No more surprises, now the Blazers want to build on success
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Last season the Trail Blazers were all about defying expectations. This season they want to build on them.
''We did great things last year, now it's time to prove it up,'' guard Damian Lillard said. ''It's time to show that what we did - that's who we are, that's what we're capable of as a team, and we can do better.''
On Monday, the Blazers had their first official gathering, although many players stuck around Portland to work out during the summer. The team also took a bonding trip to San Diego earlier this month.
Portland went 44-38 last season despite losing four starters to free agency the previous summer. The team got the fifth seed in the Western Conference, then beat the injury-depleted Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The Blazers ran into the Western Conference champion Warriors in the second round. After dropping the first two games in Oakland, California, Portland won the third at home and lost the fourth in overtime. Golden State closed out the series with a nail-biter in Oakland.
''We don't have a reason to be complacent about last year. We didn't win a championship,'' Lillard said. ''The team was put together, and we come together to win it all. Sure, we did some good things last year, but we didn't do what we're here for.''
Lillard averaged a career-high 25.1 points in the regular season, becoming the third Portland player ever to average more than 25. He also averaged 6.8 assists.
Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum averaged 20.8 points in his first year as a starter, giving the Blazers their first backcourt duo with an average of 20 or more points apiece in a single season. He was named the league's Most Improved Player.
This summer, McCollum signed a four-year contract extension worth $106 million that will keep him with the Blazers through the 2020-21 season.
McCollum's deal was part of a busy offseason as the Blazers sought to secure their young prospects and create depth.
Forward Meyers Leonard is staying in Portland with a four-year, $41 million deal signed in the offseason. Still rehabbing from shoulder surgery in March, Leonard said he should be able to participate in 5-on-5 drills by Oct. 8, although he may not be in game shape.
Maurice Harkless, who filled a key role when Leonard was injured, also signed a four-year contract with the Blazers worth a reported $40 million. Over Portland's final 11 games, Harkless averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds.
The Blazers also brought back Allen Crabbe, a restricted free agent, matching a four-year, $75 million offer from the Brooklyn Nets. Other returnees for the Blazers include Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee.
Portland signed free agent forward Festus Ezeli and wing Evan Turner and traded to get guard Shabazz Napier and rookie forward Jake Layman.
Turner agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract at the start of the NBA's free agency period. Last year with the Celtics, the 6-foot-7 wing averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists as Boston's sixth man.
''I thought it would be advantageous to my game,'' Turner said about signing with the Blazers. ''Portland is a hot spot right now, players keep getting better and better.''
Ezeli, who played last season for the Warriors and averaged seven points and 5.6 assists, had a procedure on his left knee in August and was ruled out for at least six weeks. He said Monday he has been cleared to run.
Ezeli was able to go with the team to San Diego, a now-annual trip to bring the players together and work out. The trip south was started by Lillard and McCollum in 2015.
''I always knew they were cool guys and they had good chemistry,'' Ezeli said. ''But I didn't know the team was this tight.''