Last season saw the Portland Trail Blazers lose their league-leading Play-off streak, failing to make the post-season for the first time since 2013.
That failure wasn't exactly a shock, as the Trail Blazers leaned into a rebuild by the trade deadline before losing 21 of their final 23 games as they tried to boost their place in the draft.
With Damian Lillard back and a summer of moves, the Trail Blazers shouldn't suffer quite as much this season. However, their roster rebuild was swift and it leaves questions about this team's ceiling, alongside their long-term ambitions.
|What||NBA Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 18th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||Sky Sports, NBA Pass, bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||BOS Celtics +700, GS Warriors +600, LA Clippers +700, MIL Bucks +650, BKN Nets +700|
Looking at Portland after a chaotic 2022, it's hard to shake the feeling this is a team being prepped for new owners. Since the start of the calendar year, they dispensed of CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr, Norm Powell and Robert Covington, not getting a whole lot in return.
The upside for the Trail Blazers was those moves cut their wage bill by at least $20million by the time they were done assembling the current roster. However, after moves to sign Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II, the Trail Blazers look worse than they did a year ago, but better than the side which tanked in the final months of last season.
That's left the team in the dreaded middle. Not contenders, but not on course for a high draft pick. That's a nightmare scenario unless you're a prospective buyer who wants a capable NBA team without inheriting long contracts and a hefty tax bill. That serving as the main driver for Portland doesn't bode well for the season to come.
While Portland have added solid back-up options around Lillard, they did also have the option of leaning fully into the future. The Powell and Covington trade didn’t land Portland much, but they did get Keon Johnson - the 21st pick in the 2021 draft.
Portland saw Anfernee Simons have a breakout year last season, to the point where they had to stand the 23-year-old down in order to properly tank. That tank landed them Shaedon Sharp with the seventh pick this summer, so there's youth there for Portland.
However, coach Chauncey Billups can't fully commit to a development year for those three, as Portland look to squeeze into the Play-in with a paper-thin squad.
Portland only greenlit last season's tank when Lillard was ruled out for the season and it's clear he expects the team to keep competing. At 32, he's not exactly a man who can wait around on young stars, but he seems desperate to win only in Oregon.
The Trail Blazers are essentially turning Lillard's expectations back onto him this year. If he wants a Play-off place or even a run, he basically has to do it all on his own after the departure of his backcourt partner McCollum.
Dame remains a lights-out shooter and a galvanising postseason force. There's no doubt he's the main attraction on this Portland team. However, shy of him upping his career-best numbers, the 32-year-old will struggle to get this team into the top-six fight.
The Trail Blazers have a mixed bag to start, with their opening trip to Sacramento to face the Kings an early indication of the pair’s Play-in hopes. After that, the Phoenix Suns head to town, before the Blazers face another likely Play-in opponent, the LA Lakers.
From there they kick into a four-game homestand, which includes the Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. While they avoid the top-tier title favourites, it's not exactly a forgiving schedule for Portland.
The Trail Blazers should easily clear the minimum expectation this term - they'll be better than the state they finished last season in. However, they've won only two Play-off series since 2017 and it's tough to see them competing in a stacked Western Conference.
Their lack of real postseason ambition leaves them in the seventh to 11th range, with an appearance in the first round of the Play-offs in 2023 probably the best-case scenario. However, they're +200 to make the Play-offs, making a Play-in exit look likely. For a side with an NBA Top-75 talent in Lillard, that's pretty disappointing.