A 13-game losing streak leaves a foul stench in the nostrils of Portland fans heading into the offseason. But if you’ve been through Tillamook and enjoyed their ice cream or cheddar cheese, you realize that sometimes a nasty odor is a necessary step in producing bigger and better things.
The memory of the season-ending slide will fade away from the memory of Blazer fans as quickly as the smell of cow byproducts dissipates into the ocean air. That’s because there were enough morsels of excellence and untapped potential to make even the most cynical fans salivate.
Even though we’re still several months away from seeing the Blazers play another regular season game, here are five things I cannot wait to see once they’re suited up again.
• Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor in the same lineup
The first step toward this, obviously, is re-signing Maynor. He showed flashes of brilliance of the bench during his short time with the team this season. He allowed Lillard, the NBA’s leader in minutes played, a chance to catch his breath every now and then.
However, when the two were paired together on the floor at the same time, it allowed Lillard to work off the ball more. This is a nice wrinkle to the team, as Lillard was able to get free for looks without having to create his own shots as much. It’s a nice way for him to get a bit of rest while still producing at the same time.
• The Will Barton-Meyers Leonard pick-and-roll
This is something I did not see once this season, but hope will become a staple. It will never match Stockton-to-Malone nor will it be nearly as effective as Lillard-to-LaMarcus, but it will be incredibly entertaining.
During his late-season audition for more minutes, Barton showed a knack for attacking the rim with tenacity. Leonard also dives hard to the hoop and loves throwing down the jams. Basically, these are two guys who love nothing more than dunking with authority. Watching them attack the rim simultaneously is – by itself – worth the price of admission.
• Interior defense
The Blazer bigs – LaMarcus Aldridge, JJ Hickson and Meyers Leonard – do not carry a reputation as defensive stoppers. Aldridge is the best defender of the bunch at this point, but it’s a stretch to say he’s a plus-defender. Hickson is a rebounding machine but doesn’t have much awareness as far as where he needs to be when the other team has the ball. Leonard has the heart and mind for defending, but his body is about 25 pounds too light to do so effectively on a regular basis.
Whether it comes through the draft, a trade or free agency, the Blazers need to bolster their defense’s back line. Getting a premier shot-blocker – or even one who can produce at the league average – would be a boost to a team that ranked 26th in the NBA in blocked shots.
• Fewer 3-point attempts
Portland ranked fourth in the league this year in 3-pointers attempted, hucking up more than 23 a game. The Blazers’ success rate, on the other hand, did not justify that. Portland made .353 percent of those shots – good for 20th in the league.
Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver are all good shooters. (So is Luke Babbitt, but my wish list also includes seeing him in another team’s uniform.) Taking the 3-ball away from them would be a detriment to the team, but if they continue to shoot below the league average from long range they need to discontinue shooting from long range so frequently.
I love that Terry Stotts gives the team the freedom to play loosely, but sometimes it needs to be reined in when it’s not working.
• A new mascot
Blaze sucks. A lot.
Kyle Boggs is on Twitter. Follow him at @KyleKBoggs