Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/17/14
The Road Map The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t have a bad season, but it wasn’t that great either. Here are my exclusive top-5 tips for the Portland Trail Blazers making the 2014 NBA Playoffs, enjoy. Have Nikola Pekovic sign an offer sheet worth top dollar to force the Minnesota Timberwolves to pay him. Like they did with Nicolas Batum last off-season? Yes. Just like that.  Steal Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers. Shave James Harden‘s beard. Steal Stephen Curry‘s sweet stroke and give it to Wesley Matthews, Space Jam style. Convince Russell Westbrook to pull a Derrick Rose and sit out all season, no matter how bad they need him. Honorable Mentions: Convince Memphis to trade you Marc Gasol for Meyers Leonard, a future drat pick, and an outstanding new barbecue recipe. Create an outstanding new barbecue recipe. Ok, I’ll admit, those aren’t real. While those things won’t happen and really wouldn’t have too much of an effect on the Blazers, it would be nice if they actually occurred. Here are my *real* top-5 tips for Portland if they want to make the 2014 playoffs. The Real 5 Build Around LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard Lillard and Aldridge are the building blocks for Portland. Aldrige and Lillard are the building blocks for Rip City success. They complement each other’s game very well. These two make for a great combination when it comes to pick-and-rolls and working an inside-outside game between the two of them. Lillard’s shooting ability forces teams to stay honest and not leave him to double team Aldridge, allowing either of them to go one-on-one on most plays. Likewise, with Aldridge’s range for a big man , it works with Lillard’s passing and ability to get to the rim. If Aldridge’s man helps, Lillard can hit him for the open jump shot, and if he doesn’t then Lillard has an easy lane to the rim. Portland needs to find plays that fit alongside these two guys. If they can find a few this off-season then they are well on their way to a playoff berth. Get a Defensive Minded Center Meyers Leonard is far from what the Blazers need as a low post presence. They need to bring in someone who is defensive minded and will consistently rebound. J.J. Hickson wasn’t that guy either, so unfortunately for many Hickson fans in Portland, he is more than likely gone. There are highly unlikely free-agent candidates such as Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. There are also the more likely candidates such as Pekovic, Samuel Dalembert, or Jermaine O’Neal (more on those last two later). Al Jefferson is also a free agent, but he isn’t much of a defensive presence… more of a higher priced J.J. Hickson, who is a little more polished offensively. Or the Blazers can look into trades. Anderson Varejao could be on the market. Do they really want him, though? He might as well have Greg Oden stamped on his forehead seeing as how he’s only played 81 games over the last 3 years. Draft Best Available Muhammad could potentially become a Blazer (US Presswire) People say that the draft this year isn’t as deep as last year. It’s true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent in this year’s draft. There is plenty of talent among the lottery picks this year. If one of the top 7 or 8 guys slip to Portland at 10, they better take him. While playing with ESPN’s NBA Draft Machine, I have seen Shabazz Muhammad  fall to 10 quite a few times. He is a great talent, he is NBA ready, and he can help Portland right away. Portland needs help at every position on their bench. Drafting the best available can help to fill one of those needs. Stretch Your Dollar Don’t put all your money into one player during free agency. If you can get Dwight Howard, by all means, you go out and get Dwight. But let’s be real, he isn’t coming to Portland, nor can they afford the $20 million that he will be asking for. Here is where Samuel Dalembert and Jermaine O’Neal come in. You can get them for very cheap, and either one will suffice. One of these guys is the best option for Portland. It doesn’t disrupt Leonard’s development. In fact, O’Neal has gone on record to say that he is willing to be a mentor for Leonard and help him get better defensively and with rebounding. It also allows them to sign a few other rotation players in free agency, not just one center and a bunch of bench players who don’t belong on the court. Add Depth This sort of goes hand-in-hand with stretching your dollar and drafting the best available. Portland’s bench last year was awful. They were last in the NBA in bench points per game. Their 18.5 bench points per game were 7 points behind the second worst team, Indiana. Despite having an awful bench, they were in reach of a playoff  appearance with a few weeks left in the season. However, their lack of depth caused their starters to break down towards the end of the season and they ended up losing their last 13 games. All-around depth is something that Portland must improve on. They won’t be able to do that without stretching the dollar in free-agency and drafting the best available. They don’t need anymore projects on this team. They have plenty of those already, so maybe trading their pick this year isn’t a bad idea. We’ll have to wait and see. Watch the NBA Draft Lottery: Tuesday, May 21, 2013.  CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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