Blazers’ preseason questions get their answers

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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At the beginning of the Blazers’ season, we asked seven questions. Here are the answers.

1) Will the Blazers improve upon last year’s record?

Oops.

Last year, Portland overachieved in most people’s minds when it posted a mark of 48-34 sans Greg Oden and a healthy Brandon Roy. But once the surprise delight subsided, the thought became “Well, how good can we be when our younger players mature and Gerald Wallace has a full year to acclimate himself?”

The answer: A lot worse. Despite the 7-2 start that had some pundits wondering if the Blazers could contend for a Western Conference championship in January, this team never jelled, never intimidated, and just never worked. The result was a 28-38 record that rendered Portland one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA.

2) Can the Blazers get out of the first round?

See above.

Nate McMillan had expressed that his job may be in jeopardy if he failed to lead the franchise to the second round for the 12th consecutive season. Turns out, his job was in jeopardy long before. Blazer fans were once weary of rooting for a team that limped into the postseason but never threatened once the playoffs begin. Now, they would probably long for those days.

3) Will LaMarcus Aldridge make his first All-Star team?

In this season of weeds, there was one rose in bloom. After narrowly missing his first All-Star Game last season, Aldridge finally broke through as a Western Conference reserve ... and played nine minutes.

Even so, it was the fulfillment of a career-long goal for the power forward, and more than deserved. The thing is, while Aldridge missed the game last year, he was named to the All-NBA third team. His chances of repeating that feat are unlikely given his team’s struggles.

4) Will Raymond Felton significantly increase Portland’s pace of play?

photoRaymond Felton fell short of the Blazers, and fans, expectations.

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Increase? Yes? Significant? Not so much.

The Blazers clearly demonstrated a faster pace in the season’s early goings — at one point accumulating more possessions per game than most of the league. However, this offense’s speed fluctuated and never quite established an identity. Felton certainly fell short of expectations, ranking among the league’s least efficient point guards. But you wonder if there would have been at least a slight uptick in his productivity had a consistent pace been implemented.

5. Will the Blazers extend Nicolas Batum’s contract?

photoPortland’s Nicolas Batum (88) is now a restricted free agent, which gives the Blazers a chance to match other team’s offers.

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The answer here is no. The new question? Will they match an offer made by another team this offseason?

The Frenchman has long been coveted by other teams during trade season, and is seen as a wing with tremendous upside. However, during extension talks in the early part of the season, Batum was not playing well.

As a result, a deal to extend him did not get done, which makes him a restricted free agent.

Should a team offer Batum as substantial contract, Portland will have a chance to match, and has expressed a keen interest on retaining the 23-year-old.

6. Will this team stay together long-term?

Only if you considered Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian long-term. With a bevy of Blazers in the final year of their contracts (or with the ability to opt out), the future of the 2011-2012 squad was in great question at the beginning of the season. Most, however, thought this team would at least last throughout the end of the year. Not so much.

In the middle of March, Portland traded Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby, waived Greg Oden and Chris Johnson, and fired Nate McMillan. Meanwhile, Felton’s contract is up, and Jamal Crawford has told multiple sources he will opt out.

It’s funny, when Brandon Roy came back to the Rose Garden to surprise Crawford on his birthday, only five players in the team’s locker room had played with him the season before.

The Blazers sporting a new look never gets old.

7) Will Greg Oden return to the court this year?

No.