Yesterday's discussion of what it would mean to make the playoffs this year brought up an interesting side debate which can be neatly summed up thusly:
Have our goals for the season changed, or been re-prioritized at least, now that we have won so many games?
It's as good of a debate as any for an off-day. My two cents is that the goals haven't so much changed as crystallized. I would say our priorities are:
1. Make the Playoffs
One of the pleasant benefits of being on a winning track is no more multiple-personality approaches to our task. The last couple of years we've had to debate the merits of playing less promising guys just to get a couple more wins versus getting younger players some experience. We've talked about the benefits of getting better position in the lottery versus the experience of winning games. At this point the Blazers have chucked all that out the window. The goal is simple: just win. (Some will say, "Wasn't that always the goal?" The answer is a qualified "maybe". You might have guessed Zach Randolph could get you more wins last year but towards the end of the season you were really happy to see Lamarcus get those minutes anyway.) At this point the team has talent. They're learning how to execute with every game they play. The one piece of experience that our players need--the one that hardly any of them have had in this league while playing significant minutes--is how to win...not just for a month, or for a streak, but with regularity against all comers. This is the biggest overarching growth curve for all of our guys, and I see this as THE major step in their development.
I don't think whether we actually make the playoffs or not matters too much this year. I believe that the vaunted "playoff experience" comes far more in winning a series or two than in getting your butts kicked by San Antonio or Phoenix in 4 or 5 games in the first round. Unless we win the division, which is probably still a long shot, that's probably what's going to happen. It doesn't matter if we get 40 wins and miss, 42 and make, 42 and miss, or 45 and make as long as we tried to win every single one of them along the way. That's where the lessons will come about what you need to succeed, how long the grind can be, and how much you need to dedicate to it. Whatever it takes, whoever you have to play, just go out and win.
The only exception to this is that I wouldn't play Roy and Aldridge 48 minutes a game to do it and I wouldn't have them play when they're injured just to get a playoff spot. When it comes to actual results the future is still far more critical than the present and those two are critical to our future.
2. Develop Consistency
For all of the winning we still have a ton of players who are up and down...most everyone besides Roy and maybe Jones. Granted the guys are young and still will be at year's end, but we need to see a few of our other names come out with a game we can rely on. Outlaw's fourth-quarter heroics are a good step. We need more from him and others. It really doesn't matter if a guy can score 20 points once every three weeks. In the long run that doesn't lead to as many wins as the guy you know gives you an unstoppable 15 every night. People get excited about the flash performances, and rightly so, but saying a guy has "turned the corner", even if true, means that there was a corner to turn. NBA teams don't prosper when they zig-zag. They win by making a straight line to their goal and mowing over anybody who gets in their way.
The overall game plan, roles, and substitutions have evolved into a level of consistency far beyond where they were at the beginning of the year. It's time for the players to follow suit.
3. Resolve the Logjams
We're not going to be able to keep all of these guys forever. We know we have too many point guards. We know we have too many forwards. Those issues may not be resolved this summer but the next 50-odd games will hopefully show us more clearly who's a long-term prospect and who we're going to ship out or give up on.
What would you add or shift?