Team of the future: Young Blazers should be title contenders in a couple of years
By Loren Jorgensen
Deseret Morning News
Music critic Jon Landau, after attending a concert in May 1974, wrote, "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
That was more than a year before Springsteen released Born to Run. Tens of millions of records sold, countless concerts and more than three decades later, "The Boss" is an icon who continues to produce top-selling albums with his buddies in the E Street Band.
What does this have to do with basketball?
Nothing, except that, to borrow the line from Landau, Utah Jazz fans at EnergySolutions Arena on Tuesday night saw the future of the NBA and its name is the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers are young and brash yet play under control in coach Nate McMillan's system. Their opening-night roster had an average age of 24 years and 26 days, making them the youngest team in NBA history.
Yet, after a rough start, they are nearly back up to .500 on the season and are on a six-game winning streak — and that's without their can't-miss, All-Star prospect, Greg Oden, who is out for the year recovering from knee surgery.
"We know we have potential," said McMillan after beating the Jazz on Tuesday. "We know we are growing up and learning how to play the game of NBA basketball and playing together."
In their two wins over Utah this week, the Blazers' top scorer and rebounder, second-year forward LaMarcus Aldridge, sat with a foot injury.
Of course, experience is an important factor in NBA playoff success. It will take time for Portland to develop into a title contender. But four or five years from now, watch out. Consider:
• Oden, a 7-foot man-child, is expected to recover fully and will likely be a force in the league for years to come. After playing at Ohio State for one season and helping the Buckeyes to the national title game, Oden entered the draft as the most heralded prospect since LeBron James.
He's just 19, and his rehab from knee surgery is reportedly going well. If anything, it's going too well and he's getting into too good of shape. Oden has reportedly gained 30 pounds of muscle and is now 280 pounds.
• Last year's rookie of the year, guard Brandon Roy, has a strong all-around game and the ability to lead. He came into the league a bit more polished than most rookies after a four-year college career at Washington where he was the Pac-10's Player of the Year as a senior. Still, he's just 23.
• Aldridge was the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft and has shown a marked improvement in his low-post moves and scoring. He's averaging about 10 more points and three more rebounds per game this year than he did as a rookie. The former Texas star is 22.
• Travis Outlaw has more NBA experience than most of his teammates. The 6-9 forward is now in his fifth NBA year and is having his best season, averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds. But for all his time in the league, Outlaw is still just 23, having gone pro right out of high school.
• Martell Webster, the athletic 6-7 forward who torched the Jazz for 25 points on Tuesday night and made five 3-pointers, is only 22. He's in his third NBA season after skipping college as well.
• Three of the Blazers' top players off the bench are 6-11 forward Channing Frye, who is 24, guard Jarrett Jack, 24, and Spanish point guard Sergio Rodriguez, who is 21.
"We feel good about where we are and what we are doing," said McMillan. "I think this team can continue to grow and improve and that's the whole goal right now, to continue to grow and develop."
Portland had a run of having players of questionable character, leading to many arrests and the term "Jail Blazers." But the franchise has weeded out the problems and started over. They also are owned by billionaire Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, who isn't afraid to spend money on his team.
"They're a young team trying to establish themselves, trying to play and have fun," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan of the Blazers after Tuesday's loss. "It's kind of how (the Jazz team) was last year."
With the Blazers and the Jazz in the same division, there should be some epic battles between the two clubs for years to come.
And while the Blazers may be the NBA's team of the future, they aren't bad right now, either.
Springsteen has become a legend. There's a good chance the Blazers of the 2010s will become legendary as well.