A couple of tricky, semi-poignant Mailbag questions today.
Dave I read BE all the time I love the site. I am trying to really figure out what the Blazers fans are thinking about the future of our team but posts get very dominated anymore with one mindset and if your not on part of the group think your basically considered an idiot and don't know anything about the game... I tried to write a fan post asking that question but I suffered a mild stroke 10 years ago and I just struggle to put my thoughts into words.
How do you feel about being a discussion point on the boards, rather than the just the content you deliver? It's an odd thing to me to see people discuss your motivations or mind-set in regards to "why" you post a certain thing or take a stance for something. Is it due to a lack of news recently?
The answer to this is pretty complex. Let's break it down, starting with a history lesson.
I came to Blazer's Edge in 2005. Even a cursory glance at the roster and headlines from that time reveals that this was pretty much the darkest period in franchise history. The JailBlazers era had been in full swing for a while. For several years Portland players had suffered from a lack of charisma, public decorum, and wins. Management was perceived as distant, ineffective, even duplicitous. If the Blazers made news at all, it was either an infraction, indiscretion, or an attempted explanation of same. Without hope, heroes, or talent for a turn-around fans were deserting the team in droves. Public discussion about the team was nearly non-existent. The rare outbursts of Blazer-related conversation came in three forms:
1. Official statements from the team, usually explaining that they were trying to clean up the mess. These were generally perceived as nebulous, team leadership as uncertain. The team was trying to cover up, feeding lines to fans instead of giving them credit, hoping they'd swallow whatever was dished out.
2. Reactions from disgruntled fans (or sometimes people who just liked to troll others) expressing negativity about the team and incredulity that anybody would care about them anymore.
3. A small cadre of supporters continued to hold on despite everything. They held vigil, and remained vigilant, in a few online outposts...just about the only place you could strike up a conversation about the Blazers back then. Some remained kind and genuinely hopeful. But as the months (and negative outcomes) rolled along many of those faithful began crusading...reacting to the negativity by lashing out in turn. Originally they rallied against the trolls, perhaps appropriately so. But once started, the snowball rolled. Soon you couldn't go near an honest critique of the Blazers--even a mild one--without a group of "fans" jamming down your throat how ignorant and unfaithful you were. The trolls had been met by anti-trolls, equal but opposite, bleeding red and black and clawing down anyone who dared to disagree.
Now, I don't know about you, but I grew up in an era where the Blazers were the talk of the town. People loved this team. You could strike up great conversations about basketball anywhere, anytime: bus stops, bars, church, school, on the street. The texture of the team was rich and varied; it stretched like a blanket across my whole community. It made you feel safe, connected, part of something bigger than yourself.
Having grown up with that kind of background, seeing discussion about the Blazers limited to the three forms listed above made me ill. None of those forms were good, healthy, or supportive. Something important had been lost.
That, as much as anything, spurred me to start blogging. My #1, overwhelming goal was to foster honest, fair conversation about the team. My tenets were simple:
#1: Fans are not sheep who will just swallow anything the team lays out. For a couple generations Portland fans had been credited for their brains, among the smartest in the business. That didn't disappear overnight.
#2: Fans still care about the team no matter what, and for good reason. There's something more important about the Blazers experience than just wins and losses. People still love this team.
#3: Love takes many forms, including honest critique. Reasoning out things about the team, even if those things don't reveal something positive, is never bad. Attacking people who are just honestly discussing the team doesn't make you any more of a fan, nor does it make your point any stronger. It leads to a toxic, joyless atmosphere in which nothing gets learned, reasoned, or celebrated.
Those have been the credos here since the start and they've served this community well.
At the same time you could see where the bad stuff was coming from. Franchise leaders preached a confusing message and actions (let alone results) didn't always follow their words. That semi-chaos bred uncertainty and fear. Some reacted ultra-negatively. Others reacted negatively to that negativity...or any negativity. It's human nature.
For most of the years here the Blazer's Edge nature has prevailed over human nature. But every once in a while we have what I call, in technical terms, a "crap storm". Often this involves miniature versions of the original 2005 mega-storm: team in flux, some people fearful and/or down, others covering up that fear with bluster and shouting. I always try to chart a course through this the same way: delivering the best, most-reasoned, and truest insight I can...not giving up on the love of the team but also not giving up on the idea that intelligent critique has to be part of that love, lest we lose our passion for the reality of the team and exchange it for a fantasy version.
I can easily recall 5-6 minor crapstorms and 4-5 major ones over the course of the last 8 years. Critiques of Zach Randolph, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez' defense, the value of Jerryd Bayless, the Raymond Felton trade, and even drafting Luke Babbitt and Nolan Smith all caused varying levels of distress. One big storm came when I suggested that the Roy-Oden-Aldridge Blazers would take a couple seasons to grow into themselves (which, alas, they never got). Their jump to 54 wins in 2008-09 surprised me but sadly they sank back after. C'est la vie.
