very capable of starting at shooting guard, although his
scoring mentality doesnt provide much help to a team full of stars. The
Blazers third-string point guard last season was rookie Bonzi
Wells, who was the 11th pick in the draft last year to the
Detroit Pistons. Wells possesses all of the talent needed to be an NBA star, but was
buried deep on the Blazers bench, and only averaged 5.0 minutes in 7 games. Wells
could be a very good player for the Blazers if they trade Rider, or Wells could be traded,
himself. He was a star at Ball State, and is a top defensive presence with a good,
athletic game. This is a very deep position for the Blazers, and probably the last that
they would address in the draft.
Any rookie would not see time at this position unless Damon Staudamire were to be traded.
Staudamire, a former Rookie of the Year while in Toronto, experienced a down season. He
shot only .396 from the field, unacceptable for someone making over $10 million a season.
He started all 50 games for Portland, and provided excitement to the team, but his
statistics must improve if he is to stay in the managements good graces. There has
already been trade talk surrounding him, but his seven-year, $81 million contract will be
too much for most clubs to add to their payroll. Staudamires backup was defensive
wizzard Greg Anthony, who put-up
respectable, but unspectacular numbers last season. He did only shoot .414 from the field,
but that was better than the man starting in front of him. He is a very capable backup who
wont hurt a team when he plays his 16.1 minutes a night. Any movement at this
position shouldnt affect him, as he will be expected to play the same role next
season as he did in the Blazers season in 1999. He will become a free agent after
next season, when his two-year, $2.1 million contract expires. This is a position that
could use an upgrade, but has no minutes to spare.