So here we are, almost a week since the Trail Blazers belly-flopped against Houston in Game 6.
Our disappointment has begun to fade, and with distance, we’ve begun to place the season in context. We’re thrilled the Blazers won 54 games in the regular season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003 yet irked that we participated in the resurrection of Ron Artest.
But really, we’re mostly thinking about next season. Here are the four most important questions facing the Blazers:
What will become of Greg Oden?
Didn’t think anything could be more disappointing than the injury-plagued rookie center’s tepid regular-season averages of 8.9 points and 7 rebounds? Well, how about 5 points, 4.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs? Add in his foul-a-minute defense and ball-catching problems unwitnessed since Edward Scissorhands’r ookie year. The result? It appears we used the top pick to draft a 7-footer whose body language increasingly screams, “Take me out, Nate!” Maybe a summer’s hard work developing at least one move in the post and long sessions with a sports psychologist will restore Oden’s promise. But for now, Oden has regressed to the point of being painful to watch. (Go to wweek.com to read Bill Walton’s more optimistic view of Oden.)
When will Coach Nate McMillan realize he’s starting the wrong point guard?
Flashes of brilliance aside (like 14 assists in one quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in February), Steve Blake is a steady hand who’d be an awesome backup guard. Current backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez, he of the matador defense, shows a lot more flash but appears to be the Blazers’ latest version of Jermaine O’Neal, a player who will never blossom here but might on another team. The answer is rookie Jerryd Bayless. Yes, he lost total confidence in his jump shot during a midseason stretch when he actually got playing time. But his drive-first mentality is a welcome piece of fire in the settle-for-a-jump-shot Blazers.
Are we Maurice Lucas tough?
Houston exposed Portland’s unreadiness for the hard-nosed playoffs by wrestling away every important loose ball or rebound. Pryzbilla and Roy were the only two Blazers unafraid to stick their noses in the key. Much would improve here if Aldridge grew a pair and established an offensive position on the low block instead of 15 feet from the basket. Aldridge demonstrated progress in aggressive play after the All-Star break. Still, absent a trade for an established tough guy, the team has a long way to go before it scares anyone.
Who will be the third man to share the scoring load with Roy and Aldridge?
Options—all young guys—abound for McMillan to turn to in search of a third scorer. Veteran sixth man Travis Outlaw appears destined for a trade after his vanishing act against Houston. But NBA rookie Rudy Fernandez has serious stroke from the outside and the big-game cojones to be a scorer, even in a game’s final minutes. Fellow rookie and fellow Euro-hoopster Nicolas Batum disappeared over the long season, but it’s way too soon to give up on him. And hey, anybody remember Martell Webster? Injured for all but five minutes of this season, Webster has a Dale Ellis-like jump shot when on. Now he just needs the confidence to take it consistently. Surely, one of these options will develop.