PORTLAND — General manager Neil Olshey prefers the term “emerging" rather than “rebuilding" when it comes to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers open training camp today with a new general manager, a new head coach and a group of promising if unproven young players as they seek to move forward from last season's turbulence.
“I think the process is further along than most people believe," Olshey said Monday.
The Blazers finished last season 28-38 and out of the playoffs for the first time in four years. They dismissed head coach Nate McMillan in mid-March and let go of some of their more veteran players, choosing instead to build around All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and swingman Nicolas Batum.
Just seven players from last season were on the training camp roster for this season: Aldridge, Batum, guards Wesley Matthews, Nolan Smith and Elliott Williams, and forwards Luke Babbitt and J.J. Hickson. Williams is already likely out for the season after recent surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon.
It was an obviously busy offseason for the Blazers, who got a nearly head-to-toe makeover.
Olshey was hired in June after nine years with the Los Angeles Clippers, who went to the second round of the playoffs last season with All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Portland's new GM went to work right away preparing for the NBA draft, and he went on to land guards Damian Lillard and Will Barton and center Meyers Leonard.
In free agency, Portland made a play for 7-foot-2 restricted free-agent center Roy Hibbert, but the Indiana Pacers matched.
The Blazers got into a poker match with the Minnesota Timberwolves over Batum, eventually matching Minnesota's four-year offer sheet worth more than $45 million for the 23-year-old. While Portland insisted the whole time it would match any offers for Batum, the matter was complicated when his agent said he would rather be in Minnesota and the Timberwolves hoped perhaps they could force a sign-and-trade deal.
At the team's annual media day on Monday, Batum said the contentious negotiations were part of the business.
“If I could do it again, if I could change some things? Maybe," said Batum, who has averaged 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds over four seasons with the Blazers.
Portland's next move was to hire as its head coach Terry Stotts, who was 115-168 as coach of the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks but spent the past four seasons as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, where he won a championship.
While Olshey went with the “emerging" Blazers, Stotts' buzzword for the team was “possibilities." He is looking to take the Blazers to the playoffs in his first season.
“I don't know why anyone would think otherwise," Stotts said.
Much of the hope for the Blazers' future lies with Aldridge, in his sixth season with the team. He averaged 21.7 points and eight rebounds per game last season, his first as an All-Star.
Asked for his characterization of this Blazer team, Aldridge chose the word “new."
“New pieces, new players, new locker room, new coach," he said. “Everything's new."
This season, Aldridge will be working closely with Lillard, whom Olshey has labeled the team's franchise point guard. The sixth overall pick in the NBA draft, Lillard averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior last season at Weber State.
He was impressive at the NBA Summer League, averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds in four games.
“Hopefully I can be what they expect me to be," Lillard said.
While Lillard is expected to start, Leonard, a 7-1 center out of Illinois who was the 11th overall pick, will likely need more seasoning. Portland is thin at center and could use 6-9 J.J. Hickson in the starting lineup when the season opens.
One interesting addition to the Blazers' training camp roster was Adam Morrison, the former Gonzaga star who was the third overall pick in the 2006 draft.
A 6-8 forward who built his reputation as a shooter, Morrison played for the Charlotte Bobcats and the Los Angeles Lakers but never really lived up to expectations in the NBA. He also played overseas in Serbia and Turkey.
Morrison, 28, said he thought he'd give the league one more shot with the Blazers.
“I've been through the gamut," he said. “I've been to the top, I've been to the bottom. I've been to some championships, I've been overseas. I think I have something to offer these young kids."