The last really major comment crapstorm I can remember happened at the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Portland started the year 5-1 but they were showing systemic flaws. In the midst of celebrating the wins in game recaps I also pointed out the cracks, speculating that victories weren't going to come as easily and often as they had to that point. I wrote a separate post about it, detailing some of the issues. The backlash was pretty thick. Some direct quotes (with names removed to protect the innocent):
"This PTB team is legit. They hang their hat on defense and that will win many, many more games than not."
"Saying the okies are a more talented team then ours? Im not sure where you are getting that from? Sure Durant is AS talented as Aldridge, but after that it is not even close, I mean their number one offensive option in the post is Perkins...I humbly beg you to reconsider that horrid statement"
"MCMILLAN is not going to get worse as the season goes on...I think that coaching has not even been addressed in this post. If what I have seen so far this year is an example of how Nate will coach this year...I am very encouraged."
"With each passing win, that "interim" tag in front of Chad Buchanan's name, gets a little fainter and harder to see."
"I think the history of Blazer basketball causes people to be overly pessimistic sometimes as a defense mechanism"
" I think you're way off the mark. I'm not looking for everything through rose garden colored glasses, but IMHO your analysis of the Blazers thus far is way, way off."
"You were certainly down on this team coming into the season and what many had predicted, that we would be improved from last year (I always thought this was pretty much a given just by comparing rosters), has come to fruition"
"Some unbiased analysis, please Say whatever you want about Kerr and Chuck, they knows their hoops. Chuck's early pick of dallas last year...speaks volumes, as does his criticism of the blazers in years past. The guy can pick out the strengths and weaknesses of a team like no other, and he said BEFORE the laker game that the blazers are built to win. Kerr said before the season he was unconvinced, but compared the blazers' ability and chemistry to the ‘11 mavs last night. When it comes to the blazers, they're completely unbiased. Dave, I appreciate your persistent cynicism and your efforts to keep everybody's heads on straight, but the fact of the matter is, you're taking an excessively critical view of the team that is biased by the disappointments we've suffered over the last few years."
"Wow. Debbie Downer, meet Downer Dave."
"Wow...just wow...I think Dave might be one of the only analysts in the entire NBA who doesn't believe the currently constructed Blazers are legit at pretty much anything. Basically, Dave said, in a whole lot of words, the Blazers are just getting lucky, because other teams haven't pulled it together yet. Well, Dave, consider this.....the Blazers haven't pulled it together yet either. They sure look like they have though, don't they? Ponder that, consider what THAT might mean going forward...I do find it interesting that the better the Blazers play, the more cynical and pessimistic Dave's analysis becomes. Just weird. And kinda sad."
"I've always disliked your writing style (and general tone), Dave. Not that I expect you to change, but I'm just throwing that out there. Thankfully, Ben exists."
Folks may recall that by the end of that season Coach McMillan had been fired, half the lineup was traded or became persona non grata around Blazer-land, and the team limped home with 28 total wins out of 66 games, bombing the entire second half of the season. It became far worse, and for far more reasons, than I had speculated.
I'm not saying I'm always right. Nobody is. I didn't think Marcus Camby would hang around as long as he did. I thought (still think, in theory) that Oden over Durant was the right move. (Geez, I want to go back and scream at Kevin Pritchard and me.) I thought Armon Johnson would be better than he was. I kind of liked Petteri Koponen for some reason.
But let's circle back to the original two questions now.
Is the curious phenomenon of some people discussing/disparaging the motivations of others a product of there being no other news? No. It's a product of uncertainty about the future of the team and maybe mixed messages from the front office creating an unsure environment in which people tend to lash out against anything they perceive as "negative" while trying to find their way.
And Michael, when you feel like people are calling you an idiot, saying you know nothing, and bum-rushing you for having an opinion, read those comments above and the many like them offered in past situations like this. Accusatory doesn't equal right. In fact accusations, in all their many forms, indicate fear that one's point isn't as strong as stated so the speaker needs some extra emphasis (generating confusion, resentment, intimidation through a false show of strength) to cover for it.
All the same, nobody should be calling you an idiot here. They shouldn't be talking about you at all, but making points about basketball. That's what the site was founded on. That is its purpose. That's a big part of what keeps us out of that JailBlazers-era conversational cesspool.
Technically they shouldn't be doing it to Ben or to me either. In the name of showing we encourage differing opinions we tend to let those things go...we let you guys talk about us in ways we wouldn't let you talk about each other, saying things you'd get warned or banned for if said about fellow readers. But as questions like this show, that boundary line doesn't always hold. And when it starts leaking over from us to anyone with an opinion you disagree with--which it inevitably does, even as it did back on those old message boards in 2005--it's time for it to stop.
Nobody has to agree with anyone or anything here. You are free to argue until the cows come home (or are traded for future picks) about all the Blazers-related basketball points you wish. But you cannot argue dismissively, insult others, or make accusations about them, their motives, or their intelligence and still remain a member in good standing at this website. The tide has washed past now. People should be able to deal with legitimate topics like LaMarcus Aldridge trade talk or the efficacy of new players without having to attack others. You're talking to real people in real conversation here. All discussion on all topics should reflect that at all times. That's how we roll.