Some clarity has been added to the Trail Blazer equation this week. After weeks of drama and unknown, some key factors of this team are falling into place.
Sunday night was a good start to the 2012-2013 season with a win over the New Orleans Hornets in Vegas Summer League. This young team came out slow and sloppy. The first half was scaring all Blazer fans watching. They looked unorganized, nervous and unprepared. All of these factors led to a halftime score of 46-29.
The main thing that impressed me about this young team was their resolve. Damian Lillard led the way in the second half. After a rough start of only 2-10 shooting and a few sloppy turnovers in the first half, he came back to finish strong with 25 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Those are numbers are very indicative of what he did in college and would be welcomed with open arms if he can continue this production in the NBA.
Nolan Smith had a good first half before he sprained his left ankle. Luke Babbitt looked fairly impressive with a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
But my real surprise of the night was the toughness of rookie center Meyers Leonard. He showed a little edge that I hadn't seen before. One of the plays that really made this evident to me was on a missed dunk he got fouled on. The Hornet that fouled him was on the ground and Leonard looked down and seemed to stare him down, almost as if to say, "You fouled me and you are the one on the ground." It’s good to see a big man with a little swagger on the court. He finished with an impressive double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Add a couple dunks and the 11th pick out of Illinois showed he's ready to play. I am excited to see him paired with LaMarcus Aldridge in the front court.
Other than the good win against the Hornets, this week the Blazers were able to add a few new pieces. Signing Victor Claver and Joel Freeland will add much needed talent and depth to this roster. JJ Hickson is also another big signing this week. When the Blazers didn't extend his qualifying offer, I assumed he would get a multi-year deal elsewhere. Instead, I believe his 1-year, $4 million contract is somewhat of a bargain.
Jared Jeffries could be another asset to help solidify front court depth. Jeffries was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the New York Knicks for Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas. Along with Jeffries came 3 European players that may never see action in Portland.
With the trade and signings this week, the average age on the Blazers roster is 23 years old. As the Oklahoma City Thunder proved this year, young teams can be very successful. That is why the Summer League, training camp and preseason will be huge for this team. They will get the much needed time to meld and form together as an actual team.
Next on the Blazers’ minds is whether or not to match the 4-year, $46 million contract Minnesota offered Nicolas Batum. We can all just wait and see. By Wednesday, we will all know.
Personally, I am excited about this team. A lot of people don't believe in a lot of this young talent. I fully respect and support the front office in this youth movement and think it will all pay off, either in the short term of long.