Saturday, June 7, 2008

Here come the Trail Blazers

Not only did Portland win half of its games in 2008 (a nine-game improvement from the previous season), that 41-41 record included some impressive feats: three victories over the Jazz (including one in Utah), two apiece against the Lakers, Mavs and Hornets, one vs. the Pistons. And don't forget ... a 13-game winning streak.

What's next for the Blazers?

* They're adding the No. 1 overall selection in last year's draft, center Greg Oden. Reports are Oden is on schedule with conditioning and rehabilitation following knee surgery. Even if he eases his way back into the flow, it shouldn't take long for Oden to anchor the middle of Portland's defense with his rebounding and shot blocking. A polished offensive game was Oden's biggest weakness, and with this roster he won't be asked to do too much, too soon.

* All-star Brandon Roy leads a core group, including LaMarus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Jarrett Jack and Martell Webster, of Portland's top-five returning players who are all younger than 25.

* Word Friday that Rudy Fernandez, whose NBA rights are owned by the Blazers, will leave his Spanish team and sign with Portland. Fernandez, a 6-foot-6 guard who is 23 years old, averaged 21.2 points as one of Spain's top players. He is a slasher and has shooting range, but needs to get stronger. Odds are he'll develop. How much and how fast? That, of course, remains to be seen.

* The 13th selection in this month's draft. Some projections have the the Blazers landing Joe Alexander, the 6-8 forward from West Virginia. Given how Alexander's athleticism has just blown away observers during recent workouts, his stock is soaring, and the buzz surrounding him is growing. Would be a great score for the Blazers, although I'd be surprised if Alexander is available at 13. Regardless, a quality rotation player will be.

Here's one look at a potential Blazers rotation:

Starters: Oden, Aldridge, Webster, Roy, Fernandez.
Reserves: Outlaw, Jack, Alexander, Frye, Przybilla.

Things are definitely looking up in Portland.