Originally posted on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 4/19/12
The Future Is Bright

Not everyone can be a star and the most successful sports teams know that quality depth will more often than not, result in a lengthy playoff run.

With Lamarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum firmly planted in the spotlight lineup, these next five may be equally important to the future of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Luke Babbitt

Luke Babbitt in his second year with the Rip City crew, Babbitt has quadrupled his scoring and doubled his rebounding while at the same increasing his playing time from five minutes to just over ten.

Recording five games with ten points or more, Babbitt has proven to be a solid backup for Batum at the small forward spot.

Contract Outlook:  Babbitt has one year ($1.89mil) plus a team option remaining on his contract.

Nolan Smith

My passionate distaste for everything Duke basketball related clouds my judgement on Nolan Smith.  Feelings aside, the Blazers rookie has shown that while a starting spot may not be in his future, the role of the first guard off the bench is well within Smith’s capabilities.

In forty games this season, Smith has posted a career high of 14 points and 5 assists, both of which came in the Blazers recent loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Contract Outlook:  Smith has a one year ($1.40mil) plus a team option remaining on his contract.

Ray Felton

After basically playing his way into and out of the doghouse, Ray Felton has turned his game around since the trade deadline to prove his worth as a starting point guard, whether it be in Portland or on someone else’s roster next season.

Role of the first guard off the bench is well within Smith's capabilities. - (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Maybe the trade deadline lack of movement on his behalf and a coaching change was what Felton needed as since that time he has posted fifteen straight games of five or more assists and a couple of off nights aside, has found his shooting touch, hitting for over 50% from the field on a consistent basis, while hitting double digit points in 14 of 17 games.

Who knows, maybe the issue was more Nate McMillan) than Ray.

Contract Outlook:  Felton is a free agent this summer.  While the team is certainly looking at drafting a point guard with one of their two first round picks, keeping Felton on the roster for a couple years might be a wise move to tutor the incoming rookie.

Check out this video on Felton.

Joel Przybilla

Whomever the Blazers big man of the future is going to be, they are going to need someone to show them the ropes.  An eleven year vet, “Ghostface” has been around the block (excuse the pun).

While he isn’t the offensive threat that the team needs, Przybilla is a pros pro, along the line of Juwan Howard, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas.

Funny enough all three of those players have donned a Blazers jersey at some point in their career and were a presence if even only in the locker room and practice court.

Contract Outlook:  Joel Przybilla is a free agent this summer.  It took a while to commit to returning this season as retirement was on the mind, and while he hasn’t played a huge role on the court, it is his impact off the court that could serve well to return for another season of mentoring.

J.J. Hickson

J.J. Hickson picked up from the scrap heap after the Sacramento Kings let him go on March 19th, Hickson has made an immediate impact for the Blazers, providing an energizer bunny like presence on both ends of the court.

Whether he is starting alongside of Aldridge in a smaller lineup or coming off the bench, Hickson’s average of 14.5 points and 8 rebounds in just fifteen games has been a great showcase of what the future may bring for the Rip City faithful.

Contract Outlook:  Hickson is a free agent this summer.  The Blazers would be wise to resign him.

The future for these five gentlemen is up in the air.  Hickson and Felton have the opportunity to resign as impact players either as starters or key reserves off the bench.

Babbitt and Smith have a tough road ahead of them as the upcoming draft may provide the team with a more skilled rookie at their respective position.  

Every team needs a seven footer, and fortunately for Przybilla, his only competition in that department is the under achieving Hasheem Thabeet.


© Steve Lee for North West Sports Beat, 2012. | Permalink | No comment |

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Post tags: 2012/13, Hasheem Thabeet, J.J. Hickson, Joel Przybilla, Kurt Thomas, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luke Babbitt, NBA hoops blogs, Nic Batum, Nolan Smith, Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Trailblazers, Ray Felton, RIP City, Trailblazers blog, Trailblazers roster

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