Blazers Championship Fit/Gap Analysis

I’ve been fortunate to witness multiple championship teams in my life, and I've seen a lot of Championship Traits my teams have had in common.  In this post I take a look at seven critical success factors to winning an NBA championship, and how I see the Blazers along those dimensions, after the jump...

Here are the Championship Traits that most championship teams possess, and I grade the Blazers on a 10-point scale for each.

A)     Multiple superstar athletes – you truly can’t win without  the horses:

Blazers are very strong athletically.  But we have a lot of B+ basketball players, and only (the healthy version of) Roy (that Quick believes we may never see again) as an A. I’d give them, now, about a 6.  When Greg and Broy are healthy, a solid 7, and if Greg is as good as I hope, an 8.  (I do believe that the multiple championships come when Cho is able to obtain one more superstar through trade, and raise this to a 9)

2010 early Grade:  SIX

B)      A committed, excellent ownership group - that provides consistency and bold, good moves

Paul is personally committed to winning, I don’t think there can be any doubt of that.  He attends more games than 90% of basketball owners.  He’s spending his (IMO hard-earned) money to build the very best environment, and a winning organization, and culture.  We’re very fortunate to have him, rather than some slob who just wants to be famous while spending his inheritance. 

So, in the short term, the ownership is a clear strength.  However, his health problems, and the complete disaster that could befall this team post-PA when the Vulcans seize full control, cause me to really be concerned about this aspect of the team, long-term.  I really hope we sign Greg before… anyway… on to brighter topics…

I am confident in Rich Cho’s ability to construct a winning roster.  Time will tell, of course.  But he certainly has enough assets at his disposal to keep us in contention for many years.

Solid 7 now (could be a 3 in a heartbeat)

2010 early grade:  SEVEN

C)      A superior coaching staff – that adapts to the skills of the players, and blends them well

I know, you’re expecting a 1 here.  No.  (But I’m not going to say it’s a 10, either)

I’ve in fact been very pleased with the results of the changes we are seeing on the court in the early part of this season.  So, first off, I believe Nate has done a good job of hiring assistants, and an even better job of getting out of their way and letting them do their jobs.  Bob O’s D is a refreshing change from ol’ Switch-em Sarge. Players are fighting through picks, showing and going, hustling, moving their feet…  in short, once Greg gets back, and Nic and Wes continue to grow, this could soon become one the league’s best, most suffocating defenses.

The offense is also showing signs of movement, and I even heard on the radio on the way home tonight that the Blazers had scrapped the iso, out of concern for Brandon’s knee.  I think this is huge, and more of a positive than most Blazers fans will think.

I am also greatly encouraged by the amount of fast break points we enjoyed against Detroit earlier this week!  Man, that was good to see! 

I know, I’ve been a huge Nate basher.  That’s because what many things I had seen on the court were so distant from championship caliber: (lousy D, predictable O)

But I have to admit, I’m very much liking what I’m seeing.  As I’ve often said, I’ll be very glad to be proven wrong…  IF Nate has truly adapted his style to suit his team, and has the wisdom to let his defensive coach actually coach the D, even though that is supposedly his strength…  then I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic here…

Plus, Bob O is a solid 8 right now, raising this grade…  Still not sure Bernie isn’t just a yes man, but on the other hand, the offense is changing, so maybe Bernie has Nate’s ear (Bernie the General is letting Nate be a Colonel instead of a Sarge?)…

However, Nate has still shown little propensity to make adjustments during a game, and between games of series, so until we see his growth in those areas, I am still reluctant to predict Nate as the championship coach.  I, once again, hope I am wrong here.

2010 early Rank:  SIX

D)     Veteran player leadership - that early on instilled a commitment to place Team Above Self

I don’t believe we have this nailed.  Camby has been great.  But Roy is the Blazers leader, and he has not demonstrated enough leadership traits strongly enough,. I believe his defensive play has come up short, and I don’t believe some of his comments off the court helped to lead this team in a positive direction.  Hopefully in the near future, LMA will be a solid Robin to Greg Oden’s Batman on the defensive end (very ably backed up by Joel and Camby), and as we age this team can begin to lead itself.

