We all wake up today with our team down 0-2, and our once-star player literally crying about playing time. It's easy to focus on the negative. I think you'd be making a mistake.
This Blazers team has a clear ceiling. They are not going to win the NBA Finals, and are a serious long shot to make it past the second round. Obsessing about whether they make it out of the first round is largely pointless. People want to point to that potential accomplishment as proof of progress, but let's acknowledge this is not the same team that's been progressing the last 5+ years. Roy and Oden are more cobblestones than cornerstones. The real measure of progress for this year's team is whether a credible case can be made that the cracked foundation has been recast.
Watching LaMarcus throughout this season, and in the first two games of these playoffs, gives me a ton of hope. He has not shrunk from the spotlight or responsibility. His offense, defense and rebounding have been All-NBA through the first two games. He is playing as well in the clutch as he is in the first quarter. There are even some signs of new leadership where he is bristling after seeing shooters left wide open.
Wesley Mathews had a rough first game, although I put at least part of that on how his minutes were managed. He came out with confidence, aggression and physicality. It's easy to forget this is his second year. There are a variety of things he already does better than Brandon did in his second year, namely shooting and defending. His attitude and trajectory are encouraging, even if his ceiling is probably a tad short of being an All-Star.
Nic Batum is still developing, but while his trajectory may not be as steep as someone like Wesley, his ceiling is higher. He has not shrunk from the challenge of the playoffs, and I would not be surprised to see a signature game from him before this series is over.
The leadership that Marcus Camby and Andre Miller are providing will have a lasting effect on these young players. Brandon and LaMarcus never had that luxury. It could be argued that is part of what Brandon was missing.
The end result of these first two games are losses. That's what counts. However, I see plenty of signs that the Blazers are the better team now, and certainly in the future. I expect the Blazers to even this series at 2-2, but even more importantly, I can see a bright future for the Blazers without needing to completely start from scratch.