Where you at, Rip City?

With baseball still dragging on the NBA season still seems like it is months away, but much like every year, it is sneaking up on us. Blazers basketball is just under a week away ladies and gentleman. Even though many fans claim the beginning of the NBA season is nothing but meaningless games and air balls, there is still a lot of excitement about the potential of a new Blazers line-up.

And by lineup, I of course mean bench, which has been completely revamped this season. Hallelujah Blazer fans, we never have to hear the words “here comes Luke Babbitt off the bench” again. Those days are over. Now, the Blazers have one of the better benches in recent memory, with 6th man Mo Williams leading the way.

Williams is best known for his campaign with Miami Heat forward LeBron James, when the two were in Cleveland. William was an all star in 2009, and has traveled from team to team since then. The guard will play a key role this season, scoring off the bench. Williams is a prolific shooter, and will play a role similar to what Jamal Crawford failed to do two years ago.

Williams is joined on the bench by forwards Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson. The Blazers also drafted guard CJ McCollum, but the rookie broke his foot during training camp and is expected to miss at least six weeks after receiving non-surgical treatment. Both second year player Will Barton and rookie Allen Crabbe are expected to step in and play minutes for McCollum.

Last year, after an exciting start to the season, the Blazers couldn’t keep up their momentum and failed to make the playoffs. This season, Portland hopes this new bench will propel them into the top eight of a very tough Western Conference. For the Blazers to make the postseason, it is going to take a lot more than stellar bench play.

Guard Damian Lillard is going to have to improve after being Rookie of the Year last season. The second-year player has hopes of becoming an all star, and he’s going to have to have all star numbers. Where Lillard goes, the Blazers go. Portland fans know LaMarcus Aldridge can bring it every night, and will put up pretty consistent numbers, but the Blazers need to see that extra step. Higher assists. Lower turnovers. Better shots. Yeah, he was great last year, but Brandon Roy did not plateau after his rookie season, and no one should expect Lillard to. In order for this franchise to go somewhere, the responsibility is on his shoulders.

If Lillard makes the next step, the question becomes whether or not Blazers general manager Neil Olshey gathered enough support talent in free agency and trades over the summer. Olshey was one of the busiest GM’s this offseason, and he picked players who aren’t quite marquee free agents, but are a bit better than chalupa hero Luke Babbitt.

The bottom line is Blazer fans should be excited. There are a few different ways to feel about this season’s team, with some people think playoffs, while others are thinking lottery. I know next years draft is loaded, but I don’t really care. I want this team to have a chance. I want some exciting basketball that Rip City can enjoy. Another trip to the lottery would be boring, and Portland probably wouldn’t have a top ten pick in any case.

This team has a chance to make the playoffs because last years team had a chance. And the worst part of last year’s team is the most improved part of this squad—the bench. The Blazers won’t win 60 games, probably not even 50, but look at what Golden State did last season. All they have to do is get into the crazy Western Conference playoff picture, and it could go anywhere from there.

Playoffs are quite a bit down the road and first the Blazers have to stay healthy. Another huge priority is to assert their dominance at home. No team should expect to win when they come to Portland. If the Blazers can do that while winning about half of their games on the road they will put themselves in a good position.

So Portland, I leave you with this. This could be an exciting year, which we have not had in a while. Enjoy it. Expect something from this team, because they can deliver. This roster can play. Many of them have proven that, whether in Portland or on their last team. Let’s just hope LaMarcus rolls to the basket every once and a while, Nicolas Batum does more than just spot up shooting and Robin Lopez is as awesome as his hair.