To start our season recap, here is the Blazersedge version of the Top Ten Eleven Significant Events of 2007-08. Don’t forget to check out the Oregonian’s version too, as cited by Ben in the post below. It is excellent!
11. Lamarcus Aldridge Plays a Whole Season
"What?" you say. "What kind of Top Eleven event is that?" Keep in mind where we came from though. When you heard he had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome last season, didn’t a part of you say, "Professional athletes and heart conditions don’t always mix"? Even if you discount that, let’s consider the fact that Greg Oden’s injury meant more minutes against big men and premium defenders for LMA. Though he bulked up over the summer it became apparent as soon as he took the court against genuine NBA behemoths that his body still wasn’t all the way there. How long it was going to take him to get pancaked was a legitimate question at the beginning of the season, as were his endurance and ability to respond. 76-games-played later some of those questions have been answered. Lamarcus is never going to be smaller than he is right now and he did just fine. 17.8 ppg and 7.6 rebounds is not bad for a second-year forward still finding his way. He scored in double figures in 67 of those games, topping 20 points 34 times, or just over half of the times he played.
10. Rudymania Hits Portland
It’s weird to have a Top Ten item involve a player who isn’t even part of the team, but there’s no denying that part of the optimism surrounding Portland’s future involves the best player in the Euro leagues right now. Rudy averaged 15 ppg in 22.5 minutes played on 56% shooting and 39% from distance in the ULEB cup. That, plus his YouTube drives, has folks fired up a little. Many in the know are cautious, citing the adjustment period for anybody entering the NBA from any other league. There’s no telling what kind of contribution he will make if and when he comes to Portland. But if there is an X-Factor who could accelerate the Blazers’ rise to where they’re already headed, bringing success earlier than imagined, it’s Fernandez. Many are hoping the 24th pick of the 2007 NBA Draft has a disproportionate effect on the future of his team.
9. The Point Guard Pile
Basketball is a game of nuances. Success in the NBA isn’t as simple as it looks from behind a monitor. But sometimes your basic, knee-jerk reaction is correct. This isn’t an invitation to a political debate (so cool it) but take George W. for example. Back before he was elected many armchair pundits would have said if this guy gets in gas prices are going through the roof, we’re going back to war with Saddam, and the middle class is in trouble. Most political scientists would (correctly) say that’s far too simple of a correlation to draw. Each step of the way certain decisions made sense or had multiple reasons besides just the president. Nevertheless, here we are eight years later and…guess what?
When we signed Steve Blake last summer the simple response was, "Hey…nice player, but we have too many decent point guards and no really good ones." Throughout the course of the season we saw Blake play admirably and excel in many areas. Jarrett Jack also had his moments. But Jack also appeared shaken by the tide changing yet again at the position. Sergio Rodriguez barely got a chance at all. It’s hard to argue that at any step of the way anything happened that was wrong. Shuffling the three in different ways wouldn’t have led to more wins. But here we are at the end of the year with three point guards, each with certain skills, none of whom have anything resembling a dominant hold on the position.
Fortunately for the Blazers all of them are young and all of them are cheap. Any of them would be tradeable but there’s no significant cost in holding on to them if need be. It’s not like a rebellion is fomenting or this is ripping apart the team. But until the deck gets shuffled into a coherent hand or until an ace trump comes along to make the issue moot, this will continue to be a question mark and a story.
8. It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s…a Fish???
Memories are short, but at the start of the season many folks were openly questioning whether Travis Outlaw’s learning curve had fallen down a well. We had re-signed him to a modest contract and the relative bargain was the only thing that kept the voices from being louder. His once-legion of fans, enamored with his astounding vertical leap, had dwindled to a few. The masses engaged in shoulder shrugs accompanied by, "It would still be nice if…" at the mention of his name. Then all of a sudden, from deep under that manhole cover, came a rumbling. November 28th…26 points against Indiana. December 3rd…21 points and the game-winner against Memphis. December 6th…20 against Miami. December 9th…20 against Milwaukee. December 12th…22 against the Warriors. December 14th…21 against the Jazz. Oh my gosh, we’re winning. We’re WINNING! This guy in a cape flew out of that well over there and started pounding people over and over and over again in the fourth quarter! I don’t understand how he does it. He jumps and twists and leaps and he shouldn’t be able to hit those shots but…there he goes AGAIN! Yes, Super Trout! Yes!!!
Travis didn’t put together a consistent season, but he did average a career-high 13.3 points and 4.6 rebounds en route to becoming the poster child for the "You Need To Wait Five Years For Me" Foundation. His spate of explosions has left Blazer fans with visions of future 6th-Man-of-the-Year awards dancing in their heads.
7. Sports Bars Cost Money and Make Me Fat!
Last summer the Blazers struck a deal with Comcast to be featured on a new sports channel. The public line was simple: more games, better coverage, in-depth access, better relationship between the network and the team. Everybody wins, right? Not quite. Despite pre-season assurances that deals were immanent the pen never met the paper for most providers who could have picked up the channel. If you lived in the area served by Comcast, which included most of Portland, and were willing to switch over to them you could see every Blazer game. If you lived outside of Portland and were willing to fork out $169 for NBA League Pass to a satellite provider you could also see every game. If you were in the limbo area not served by Comcast but close enough that the NBA's mandatory blackout rule applied to you, you saw very few Blazer games. In fact there was no way you could see them legally. If complaints are any measure, this disenfranchised half of the state. As long as a deal gets done and some providers pick up the network this story will be a minor bump in the road. If there's no coverage in much of Oregon when next year's season starts it's either going to get nasty or people are going to go back to doing whatever they were doing when the Blazers were pitiful and nobody wanted to see them.
