The Portland Trail Blazers proved last season beyond a reasonable doubt that injuries are never an excuse. The Blazers were without the services of Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, Travis Outlaw, Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez for parts of last year, and while most teams under most coaches would have withered away and died under that pressure, Nate McMillan's boys instead persevered. They won 50 games, they made the playoffs, and even with their star Roy limping, they pushed the Suns to six games in the opening round. It's scary to think what the Blazers are capable of when healthy.
2009-10 Record: 50-32 (third in Northwest Division, sixth in Western Conference, lost to Suns in first round)
Celtics' record vs. Blazers: 58-39 all time, 2-0 last season
Familiar faces: Marcus Camby (UMass alum)
Key additions: Wesley Matthews (free agent), Luke Babbitt (draft), Armon Johnson (draft), Elliot Williams (draft)
Key losses: Martell Webster (traded to Timberwolves), Juwan Howard (signed by Heat)
Burning question: Will we ever see the real Greg Oden?
Remember 2007, when we all talked about Oden and Kevin Durant, the top two picks in that summer's draft, as the future of the NBA? So far, one of them has panned out. Durant has a scoring title under his belt and is now poised to be the face of USA Basketball at Worlds; he's one of the biggest stars on the planet.
Oden is still a work in progress. He missed all of his rookie season after surgery to repair a microfracture in his knee; he returned in 2008 but was unpredictable and streaky, often running into crippling foul trouble. In December '09, he suffered another season-ending knee injury, this time fracturing his left patella.
Two bad knees and zero good seasons — not where a No. 1 overall pick wants to be three years later. His career hasn't panned out, but he still has the physical tools and the drive to reinvent himself now. It's not too late. Oden is still only 22, and he's capable of blossoming into the franchise big man we all thought he'd be.
If he does, the Blazers will be one step closer to becoming title contenders.
2010-11 outlook: No one yet knows how good this Blazers team could be if they get everyone healthy at once. My guess, though, for what it's worth: very, very good. Roy is ready to become a top-10 player in the league, and the supporting cast around him is just oozing with talent. Bayless, Batum, Fernandez, LaMarcus Aldridge — if these guys all hit their primes at once and they all stay healthy, the sky is the limit for Portland. These guys limped into a 50-win season last year. There's no telling what they could do at full strength.
Did you know? Brandon Roy grew up in Seattle, where he was an avid Sonics fan. Roy attended a summer camp run by Nate McMillan, now his NBA coach, as McMillan played for the Sonics between 1986 and '98.