The NBA playoffs are a time of rising prospects and glory, for many teams and players. For others, they’re a painful review of where a franchise stands on the fence between competition and rebuilding.
The Portland Trail Blazers don’t quite know where they are on that dividing line, after being ousted from their first-round series, 4-1, by the Memphis Grizzlies. They were a long shot to put up much of a fight against mighty Memphis with their backcourt depth shot, after injuries to Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo.
Matthews and roster centerpiece LaMarcus Aldridge are free agents this summer. So is starting center Robin Lopez, who didn’t look so great against the Grizzlies.
The torn Achilles that ended Matthews’ season inspires serious questions about how much of an investment Portland, or any team, should make in him going forward. It’s a sad-but-telling instance of how bad luck and timing with injuries can change somebody’s bank account in this league.
Matthews was leading the league in three-pointers made at the time of his injury, and was the Blazers’ best defender — by many accounts, he was headed for a maximum contract. Now, who knows? What if Matthews had suffered his hurt right after signing a new deal, instead of before? These are the rabbit holes he and his agent are likely looking down.
For its part, Portland may have found a bright future without Wes in the person of C.J. McCollum, the second-year guard who had a breakout performance in the Blazers’ final fight last night. He scored a career-high 33 points on scorching shooting in the 99-93 loss.
Aldridge, meanwhile, is strapped with the dilemma of deciding whether to stick it out as a beloved hero in Oregon, or try the challenge of upstarting a transitioning franchise elsewhere. There will be no shortage of suitors for the big man: The New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs are all known to covet his skills. But is it worth it for him to leave what he’s worked so hard to help build, for dubious prospects elsewhere? Aldridge will have to answer that question, this July.
— John Wilmes