6. The Streak
December was a great month for Portlanders. The recession was still three months away. Kristy Lee Cook had not yet been voted off of American Idol. (You’re welcome, Tom.) And the Blazers--yes, THOSE Blazers--rattled off a streak of 13 straight wins from Monday, December 3rd to Sunday, December 30th. They would end up going 17 for 18. The streak itself would be dwarfed by the 21-game run of the Houston Rockets later in the season. The Blazers would come back to earth and end up missing the playoffs by a substantial margin. But that glorious December left an imprint on the club and its fans. Not only was it the first winning month the team had posted in years, it was the first genuine butt-kicking we had been on the good side of since 2001. The streak showed everyone inside the locker room and out that the Blazers were for real, that winning basketball was not only a possibility but a probability, and that sunny forecasts for the team’s future were not just wishful thinking.
5. He Did It Playing WHAT?
The summer was so full of promise. The birds were singing. The crops were high. The ping-pong balls were bouncing just right. And then… What’s that snap, crackle, pop sound? That BETTER be a bowl of Rice Krispies you’re eating, Greg. Greg? Greg??? AWWWWWWWWWW…DANGIT!!!!!!
It would be impossible to describe the soul-sucking sound that swept through Blazer Nation with the news that Greg Oden had injured his knee, that it required microfracture surgery, and that he’d be out for the year. After all of that suffering we had done, and then the elation of the lottery win…now this? It felt like the biggest injustice since Princess Ardala tried to force Buck to marry her by orbiting a killer satellite right over New Chicago. That this isn’t higher on the list is a huge credit to the Blazers and what they managed to accomplish in spite of it, but if you’re looking for just one moment that changed the course of the season, this was it.
The following was clipped from the post-surgery addendum to Greg Oden's contract:
No pick-up games
No company softball games
No getting up off your couch
No Dance-Dance Revolution
No Katamari Damacy either! You could trip on those things!
No checkers (too much jumping)
No thumb wrestling
After years of losing 50+ it’s amazing how good even .500 ball can look. It looks even better when you consider that this team was built around Greg Oden in the middle and instead of suiting up he spent the season shooting t-shirts into the crowd and trying to duck the Kiss Cam. If you look at the Western Conference and how many good teams there are there’s no way we should have been able to do what we did. That bodes well for the quality and commitment of our players. More than the streak, even, this number defines our season. It looks like we’ve emerged from the long tunnel and are back on track.
3. Hey Now, You’re an All-Star
It’s not so much that Brandon Roy made the All-Star team, nor that he excelled in the game. It wasn’t even the momentary rush the credit gave Portland fans. The All-Star nomination over players with better stats was a confirmation that Brandon’s advent isn’t illusion. 19.1 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds…those are for real. So is his game, his stardom, and his ability to bend the game to his needs. We expected more from Brandon this year so his play doesn’t get the same kind of excited notice as Travis Outlaw’s or Lamarcus Aldridge’s. But when you see Brandon do what he does best there’s no doubt that he’s head and shoulders above anyone else on this team right now. His play--ranging from good to outright dominant--is the story of the season and the biggest reason we have right now for confidence in our future.
2. They Pick Up On Tuesday Around Here, Right?
Of all of the odious offenses of the Blazer Dark Years, the worst didn’t involve police investigations, film-room tantrums, or strip club antics. The most tangible lingering legacy of the Jailblazers was contractual. The fall of 2004 was like a black hole, inescapably sucking the Blazers’ future into a salary cap vortex. Theo Ratliff, Zach Randolph, Darius Miles…all three married to the team through enormous deals, all three considerable disappointments.
We managed to trade away Ratliff in the Roy deal, but with Zach still on the books and in the locker room none of the renovation (cap or culture) really mattered. Who can forget draft day last year, when Knicks fans hooted and howled at dumping Steve Francis and Channing Frye on us for Z-Bo? Even with having to eat the Francis contract for another year, we still managed to align our expiring contracts to give us a window of cap flexibility in the summer of 2009. Trading Randolph also cleared the way for the offensive revolution on the court and for Brandon and the young guys to take leadership roles in the locker room. It’s no overstatement to say that everything you enjoyed about the team this year in terms of unselfishness, ball-movement, commitment, hustle, camaraderie, and community example was made possible by this move. As our erstwhile broadcast team said in a moment of candor on-air late in the season, even if Channing Frye hadn’t panned out at all the Blazers got exactly what they wanted from that trade.
That would have been enough, but then late in the season we got the extra bonus of having Darius Miles’ contract come off of the books. Darius was nowhere near the influence that Zach was, nor was he playing. The on-court ramifications were basically nil. But that $9 million contract through 2010 was putting a lug nut in the Cheerios of our 2009 cap plan, causing us to make some uncomfortable decisions about keeping players versus signing free agents. That extra space either allows us to do some of each or allows us to make a run at a premium guy.
These bookend salary moves may not have appeared to obviously affect the course of the season, but long term they could end up being the most significant things that happened this year, but one…
1. With the Number One Pick of the 2007 NBA Draft the Portland Trail Blazers Select…
Sure, he was out all season. Yes, he had a sketchier Summer League than people anticipated. But make no mistake, this will go down as one of the most significant moves in franchise history as long as this guy stays healthy. He is, simply put, a Force. We’re going to talk about reasons the Blazers will make the playoffs next year and at least 80% of them revolve around Greg Oden. And this is NOT because Oden is going to come in and be overwhelmingly good, it’s because Oden is good in some very specific ways that our offense and defense open up. The transmission, chassis, wheels, and everything else are all set. We had to go with a secondary engine this year. Though Joel Przybilla did a magnificent job, our schemes aren’t set up to feature him. They’re set up to feature Greg. You are going to be amazed at how much room there is for him to alter the course of the game, even at this extremely early stage. And it only gets better from there.