Someone asked me a deceptively simple question over the weekend: "Bottom line, where are the Blazers now?" Talking in person I had to answer fairly simply. Sadly, I had to go with some variation of "not where they want to be".
The Portland Trail Blazers are a car trying to crest a hill after they've lost their engine. They've been coasting up the incline for a couple years now. At first it seemed inconceivable that they'd not make it, as the momentum was overwhelming when the motor blew. But it wasn't clear from the mid-point how long and steep that hill would become. They lost some momentum in 2009-10 but the twin tragedies of Greg Oden's microfracture surgery and Brandon Roy's knees in 2010-11 finally sapped the last of the forward motion from them. They're all out of untapped promise and they still haven't hit the top. Unable to turn over the engine even now, they're just plain stuck.
Some would point to Gerald Wallace as new momentum but he's less of a replacement engine and more of a wedge under the back tire, preventing the team from rolling backwards at a precipitous rate. So too the development of LaMarcus Aldridge. He's not enough to get the car going again. He's the dude they sent out back to push. Together they've saved the team from doom but further progress towards the summit isn't coming via the status quo. Maybe you'll get a few feet and a new place to stick the wedge, but that's it.
The front-office chaos doesn't help matters. The franchise is fresh out of innovative mechanics. It feels like six guys are staring at a lifted hood, scratching their chins and going, "Huh." Maybe there's a mechanical wiz in the bunch already but nobody's bringing out the tools. It may be that the whole engine needs replaced anyway...not possible stalled in the road on a hill.
So...what we're hoping for here is a miracle, a reprieve. For the immediate future they're going to keep turning the ignition, hoping something catches this time in the form of Roy or Oden. The car is gassed, ready to go, and plenty quick. If the cylinders did fire it could easily catch up to the competition, most of which isn't that far over the hill anyway. Heck, if they could even limp the car to the top the downhill run might provide enough momentum even if the engine still had a tick.
I'll be honest with you, though. That doesn't happen much in sports. Late starts, early exits, injuries and mix-ups and seemingly random buffoonery...these aren't uncommon. You just don't hear many of the gory details because these are the teams that limp home before hitting the national stage. When this happens the franchise usually doesn't make it. At a certain point there are no more gambles to take. You've made your last Big Move, drafted your last Potential Wonder, run through your last person in a suit to place blame on. In all likelihood the Blazers are left with a decision between sitting on this hill until everybody gives up and goes home or heading to the nearest garage which, unfortunately, is right back where they started. I'd say one of those outcomes is 90% likely at this point.
Nevertheless the other 10% is probably worth trying yet. That car still looks sweet even standing still. The proper course of action right now is some intermediate tinkering (a.k.a. kicking the tires and jiggling the wires under the hood) and hoping that the engine will turn over finally.
Just don't hold your breath.