Trail Blazers ready for training camp

BY foxsports • September 30, 2013

At the end of last season, Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews had one word to describe how he felt: Empty.

And now?

Matthews thought about it for several moments.

''Optimistic,'' he replied.

Portland held its annual media day on Monday, a day before the team opens training camp, with a revamped roster that includes some much-needed depth and a real center in Robin Lopez.

''We've got everything. We've got every piece we need,'' Matthews said. ''Now we just have to put it all together.''

The Blazers ended last season with a 13-game slide to finish 33-49 and out of the playoffs for the second straight season. Portland was still in the playoff picture after the All-Star break but then injuries struck down the stretch and there simply wasn't the depth to overcome them.

This season, thanks to several keep offseason moves, the Blazers have more to work with.

''We're going to be a better team, there's no question about that,'' coach Terry Stotts said. ''How that translates into playoff seeds? That's why you play the season.''

The Blazers' nucleus still includes All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, along with Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum.

Lillard led all NBA rookies with an average of 19 points and 6.5 assists. He broke the rookie record for 3-pointers with 185, and he led the entire league in minutes with 3,167. Aldridge, who was named an All-Star for the second straight year, averaged 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Batum averaged career-bests with 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He spent the summer playing for his native France, which won the gold medal at the European Championship with a victory over Lithuania in the final.

''I don't think we're in that rebuilding mode anymore,'' Aldridge said. ''We've got guys who can make it happen. Now we just have to make it happen.''

Additions included the 7-foot Lopez, acquired in a three-team trade with New Orleans and Sacramento. The Blazers lacked a real center last season, instead using forward J.J. Hickson up front with Aldridge and Batum. As a result, Portland never had a big shot-blocking presence on the defensive end.

Lopez averaged 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.56 blocked shots in 82 starts last season with New Orleans.

''I'm really focusing on defense,'' Lopez said Monday. ''I want to be somebody who makes people think twice about driving to the basket.''

The Blazers also signed free agent Dorell Wright, a nine-year NBA veteran, who averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists off the bench for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, as well as free agent guard Earl Watson, a 12-year NBA veteran who played the past three seasons with the Utah Jazz.

The Blazers acquired forward Thomas Robinson in a trade with Houston. He was the fifth overall pick in last year's draft by the Sacramento Kings but he was dealt to Houston in a February trade.

On Monday, the Blazers announced they had exercised third-year options on Lillard, Robinson and second-year center Meyers Leonard.

In the June draft, the Blazers picked up C.J. McCollum of Lehigh with the 10th overall pick and got Allen Crabbe, the 31st pick out of California, via a draft-night trade.

''Everything we did in the offseason we did with winning in mind,'' general manager Neil Olshey said.

Olshey got exasperated at one point on media day when he was asked about Aldridge and the unsubstantiated rumors the spread over the summer that the face of the franchise had asked to be traded.

''Oh dear God, could you guys get over it?'' Olshey said.

Aldridge settled the matter, saying he was happy to be with the Blazers and excited about the season.

''The people who know me knew I never said any of those things,'' he said.

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