Bruce Ely - The Oregonian, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. — The lockout-shortened season looked to be an all-around disaster at the start for the Portland Trail Blazers.
In what has become known as Black Friday around the organization, the Blazers' hopes to see Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge lead the team to NBA glory were dashed.
Instead, Roy retired, Oden had another knee setback and Aldridge's training camp was delayed by a medical procedure for a heart condition.
But since that dark day at the start of camp on Dec. 9, the Blazers have become surprisingly upbeat.
The team, which continues to operate without a permanent general manager, added depth on the free agent market. They've embraced a new up-tempo style. Aldridge returned quickly. And they've even taken to playing music during practice, something coach Nate McMillan never allowed before.
"It's better than I thought and it will only get better," guard Wesley Matthews said after the first of two preseason games.
The Blazers finished 48-34 last season and were bounced from the first-round of the playoffs by eventual NBA champion Dallas. It was Portland's third straight first-round exit.
In late May, the team then stunned many with the dismissal of general manager Rich Cho after less than a year on the job.
The next month the Blazers conducted the June draft under owner Paul Allen, acting general manager Chad Buchanan and Larry Miller, the team president. They dealt veteran guard Andre Miller to Denver in exchange for guard Raymond Felton in a draft-night deal, while picking up guard Nolan Smith out of Duke with the 21st overall pick.
A few days later, Portland offered Oden, the team's often-injured former No. 1 draft pick, a qualifying offer of $8.9 million to stay with the team for one more year.
But then the lockout happened and the Blazers, like the rest of the league, were put on hold.
When an agreement was finally struck and preparations for the season got under way, Portland had little reason to celebrate: In less than 24 hours, the team was dealt three major blows.
Oden, who missed all of last season following microfracture surgery on his left knee, agreed to the qualifying offer but just a short time later learned that he had suffered a setback in his recovery and wouldn't play as soon as expected — maybe not at all this season.
Then Roy, the soul of the Blazers for the past five seasons, abruptly announced that his All-Star career was over because of an irreparable condition in both of his knees.
If that wasn't enough, Aldridge — the team's top scorer last season while Roy struggled with his knees — went to a routine cardiac exam and found out he needed a procedure to treat a heart condition.
Suddenly, the dreaded phrase "rebuilding season" was being tossed around in talk about the Blazers. But it didn't last very long.
Aldridge's procedure to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which can cause an irregular heartbeat, revealed nothing troubling and he quickly returned.
Portland pulled off a flurry of key moves. First, they signed veteran forward/center Kurt Thomas, who helped the Chicago Bulls overcome injuries last season. Then they brought in former NBA Sixth Man award winner, shooting guard Jamal Crawford, and forward Craig Smith, known as "The Rhino" for his physical play.
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