The competitive Western Conference could see new faces come playoff time as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers look to contend. The playoffs have been an afterthought for the Wolves since there last berth in 2004, led by a 27-year-old Kevin Garnett. For the Blazers, the playoffs are not too distant of a memory. Portland last competed in the playoffs during the 2010-2011 season, however, injuries had hindered their roster. Now, with balanced rosters and numerous contributing pieces, both franchises are looking to compete and keep their respective All-Star forwards satisfied.
Last season, Kevin Love expressed disinterest in the way the Minnesota front office had not acquired the necessary talent to make the franchise a contender. Although last season’s team looked competitive and ready to make a jump into the postseason, injuries destroyed their chances. Love dealt with a broken hand injury that was to keep him out 8-to-10 weeks. Flashy international point guard Ricky Rubio also dealt with an ACL injury that shortened his rookie season and took time last season to readjust himself. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are healthy and surrounded by proven contributors Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. The Timberwolves have gotten off to a good start early in the season and look ready to compete.
Much like Love, LaMarcus Aldridge expressed his frustration with the team. Aldridge stated he is a competitor and the team was not winning, but he was not frustrated to the point where he was seeking a trade. Aldridge comes in as the franchise player for Portland after injuries put Brandon Roy and Greg Oden on the shelf. After years of slowing adding contributing pieces, Portland is in position to secure a playoff spot. The emergence of last season’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard adds another potential star next to Aldridge. The offseason acquisition of Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, and rookie C.J. McCollum makes Portland a deep and promising team. How much of his frustration and competitive persona forces Aldridge to demand a trade if Portland misses the playoffs?
The Western Conference looks to have a few openings as the Los Angeles Lakers, who are without Kobe Bryant, and the Denver Nuggets, who are under new management, seem to have fallen off and offer an opportunity that the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers can capitalize on. Barring any devasting injuries, there are no excuses to why both of these franchises shouldn’t continue on past the regular season. The time is now for both organizations to reach their full potential and satisfy their respective franchise forwards.
Look for either Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge to express disinterest if their team does not make it into the postseason. Can you blame a guy for wanting to win?