By "Good" I mean successful in our eyes as fans.
The Trail Blazers have been winning and winning well. They look like they're going to go to the playoffs unless a starter suddenly gets injured such as Lillard or Aldridge. The Blazers' front office and its team have been saying all the right things and by that, I mean, saying things to keep expectations low. Basically, they've said, "We haven't done anything yet" and "Need to make noise in the playoffs." Okay, that's all good and gravy but as of now they are the toast of the Western Conference and have an MVP caliber player in LaMarcus Aldridge.
The recent success has made some things dicey for fans. I think its safe to say that the Blazers have blown away all expectations in terms of their winning start and overall team chemistry. They're good. Hella good. But did this change what I, personally, constitute as a "good" season for this team? First off, here is what I believed constituted as a "good" season at the beginning of this year before games were even played:
1. Win 44-48 games
2. Go to the playoffs as a 6-8 seed and hope for a first round win
3. Lower starter minutes
4. If needed, trade or resign LaMarcus Aldridge by the February deadline.
Now that the Blazers are looking like a top-tier team with a potential great regular season, I would say this seems to be the creeping expectations now amongst fans:
1. Win 50+ games
2. Go to the playoffs as a top four seed and win in the play-offs
3. Get more bench help, especially a post player.
4. Re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge at all costs
I think fans should still look at at the beginning expectations as a "successful" season, however, I am concerned immensely about issues with no. 3 and 4 in both "expectations" list. First off, I think for the Blazers to make really any noise in the playoffs, they need starters who aren't wearied and with dead legs by the post-season. Honestly, this team is good enough to make noise in the playoffs but will their starters be physically capable since Stotts plans on playing them to the ground? I don't know. It depends on your expectations.
If your expectations is now part of the "new" list, then Stotts will have to rest his starters more and upper management needs a to sacrifice a part of the "future" for the "spectacular now." Stotts either needs to trust his bench players more or he needs some more proven vets off the bench. Frankly, I suspect that the coach prefers the latter.
Secondly, the case of LaMarcus Aldridge is now much more complicated than its ever been before. If the Blazers were barely creeping along and by the time it was February, I think the Blazers would have seriously considered moving a disgruntled Aldridge. I also think most fans would've been able to deal with this because they'd rather have a player who wanted to be here than a player who was forced to stay in Portland. Now with the winning and the emotional attachment to their "MVP!" fans are faced with the possibility that Aldridge could be that superstar that will still leave town unless something great happens. That's why I think "new expectations" becomes paramount. I think the only way the Blazers can keep Aldridge is by doing significant damage in the playoffs. I don't think its about the money for LMA. He's got that. I think if you've read and listened to Ben Golliver's articles, LMA is about winning while he is in his prime. The reason Aldridge was frustrated this past summer was because he didn't know if he could put up with another losing season while he felt he still could play at an all-star caliber level. I think LMA knows hes good and he doesn't want to waste his talent and time. I don't blame him. Its like having a doctorate degree in genetic-engineering and then being asked to only teach human anatomy to fifth graders.
Aldridge will not commit to saying anything in terms of his contract. He's wise not to. Its too naive and immature to proclaim anything based on a first season quarter range of data. If the Blazers suddenly collapsed over the next two months, Aldridge can still make a polite request to be traded. He can do this knowing he didn't do anything that might make you hate him. He's already expressed his frustration this past summer. I don't think his expectations have really changed. His are that the Blazers win and make the post-season this year or management needs to move him. If there is any change to LMA's wish-list, I think it has to do with the post-season. He wants to win in the post-season like any superstar player wants. If management and fans are fine with the "just get to the play-offs" mindset, then you're definitely going to see him leave in about a year-and-a-half, if not sooner. One of the worst things I've heard from fans is that LMA should just be happy that the Blazers found a way to get him to the playoffs.
Then you must have just jumped on the bandwagon.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been to the playoffs three times. Lost in the first round all three times.
He already knows what its like to get to the playoffs. What he doesn't know is this - winning in the playoffs.
Ever wonder what it would like to date the girl that every man desired? You hear things. You know she might be high-maintenance and she'll really make you work. But you think that's okay. You can handle her.
Then you date her and she dumps you after three dates and says you weren't man enough for her.
For LaMarcus Aldridge, I think that this is similar in terms of whats happened to him. Whether he admits it or not, LMA has a vendetta. He has something to prove. He's changed, grown more subtle. Matured, if you will. The confidence I think he once lacked from a few years ago in the playoffs is now something more "red." I think he knows what he will do once he gets there. He will take over. He won't defer. He will jump in his car, start the engine, and say, "are you going home with me or not."
This new burgeoning confidence I now see in Aldridge is exciting. I see him as a confident player and person who now knows he can make demands of the front office. A few years ago you would just see him sulk in the corner and quietly pout. He had zero leverage. Now he's coming forth as a prized fighter asking for the highest purse. Only Kobe Bryants and Lebron James of the worlds do this. Superstars. Do I think he that kind of player? Not exactly but I think his on-the-court play is backing up the insinuations.
With LaMarcus' new-found confidence and the Blazers' recent winning, this should be the proposed "expectation/demand" from fans.
1. Set the team up for a deep post-season run
2. Get a veteran post player to help Lopez and Aldridge
3. Rest the starters more even at the sacrifice of wins
4. Give LMA concrete reasons to resign
I believe this season won't be a success if LaMarcus still has valid frustrations with the organization. I don't want a player who doesn't want to be with the team but I don't like the idea of a player leaving due to simply having frustration with the organization. I think Dwight Howard is the case of the former and LMA is the case of the latter. Frankly, I can't imagine the Trail Blazers without LMA if they want any kind of real success in the near future. He's the best power forward in the game. His style play fits well into Stott's system. They have a fantastic starting five who are now essentially veterans and are capable of a deep playoff run. However, I think that bench needs work still. I get the organization's commitment to the future but it would be truly ignorant to not realize what they have now is pretty darn good. And what future? They'll need to blow up this team in order to get some high draft picks which usually sets up a "good future." Even without LaMarcus, the Blazers aren't completely awful. Lillard, Lopez, Matthews, and Batum probably could win at least thirty games on their own. They won't go to the playoffs but nor will they get a top five pick. The organization needs to commit to one or the other. Its a difficult situation. If the Blazers want to be a one-and-done team, then they're more than welcome but I think they will do that at the risk of losing more of their fan base.
What's your thoughts? What will constitute as a "good" season for you? Should the team go all in now or keep doing what they're doing?