As we draw close to the start of training camp, it's natural for me to start doing what I do every year at this time - setting my expectations for the Blazers. And this year, as I reflect on what I want to see from the Blazers between now and June, what I keep coming back to is not measured by advanced statistics or even by the number of wins that I expect the team to have. Instead, what I want to see from the Blazers is for them to epitomize one word better than any other NBA franchise this year - the word "Team".
Have you ever been part of a great team? I have. It wasn't a sports team, but we were a team. We were united in spirit and in purpose, we encouraged and challenged one another, we trusted one another and deferred to one another. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced.
I recently read a book that reminded me of that team spirit and it's probably because of that book that I've been thinking this way about my hopes for the Blazers this year. The book is called When The Game Stands Tall and was written by Neil Hayes. It's about the De La Salle (Northern California) football team, who at one point won 151 games in a row, more than doubling the previous high school record. But as I read the book, I realized that it was about more than winning a record number of games, it was about teamwork. It tells the story of how high school football players learn how to be a team. A few quotes from the book:
[Coach Ladouceur] has won more consecutive football games than any other coach in history because he does not emphasize winning. Victories are a byproduct of a larger vision. It begins with a question: How much do we owe each other?
De La Salle separates itself from the competition because everyone from the head coach to the least accomplished player on the roster is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be their absolute best.
"How many times have I told you, it's not about wins and losses," [assistant coach] Edison ranted afterwards. "It's about how you play."
That's what I want to see from the Blazers this year. There are probably a hundred or so ways that this can play itself out, but these are three ways that I want to see teamwork exemplified by the 2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers:
1. I want to see the starting lineup for the October 26th game introduced as a collective group, not as individual players. The inspiration for this comes from the 2001-02 New England Patriots, who were introduced this way during the regular season and playoffs and were the first team to be introduced thusly in the Super Bowl.
Here’s what I envision: The Suns get their normal introduction – Nash, Richardson, Turkoglu, Frye and Lopez are announced individually as the starters for Phoenix. Then the lights are brought down low, this year’s video of highlights plays on the big screen – as normal. Then the announcer says, “And now, choosing to be introduced as a team, here is the starting lineup for your Portland Trail Blazers!” Oden, Aldridge, Batum, Roy and Miller take the court together – at this point, another video can be shown on the screen with each of their names underneath their picture, possibly interspersing a highlight for each. In other words, let the individual introduction be done by video, but let them take the court as a single unit.
I understand that it is probably too much to ask for the starting five to be introduced every game in this way (especially during road games) but wouldn’t it be nice to see this happen during every home game except for Fan Appreciation Night? I also understand that simply having the five players introduced collectively will not guarantee their success in truly becoming a team (as opposed to five players who are on the court at the same time), but it certainly couldn’t hurt, could it?
But at minimum, I want to see the Blazers start the year with a collective introduction. Communicate to the league – and to themselves – “We are one team!”
2. I want Marcus Camby and Greg Oden to fight for the starting center spot. I want guys like Jerryd Bayless, Wesley Matthews and Dante Cunningham to fight hard to earn lots of playing time. I want the rookies – Babbitt, Williams and Johnson – to make it really, really hard for Nate to keep them on the bench behind the vets.
That being said, I don’t want to hear a single peep from a Blazer about the amount of playing time he’s not getting. The first time I hear a player say in public that he deserves more time on the court than he’s getting, I will be extremely disappointed. Their job is to work for the opportunity to play, not to whine to the media about how they aren’t ‘appreciated’.
3. I want to see the ‘little things’ from the Blazers that communicate – with or without words – that 15 men are united in purpose. When Brandon Roy hits a game winning shot, I want to see Andre Miller more excited about it than Brandon. When Nic Batum runs down Kobe Bryant on a breakaway and blocks his shot cleanly, I want to see Wesley Matthews jumping up and down in pure joy. When Jerryd Bayless falls to the floor in disappointment after he dribbles the ball off of his foot with 2 seconds left in a game, I want to see two of his teammates there to lift him up and tell him with full confidence, “Hold your head up high. We’ll get them next time.” When the media gets it wrong about one of the Blazers, I want to hear 14 voices proudly proclaiming the truth. And so on…..
So this is what I want to see. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me on any point? And do you have other ideas for how we, as fans, can know that we're cheering for a team and not just a collection of talented basketball players?