Portland had moved past from its “Jail Blazers” era, a dark period both on and off the court, to assemble a true contender in the Western Conference.
Beginning with the selection of Brandon Roy, a dominant shooting guard with exceptional scoring ability and Greg Oden, one of the most dominant centers to come out of the NCAA in two decades, the Trail Blazers formed a foundation for the future.
Only injuries prematurely wrecked the careers of both Roy and Oden.
Each faced a series of knee surgeries, with Roy retiring before the beginning of last season and Oden being cut during the most recent trade deadline.
In five seasons, Oden played in just 82 games, while Roy retired at the age of 27.
Forced to move on without the first overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft and the player it signed to a five-year $82 million contract extension, Portland finished 10 games below .500, its worst winning percentage in five seasons.
Along the way, coach Nate McMillan was fired, the team fought of rumors of being sold, didn’t name a permanent general manager until three weeks before the 2012 NBA Draft and let go of interim coach Kaleb Canales to hire former Dallas assistant Terry Stotts.
The only positive last season was the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, a power forward selected as an All-Star for the first time in his career.
As with anything last season for Portland, any positives must have a consequence.
Once the Trail Blazers were eliminated from playoff contention, Aldridge underwent hip surgery.
Without its leading scorer and rebounder, Portland dropped its final seven games.
With two lottery picks, the team had an opportunity to address glaring needs: point guard and center.
During his two-year tenure at Illinois, Leonard proved to be a worthy shot blocker, displayed a nice jump shot from 12-18 feet away from the rim and should help Aldridge rebound the ball.
As one of the few true centers to come into the league, Leonard’s addition gives the Trail Blazers a scoring threat to combine with their All-Star power forward, as he shot 58.2 percent from the field as a sophomore.
Portland is hoping to join Golden State and Minnesota as the non-playoff teams from last season most likely to qualify for the post season in 2013.
The biggest reason for hope in Portland is the addition of point guard Damian Lillard.
The 22-year-old faced plenty of questions as he entered the league.
Although he was the top rated point guard in the class of 2012, concerns about his lack of exposure to elite talent in college allowed the Weber State product to slip to the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick.
Shortly after his selection, new general manager Neil Olshey dubbed Lillard the franchise point guard and during summer league play, he was proven right.
Lillard was named Co-MVP, along with Memphis guard Josh Selby, at the Las Vegas Summer League, leading all players by averaging 26.5 points along with 5.3 assists and four rebounds per game.
Not only was Lillard able to score from anywhere on the floor, displaying his 3-point shooting range, but his command on the floor was impressive.
Lillard could attack the paint at will, showcasing his ability to finish with either hand at the rim or connecting with teammates for easy baskets.
For a team in desperate need of leadership, especially at the point guard position, Lillard’s addition has Portland envisioning a return to the post season, possibly this year.
After four years in college, Lillard has proven he can compete with anyone, Portland is just hoping his success continues next season.
The Trail Blazers haven’t had a point guard named to the All-Star team since Terry Porter in 1993.
Just one year after cutting both Oden and Roy, players billed to become the foundation of the franchise, Portland may have lucked into the most talented point guard to ever suit up for the team.