June 28, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; Damian Lillard (Weber State), right, is introduced as the number six overall pick to the Portland Trail Blazers by NBA commissioner David Stern during the 2012 NBA Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

NBA 2012 Offseason Grades: Portland Trail Blazers

2011-12 Record: 28-38, 4th place in Northwest Division, 11th in Western Conference

2012 NBA Draft: G Damian Lillard (Weber State, 6th overall), C Meyers Leonard (Illinois, 13th overall, G Will Barton (Memphis, 40th overall), G Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas, 41st overall, traded to Brooklyn Nets)

Offseason Additions: G Ronnie Price (1 year, $1.22 million), G Sasha Pavlovic (acquired from Boston Celtics), F Victor Claver (Valencia), F Jared Jeffries (acquired from New York Knicks), C Joel Freeland (Unicaja Malaga)

Offseason Losses: G Jamal Crawford (signed with Los Angeles Clippers), G Raymond Felton (traded to New York Knicks), G Brandon Roy (signed with Minnesota Timberwolves), C Kurt Thomas (traded to New York Knicks), C Hasheem Thabeet (signed with Oklahoma City Thunder), C Joel Pryzbilla (signed with Milwaukee Bucks)

Re-signed: F Nicolas Batum (matched offer sheet from Minnesota Timberwolves, 4 years, $46 million), F J.J Hickson (1 year, $996,000)

Projected Starting Line-up: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Meyers Leonard


Greg Oden….released.

Nate McMillan……fired.

Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy……out the door.

LaMarcus Aldridge…….you’ve got a lot of work to do.

This Portland Trail Blazers squad is not the same group of guys who had aspirations to take over the Western Conference from the likes of the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks.

Instead of Oden, Roy and Aldridge taking this franchise to the next level, all Portland is left with is Aldridge and 2 unproven rookies who have very high ceilings, but huge question marks surrounding them as well.

With the 6th overall pick in the NBA Draft, the Blazers selected point guard Damian Lillard out of Weber State University . In his 4 years at the school, Lillard averaged 18.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. His best year was his senior season in which he put up numbers of 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on route to leading his team to the Big Sky Championship game.

While his numbers for the Wildcats were very much impressive, it must be pointed out that the level of competition he faced in the Big Sky Conference pales in comparison to what other first-round rookies faced in their college years. He was also named the MVP of the Summer League after taking Portland to a 3-1 record and averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

Then again, the competition there was weak as well.

Damian is going to have to adjust his style of play tenfold to become the point guard this Trail Blazers team desperately needs. While his ability to score at will and shoot the ball effectively will be a tremendous asset moving forward, Lillard is going to have to show more of a willingness to pass the ball and be a floor general, rather than placing the burden of scoring a lot of points on his shoulders.

Lillard is going to be thrust into a starting position for this team right away, which may not be the best move, but it’s going to happen nonetheless. The jury is still out on him, but he does have superstar potential and if given the opportunity to grow and play through some inevitable growing pains, he could very well check out and be a serious threat to Anthony Davis and that Rookie of the Year crown in 2013. I’ll have my skepticism until proven otherwise, but despite that, Damian is still a tremendous talent and the absolute right pick for this Trail Blazers franchise.

With the teams second lottery pick of the night, Portland took 7’1 center Meyers Leonard out of the University of Illinois. In his sophomore season, Meyers averaged 13.6 points on 58.4% shooting, as well as 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a night. He was also an honourable mention to the All Big-Ten.

Clearly the Trail Blazers have had issues in the past selecting bigs in the draft. The names “Sam Bowie” and “Greg Oden” will forever haunt this franchise. What Leonard has going for him is that he wasn’t selected with a top-3 pick, lowering his expectations just a bit.

Meyers clearly fits a need for this team, as Portland has little size in the paint outside of Aldridge. He has a good motor and mind for the game of basketball, and was one of the few “true centers” available in the draft this year. As we all know, a truly great center is a hard thing to come by these days in the NBA. With LaMarcus Aldridge controlling a majority of the offensive output in the paint next season, all Leonard will have to do is be competent and efficient, rebound the ball and box out. I’m still not sure if he was the better pick over Tar Heel center Tyler Zeller though.

Portland also added a nice piece for its bench in the 2nd round by taking G Will Barton out of Memphis. Barton averaged 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last season before foregoing his last 2 years of college to declare for the NBA Draft. He was also named the Conference USA Player of the Year, becoming the first Memphis player since Chris Douglas-Roberts in 2008 to win the prestigious award. At 6’6 and just over 170 lbs, Barton is going to need to add some bulk to his frame to be able to handle the larger forwards and guards of the NBA. With former Blazer Jamal Crawford now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Barton can step in and be that scoring threat off the bench that Crawford once was for this team. With just the 41st pick, Will could prove to be a huge steal down the road.

Outside of the NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers did little this offseason to truly improve this ball club, immediately anyways.

Trading Raymond Felton to the Knicks was the right move to make while he still had some value, but receiving only journeyman forward Jared Jeffries (Dan Gadzuric has since been released) in exchange for your starting point guard seems a little cheap if you ask me.

Matching the Timberwolves offer sheet for forward Nicolas Batum was also wise as he’s an outstanding talent, but he did recently come out to the public and declare his want to play for that franchise. Will his heart truly be in Portland next season?

“I’m a restricted free agent. I know the situation. Anywhere I sign, the Blazers are going to match. But my first choice was, and is, Minnesota. That’s where I want to play and that’s where I want to put my family. I’ve got nothing against the fans (in Portland) and nothing against the city. But this is a basketball decision and basketball wise, I want to be there. – Batum

Former Blazer draft picks also signed deals with the club, as 2006 pick Joel Freeland and 2009 pick Victor Claver will make their way overseas to play for the team next season. Claver spent the last six seasons playing for Valencia while averaging 8.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. He also competed with Spain in these past Olympic games. Freeland also played in the Olympics, starting at center for Great Britain. He averaged 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game last year in the Spanish League. Portland hopes that one or both of these European prospects can be valuable contributors to the rotation in 2013.

The success of this Blazers ball club will rely greatly on its new pieces and how much they can bring to the table year 1. Thats if this team realistically believes they have a shot at the postseason, which they shouldn’t.

It’s going to take some time.

OTHER OFFSEASON RECAPS: Atlanta HawksBoston Celtics, Brooklyn NetsCharlotte Bobcats, Chicago BullsCleveland CavaliersDallas MavericksDenver NuggetsDetroit PistonsGolden State WarriorsHouston RocketsIndiana PacersLos Angeles ClippersLos Angeles LakersMemphis GrizzliesMiami Heat, Milwaukee BucksMinnesota TimberwolvesNew Orleans HornetsNew York KnicksOklahoma City ThunderOrlando MagicPhiladelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns

Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports

Tags: Blazers Damian Lillard Greg Oden Jared Jeffries Joel Freeland LaMarcus Aldridge Meyers Leonard NBA Offseason Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers Raymond Felton Trail Blazers Victor Claver

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