201 early Rank: FIVE

E)      A system –or, multiple systems, to enforce consistency in everything the organization does

I think KP installed a player evaluation system, and a scouting systm, which Cho is modifying now.  The Vulcans have process, and fear of being fired in their arsenal, but this is not Rooney’s Steelers.  Or the Riley’s Fakers. 

Nate, to date, has relied on a series of plays rather than a ball and player movement system.  So I don’t think Nate’s offense, before this year, could have been called a system.  One may be starting to emerge, which I am very happy to see.

But, by the very nature of having an entirely new system in place this year, in the front office and in the assistant coaching staff, means everything continues to be in flux.

2010 Early Grade:  FOUR.

F)      Fantastic role players - complementing the superstars, sacrificing their body and their ego for the team

This is tougher, as the Blazers don’t really have stars so that you can identify role players (lots of B’s, few A’s).  If Roy is hurt, who are their A’s?  LMA is the only close to guaranteed double-double guy.  Developing Greg into that will be key for a title team.  But we have a LOT of great role players:, we just don’t have true stars for them to support, but I would rate: Batum: 9, Wes Matthews, 9.  Dante: 9,  AJ: 8.. among the hustle guys.  And I think if BRoy ends up missing time with a knee, Rudy could really flourish in an up-tempo attack.

And, I believe due to one of Nate’s failings, players on our team don’t seem to feel comfortable in their “role”.  So, not sure how they can succeed in their role if they don’t know what it is. 

But, more generally, this trait is about depth, which the Blazers still, despite record injuries, continue to have.


G)     A loyal, hard-core, rabid fan base - that inspires the players and the organization to do their be

I’m not trying to be pandering, but obviously the Blazermaniacs are solid.  With the one exception being: you can’t cheer opposing players.  I don’t care if it’s Bayless coming back as a 40 ppg player. You don’t. Cheer. The Enemy!

But, despite your one fault of being too nice, Blazer fans are awesome.


So, I rate the Blazers:

A) Superstars: 7

B) Owner: 7

C) Coaching: 6

D) Veteran leadership: 5

E) System: 4

F) Role players/Depth:  7

G) Fans: 9


Overall ranking:  6.5  How can the Blazers improve?  I’d like to suggest the following:

A)     We need to make a trade, consolidating our considerable assets, for one more, big, defensive oriented, superstar.

B)      Paul needs to stay healthy.

C)      Nate needs to continue to show the signs of improvements we’ve seen this year: let the coaches coach; encourage the team to really run; and make some solid in-game and in-series, adjustments.

D)     The trade we need to make will greatly help with our veteran leadership, but it should happen organically within the club, as they learn to rely on each other to come through in the clutch. Camby will help.  But this will realistically entail waiting a year or two before this club, as a unit, can be considered a veteran club.

E)      We need discipline.  Consistency.  Systemic improvements.  Cho will help improve our systems.

F)      Our role players need better definition of their roles, something we need our coach to communicate.

G)     Fans need to not clap for anybody from the opposition during introductions!


Outlook for the Future

I remain very optimistic about our chances to win championships in this decade.   My glasses are rose-gardeny.  I think Cho can leverage our assets to improve to a title team.  If Nate’s coaching staff continues to show signs of growth, and we get Greg and Brandon healthy for the playoffs. we could easily be looking at a contender here in Portland.

I know all of Portland is fretting over the possibility of losing Brandon, or at least losing the “old Brandon” as Quick wrote today, but I believe this is a huge, hidden, positive for the development of a championship Blazer team. It seems to present immediate problems, on the surface.  Who is going to hit the big shot?  Who is the leader?  But, as one of the CSF’s to winning a championship is to have a solid team, with great role players… this is a great chance to develop them.

Personally, I’m excited to think about the prospect that a running, hustling Blazer team will typically be up double-digits in the fourth, so we won’t need anybody to take that last clutch shot.

But, Rudy is clutch (despite his miss last night).  Dre is clutch (witness the great pass to Rudy).  And, if we just keep running the same plays we run all night, you’ve got to think we’ll continue finding decent shots…  Maybe we could use the hottest player each night to take that final shot?

In summary, I believe the Blazers have the makings of a championship team, but there is room for improvement in all of the 8 critical success factors stated above.  This year, they appear to be making good, positive changes in their defensive and offensive schemes that might narrow the gap, and open our championship window.

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