The foundation is set. LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews will return next season as key pieces toward the future of the Trail Blazers.

Rookies Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland will be back, too, unless they are included in a deal that will “move the needle,” as general manager Neil Olshey likes to say.

A week after the regular-season finale, Terry Stotts is already looking forward to his second season as Portland’s head coach. The first year was both gratifying and frustrating, split into halves that began in surprisingly successful fashion and ending with a 13-game losing streak that matched a franchise record for futility.

“The first 50 games was very enjoyable,” Stotts says. “They were ... I’m trying to think of the right words ... there was a lot of hope and promise. We were laying the groundwork for what we want to be not only this year but in the future.

“The first half was defined by (winning) all the close games. The second half of the season, we didn’t win the close games. You want to be realistic. You hate having a 13-game losing streak, but when you take in the context of injuries and schedule and playing young players, it’s a little more understandable. On the whole, it does give me a lot of hope and promise for next season.”

Into the All-Star break, Stotts played his starters long minutes and his rookies — other than Lillard — sparingly. Aldridge, Lillard, Batum and Matthews all ranked among the top 12 in the NBA in minutes played.

When the Blazers finally fell out of the playoff race the last month of the season, that changed. Aldridge, Batum and Matthews were hit with injuries. Stotts used Leonard, Barton and Claver for major minutes the rest of the way.

“When it got to that point, I didn’t have a problem with it,” Stotts says. “The problem I had was, we were in the middle of a playoff race for five months and people wanted to throw in the towel and play the young guys in January. I didn’t think that was the right time.

“Once it got to the point where playoffs were not an issue, well, it was part of the plan this season to get young players time. When that time was appropriate, I didn’t have any problem at all. It was frustrating not to win, but being able to get the rookies experience was a good thing for our team.”

Stotts still bristles at the notion that the starters were overworked, and the wear and tear contributed to the late-season injuries.

“Those guys weren’t playing any more minutes than Kevin Durant or LeBron James or a host of other players throughout the league,” the Blazer mentor says. “The only difference with our team was it was four guys instead of one or two. But playing 37, 38 minutes is not a lot, especially for young players. I don’t think there was a correlation between (the heavy minutes and injuries).”

There are many issues that Olshey and Stotts must address for next season. Defense is foremost. The Blazers finished among the NBA’s bottom five in defensive efficiency, blocked shots, opponents’ field-goal percentage and opponents’ point in the paint.

“It’s going to be a major focus,” Stotts says. “One of our problems, we got off to a poor start defensively. Then we had a nice stretch defensively over the next 15 to 20 games. The second half, it waned.

“There will be some roster changes that will address some of that. As a coaching staff, we’ll change some of our schemes and the emphasis to the way we approach defense.”

Stotts contends that, according to statistical metrics, Portland’s three best defenders were veterans Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavlovic and Ronnie Price, the latter waived at midseason when Eric Maynor was brought aboard. Stotts was forced to go with the players who provided more offense. Defense suffered.

“One of our problems defensively was inconsistency,” he says. “Over the course of a game, or a week or two, the inconsistency affects your total numbers.”

Though Stotts emphasized a faster tempo offensively than his predecessor, Nate McMillan, the Blazers finished in a tie for 25th in the NBA in fast-break points.

“You need to get stops and rebounds to be a better running team,” Stotts says. “Still, our wings could have run better. We didn’t pass the ball ahead as much as we should have.