Media Day is upon us, that crazy first event of the brand new season where hope springs eternal and quotes rush in like a tidal wave. A ton of wacky questions will be posed to players and staff today. Are those the new helium-filled Nikes? Does the new hairdo help your shooting? Have you tried the bacon maple bar at Voodoo yet? But one question reigns supreme, both ubiquitous and telling:
What are your goals for the coming year?
Mileage may vary on answers oriented towards individuals. You'll hear everything from, "I want to make the All-Star team" to, "I just want to use my skills to help this team win." More revealing by far will be team-oriented responses. Sift through the rah-rah cliches and you'll get a decent idea how the players and coaching staff perceive the season to come.
We don't know what the responses will be, of course. We'll find out as Ben updates throughout the day. We can give you an idea how the Blazers should answer that question, however.
1. "We want to beat out somebody in this division."
Forget talk of the playoffs, let alone a title. Every team should have those goals at the beginning of each year just like every student should have a goal of Straight A's as school commences. That doesn't change the fact that a C+ is looming in Algebra II for half those kids. The Blazers will say they want to make the playoffs but the real goal is to stay out of the division cellar. Denver and Oklahoma City are way out of reach. That leaves the Jazz as the most likely target for the Blazers to chase down, followed by the Timberwolves if everything goes right for Portland and wrong for Minnesota. Really, they only need to beat out 1 of the 2 to call this season successful. The Blazers still wouldn't have won any playoff games but they'd earn the ever-coveted "plucky" and "surprising" and maybe even "team on the rise" designations. That'd be a feather in the cap of a roster struggling for identity, direction, and momentum.
2. "We need to establish a second star."
Damian Lillard is the popular pick as LaMarcus Aldridge's partner in crime but if he's not ready the Blazers need to discover the best parts of Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews. Whoever steps up, whatever it costs, the Blazers need to know they have a second bullet in the chamber ready to fire. Even if wins don't follow immediately, even if other players lose out on shots or minutes during the discovery process, this would stand out as the key development of the season.
3. "We need to find some easy buckets, probably off the break."
The Blazers haven't exactly been fast-break giants over the last few seasons but without proven interior scorers they're going to have to find easy buckets somewhere. Fans screaming for a running game has become a fall ritual. This year they need to get their wish.
4. "We also need to re-establish our rebounding game."
Once upon a time, rain or shine, you could depend on the Trail Blazers to rebound. It was a hallmark of the Drexler years, Brian Grant's tenure, on through the early 2000's. Then all of a sudden Portland's rebounding dominance disappeared. This year's team won't be scoring giants. Their defense remains untested at point guard and center. But there's no reason this group of no-names can't apply themselves on the glass. It'd be a great way to rally around Aldridge, as that's one of the weaker points of his game. It would also provide them ball control and fast-break opportunities. "Scrappy" is the buzzword for teams that overcome their lack of talent. "Lazy" is its opposite. There's no question which the Trail Blazers need to be. A significant part of that definition will come from their rebounding rates and advantages or lack thereof.
5. "We are panning for gold on our bench."
And the odds are just about the same too, but what else are they going to do? They'll be sifting through plenty of sand for one or two shiny nuggets (lower case). Any real find could brighten their future considerably. Careful, though. This doesn't mean that every bench player gets a turn in the rotation automatically. Part of that sifting process is making players prove themselves. A guy who has fought for his minutes will be more likely to do something with them than a guy who's been given his for free. The best way to sort out guys of uncertain or roughly equal talent level is to let them battle it out and make it clear that the best (smartest, most helpful, most reliable, etc.) contributor will get first crack at the spot. The Blazers got away from this late last year. This was justifiable given the circumstances but they can't afford to pick up that attitude again in a fresh season. If your favorite player isn't seeing the light of day early in the year, maybe that's a good thing. He might not be getting his look yet, but then again he may have slipped through the pan as sand already. Best advice: love 'em all but hang on loosely until we see if anybody from that bench is still shining at the end of the season.