It will take a minor miracle for the Portland Trail Blazers to make the playoffs this season. A staggering 80 percent of their starting lineup from last season is gone. All that's left is Damian Lillard, a few interesting prospects and some solid role players.
That's not enough in the Western Conference. But one positive takeaway from the summer is that Portland has managed to do what most teams can't: Start a rebuild without tanking.
"In making these moves, the Blazers went into a full youth movement without completely sacrificing their talent level or relying exclusively on rookies or D-League-quality players. Because they play in the brutal West and some of the East bottom feeders have gotten better, they will have the chance to put a competitive team on the floor and still lose enough games to pick in the top half of the lottery. This approach stands out in contrast to the 76ers' recent strategy. Portland's supporting players have NBA experience. Philadelphia's are recent draft picks and players bouncing around the fringes of the league. The Trail Blazers didn't strip the cupboard completely bare. They have taken bets on established talents that still have room to improve, whereas the 76ers have waited to take that step until they find their franchise cornerstone(s). (It helps that Portland already has a player of Lillard's caliber, whereas the 76ers do not.)"
Nobody knows how long it will take for Portland to once again become a fringe contender, and there's a real chance they never get there while Lillard's signed to his current max deal. But their path is a smart one that's not easy to find.
They were going to take a step back no matter what happened if LaMarcus Aldridge left, but they responded in a really interesting way. Bravo.