Back in October, I wrote about the likelihood that the Blazers would take a step back before stepping forward. We've all clearly seen them take a step back, so the questions now are:
1) When will they take a step forward?
2) Will that step forward make them an equivalent team to last season? Worse? Better?
3) Will that step come soon enough to salvage whatever you deem "success" to be this season?As a guy who is coming off painfully boring and bad Mariner and Seahawks seasons over the last two years, the Blazers have really been my salvation. I'm not sure anyone is more desperate for them to be good right now than I am (although, I'm certain many are equally desperate). That said, I never really considered the Blazers a championship contender this year, so it's more important to me that they exit the season on an upwards trajectory than it is that they win 60 games.
It seems highly unlikely that we'll even match the 54 win total from last season, for all the reasons being analyzed in other threads. Most people seemed to put winning a playoff series as Goal #1, and getting to the Western Conference Finals as a stretch goal. With that in mind, we only need to get into the playoffs for those hopes to remain. One somewhat understated development this season is that the Blazers don't really seem to play much different on the road or at home. If the Blazers enter the playoffs as a hot team, I'm not sure it really matters as much this year if they have home court advantage. This is all meant to say, we need to be a better team by the end of this season than we were at the end of last and we need to make the playoffs. Everything else is gravy unless you truly believed we were/are championship contenders this year.
So if those are the goals, we'll likely need ~50 wins to make the playoffs and can really "click" as a team at almost any point up until the end. Playing at our current level, we are on pace for 49 wins. That number has taken a big hit with the recent losing streak, but is still in playoff range. We are leaving the easiest part of our schedule, though, so it remains to be seen if we are actually playing worse right now or just playing better competition. The loss to a Memphis team at home that we beat on the road would seem to indicate we are certainly playing worse.
The bigger question is whether this team can ever "click" as it is currently assembled. What many fans seem to miss is that the whole team doesn't need to click. Brandon, Greg and LMA need to click. If the three of them can be effective together, everything else will fall into place. The whole Andre Miller/Steve Blake/Travis Outlaw/Rudy Fernandez/Nic Batum conversation is easy to poke at, but if all of those guys fit together perfectly without the Big Three finding their rhythm, the Blazers would still be a fatally flawed team. Even more simply put, until Roy plays like he did the last two seasons, we won't reach our potential. I'll avoid delving into the reasons he might be playing this poorly, but if you simplify the question to be, "How likely is it that Roy will be rebound to his previous level of play," one has to answer that it is highly likely. Roy is too good to wallow, sulk and be out of sorts all season. We're already starting to see signs of him taking responsibility for his failures instead of blaming others. That bodes well.
Will Roy have his game back in a week? A month? Three months? I can't really say, but I fully expect it to be back. We've already got Oden playing at a consistently high level (which rocks, btw!!). I don't believe Greg's game needs to suffer with Roy stepping forward considering his game is predicated on rebounding, defense and table scraps on offense. I'll take 13 pts, 20 rebounds and 3 blocks any day. That leaves LMA, who is famously a second half player. Looking ahead, I have a harder time picturing the Blazers struggling at this level for another few months than picturing them finding their rhythm. I think this also may be the year we see movement at the trade deadline, with an eye on sorting out the complimentary players a little more. That could be timed perfectly with The Big Three finding their way.
Add it up, and my focus as a fan now is to see how the team responds to this adversity. Who steps forward as a leader? Does the effort increase as we saw signs of on Tuesday? We need to avoid total collapse, but anyone expecting a quick fix might want to reset their expectations. The problems this team is facing will take time to untangle. The good news is that there is enough time and talent to recover, and be the better for having gone through it. One thing is certain: we will point back to this valley in 3-5 years as a major milestone in the team's development or destruction.