Last season was a disappointment for the Blazers, as they were rocked by injuries and failed to get past the first round.
This season, it may be an achievement for the team to just to make it into the NBA playoffs.
No matter where this season ends, it begins as the year Damian Lillard fully took over as the sole face of the franchise. But Dame said it will be a group thing and he won't be a hero.
"The thing that excites me the most is that nothing is expected," Lillard said and the team’s media day Monday.
As the lone holdover from the starting five of last spring and now in year four of his NBA career, Lillard, a two-time All-Star, leads one of the youngest rosters in the league.
"It's fresh from the amount of new players we have, to the amount of opportunity everyone has now," he explained.
Rolling out of the offseason with the richest contract extension in team history, Lillard and fellow returners like CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard have been an unofficial leadership council, orchestrating voluntary workouts with great turn out this past month.
"When you come into the NBA, your goal is to be one of the go to players, be a guy your team can depend on and a be guy that is consistently performing every night and getting consistent minutes,” McCollum said. “That is your goal. When it comes, when the opportunity presents itself, you make sure you are prepared to seize it."
Lillard corralled 11 guys on the roster to San Diego for a week to bond on the court and connect beyond basketball.
"I can show that I can be something for guys to have trust in and for guys to follow, so I think we established that just with how many guys decided to show up when they didn't have to," he explained.
"When you trust someone off the court, you are a little more comfortable around them and it naturally helps on the court. You seem to trust them a little more,” Meyers added. “In between the lines, the game takes care of it, but when you trust somebody you know them a little bit better off the court. It seems to help in my opinion."
This season is about evaluating for future seasons. Are some of the new guys foundation building blocks or low rent castaways, more prospects or projects?
"You aren't trying to integrate one or two people,” Blazers power forward Mason Plumee, acquired over the summer from Brooklyn, said. “Everyone is new, so we are going to have to all work together and if something goes wrong or right, you can't just point to one person and have them be the fall guy. We are all collectively responsible for making this work."
Head coach Terry Stotts noted that one of the main focuses for the team is seeing growth in the players.
"I am real anxious to see what a lot of these guys, given the opportunity, where their games go,” Stotts said. “That's one of the mandates that we have made for ourselves is for us to look at their individual improvement and make that a priority."
As for great expectations, Stotts responded that they aren't 'shying away' from making the playoffs as their goal in year one of the new look Portland Trail Blazers.
Lillard said it's not as farfetched as people make it seem.
The Blazers’ preseason opener against the Kings is in one week, and Blazer Fan Fest is Sunday night at Moda Center. The regular season home opener is October 28 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
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