Portland Trail Blazers must improve NBA’s worst bench this off-season

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With a talented starting five, the Portland Trail Blazers should have been more competitive this past season.  However, the team boasted a bench made up of rookies, former first round draft pick busts, and journeymen veterans that provided no relief for the starters.  Priority number one this NBA off-season for Portland; up-grade their talent on the bench.

Portland Trail Blazers (33-49 last year)

2012-13 Season Summary:
In a mini re-loading effort, the Portland Trail Blazers put a solid starting five on the floor this past season led by LeMarcus Aldridge.  The addition of NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard provided an enormous spark and should solve the long-term point guard question for years to come.  J.J Hickson picked up where left off after signing with the Blazers midway through the previous season to provide an inside presence while Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum played their roles well.

Where the Blazers really faltered is with their bench which was easily the most talentless bunch in the NBA.  They averaged a league worst 18.5 points per game which isn’t surprising with the collection of no-namers and four rookie reserves head coach Terry Stotts was forced to put on the floor.

Still, Portland was in the playoff hunt in late March but laid an egg down the stretch, ending the season on a 13-game losing streak.  Injuries to Aldridge, Matthews, and Batum didn’t help the situation and rather than ending the year on a high note, the Blazers limp into the off-season with very little momentum.

2013-14 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Meyers Leonard
PF: LeMarcus Aldridge/Joel Freeland
SF: Nicolas Batum/Victor Claver
SG: Wesley Matthews/Will Barton/*Sasha Pavlovic
PG: Damian Lillard/^Eric Maynor

NBA Free Agents:
^PG-Eric Maynor (RFA)
*SG-Sasha Pavlovic
C-J.J. Hickson (UFA)
SF-Luke Babbitt (UFA)
SG-Elliott Williams (UFA)
PG-Nolan Smith (UFA)
PF-Jared Jeffries (UFA)

2013-14 Team Salary: approximately $42.4 million

Team Needs:
1. Depth. Everywhere: Priority number one is adding some improved depth and talent off the bench.  As you look at the depth chart entering next season, who is their sixth man? Eric Maynor (who is a restricted free agent?) Will Barton? Ish.  The Blazers must get more out of their reserves at every position to take some of the pressure off the starting five and be better prepared in case of injury.  With a good amount of cap space and a lottery pick, the Portland Trail Blazers have the ability to target some affordable veterans in free agency and another young piece to improve the second unit.

2. Physical Inside Presence: With J.J. Hickson a free agent and surely due a significant pay raise and long-term deal, the Blazers have a decision to make as to whether he is worth signing to a pricey extension or let him walk.  If Hickson does not return, Portland must find a physical presence down low to play alongside the softer LeMarcus Aldridge since Meyers Leonard is nowhere near ready to assume that role.

3. Draft Better: Look at the list of free agents; you see three recent first round picks who have pretty much been busts in Nolan Smith, Elliott Williams, and Luke Babbitt.  Busts to the point that Portland decided not to exercise their team option and they didn’t even reach restricted free agent status.  The Blazers obviously hit a homerun with Lillard last year and the jury is still out on Leonard but with the tenth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Portland needs to find someone who can develop into a solid player and not somebody who ends up being off the team in two or three years.

OTHER NBA TEAM NEEDS PAGES:
Charlotte Bobcats
Cleveland Cavs
Detroit Pistons
Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans
Orlando Magic
Phoenix Suns
Sacramento Kings
Washington Wizards

CLICK HERE FOR THE SPORTS BANK’S 2013 NBA MOCK DRAFT

David Kay is a senior feature NBA DraftNBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and Walter Football.com material at David_Kmiecik and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag.)

You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.

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