Here's a question I've been pondering for a while. Ever since 2006 we've had a pretty clear blueprint for Blazer off-season success. In the initial years success meant rebuilding the team, acquiring talent through the draft. That culminated with the Oden lottery win and saw one last gasp with the Jerryd Bayless selection. Though the draft remains a cornerstone of growth Portland's position is liable to sink lower and lower, limiting the chances to improve via that avenue. Last year the venue changed as free agency and cap space took center stage. The basic thrust remained the same, however: acquire talent. This year with the Blazers more than capped out and pushing the luxury tax that approach is also narrowing. The team could still make moves but they aren't of the same urgency or clarity as the summer of 2009 brought. More to the point, you can't define Portland's success by those moves or lack thereof because not making any major moves or acquisitions is a viable option.
This begs the question, how do we define success in the summer of 2010, noting that simply adding talent isn't the primary answer anymore?
I'm throwing that question open today. After some thought, I'm ready to give at least a partial answer for myself. I'd like to say that health is the major gauge, but that is beyond the team's control. While true, it's an unsatisfactory response. So I'm going beyond that and claiming that this summer success comes in two flavors, both centering around the concept of "focus".
First, the roster needs focusing. The Blazers have dealt with years of uncertainty: uncertain positions, uncertain progress among players, uncertain fit, uncertain potential. Plenty of questions remain. Not all will be answered between now and training camp. But it's safe to say that bald acquisition not only isn't possible, it isn't enough anymore. We don't need more pieces, we need the pieces to mesh better. We can't continue watching some players excel at the expense of others. This happens to a certain extent on all teams but usually the players left behind are either young guys incapable of playing or veterans who won't suffer with the bench time, who will instead bide their time until the opening comes. That isn't happening in Portland. There aren't enough minutes at point guard, off-guard, small forward, or center to accommodate the players and personalities currently on the roster. Part of that may be moving guys who either don't fit or are unreliable for someone who does fit reliably. Part of that may be defining roles and expectations. Part of it may be simply admitting that some of these issues are insoluble. Whatever it is, this roster needs to be more manageable by fall. This probably won't take major moves but a tweak or two (and possibly some career counseling) is in order. The goal is to come into training camp with a reasonable number of questions and a reasonable path to answering them.
Second, I'd like to see more focus on the part of individual players. Injuries and new players made last fall a zoo. Everybody knows that working in Greg Oden is going to be a priority. Beyond that there shouldn't be that much upheaval in the lineup. It would be nice to see everybody stop worrying about who is going to play where and start worrying how they can play well. Andre Miller knows what this team is like now. Brandon Roy knows what a struggle the season can be. LaMarcus Aldridge knows where he excelled and fell short last year. Martell Webster and Nicolas Batum know what they need to do in order to get playing time. The earliest barometer of Portland's success will be how many players come into camp in shape, ready to play, itching to win. If Brandon Roy hasn't touched a basketball all summer, if Andre Miller can't complete the fitness test, if Greg Oden weighs 350 pounds, if LaMarcus Aldridge hasn't worked on his handle or post game at all, if Nicolas Batum is exhausted, if Martell Webster is grumpy, if Rudy Fernadez's head is somewhere else, if Jerryd Bayless hasn't prepared for the team game, the Blazers are in trouble. It's time for this team to shed its "Aw shucks" young image and assume a mantle of dedication and maybe even a little seriousness. The closer the team is to being a machine as pre-season comes to a close the better off it will be.
That's my definition of a summer well-spent. What's yours? Share below.