Originally written on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 1/23/13

To the surprise of many, the Portland Trail Blazers are very much in the hunt for the Western Conference Playoffs despite finishing ten games under .500 last season. Although Portland still cannot compete with the likes of Oklahoma City and San Antonio, they are only a few pieces away from being a championship contender. In The Big Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy talks about an experience with Isiah Thomas when he learns the secret of basketball. In case you didn’t read it (and it is a must read for sports fans), “the secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” Here is a little excerpt from the book: “Year after year, at least one contender [falls] short for reasons that [have] little or nothing to do with basketball. And year after year, the championship team prevailed because it got along and everyone committed themselves to their roles.” Portland is in the process of building a team of players that know their roles, work excellently together, and give it their all each and every night. The star: Lamarcus Aldridge Although Lamarcus Aldridge may not be a household name yet, he is one of the most talented players in the NBA. This season, the 6’11 big man out of Texas is averaging 20.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, and 1.3 bpg, and is easily one of the top eight post players in the game (if not better).  The big man can bang inside and demonstrates a soft touch from deep. If he could snag a few more rebounds a game, Aldridge is a perennial all-star. The Point Man: Damian Lillard Last year’s down season turned out to be a blessing in a disguise for the Blazers, as they snagged a much needed point guard with the 6th overall pick (possibly the only good Blazers’ pick…ever). At this point it seems like the young point guard is a lock to be Rookie of the Year, averaging 18.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, and 3.5 rpg. He plays with the poise of a veteran and truly knows how to run the show (maybe because he actually went to college for four years). In a league now dominated by premiere, play-making point guards (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, etc.) Lillard is on his way to stardom.   via wallcoo.net The Key Role Players: Nicolas Batum & JJ Hickson The Blazers spent a lot of money this offseason to keep Batum, and he is well worth it. The 6’8 Frenchman can drain the three, get to the basket, and hit the boards. His most important attribute? Something you can’t teach, a 7’1 wingspan. Just to put that in perspective, the wingspan of a Golden Eagle is between 6 and 7.7 feet. This allows Batum to matchup with the NBA’s best wing players, AKA LeBron, Kobe, and Carmelo. If you couldn’t tell, I love Batum. As for Hickson, he knows his role and plays it perfectly, which is sort of becoming a lost art in today’s game with players always looking for their next contract. The big man shoots over 50% from the field, averages a double-double, and nearly gets a block per game. What more could you ask for from a not top 5 center? What is missing? Portland’s top five players are all very solid, but they could use some more depth. Two huge additions would be a scoring wing with experience and a big man that hustles for every board and serves as a garbage man for Lamarcus Aldridge. This would allow Wesley Matthews to come off the bench, as well as provide some support down low. There are plenty of good free agents this offseason, and here are a few realistic options at both spots: (in no particular order, with bold being the better options) Scoring Wing: Andre Iguodala, OJ Mayo, JR Smith, Demar Derozan, Tyreke Evans ***They absolutely should not sign Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis (also free agents), unless of course they are changing their goal to not winning the NBA Championship*** Big Men with Hustle: Dejuan Blair, Taj Gibson, Carl Landry, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor If Portland is able to sign a few guys from this list (and keep JJ Hickson), there is no reason they shouldn’t be a top three team in the West with the potential to make a deep postseason run. Remember, the secret is everything. -Langer

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