To start things off, I'd like to introduce myself. I am Daniel (AKA El Undelador), a die-hard Blazer fan like the rest of you. I have been a Blazers fan since my growing-up days in the 2000s, in the days of the chivalrous Brian Grant, and the not-so-chivalrous Rasheed Wallace. The onset of the Jail Blazers era coincided with my family's move from Portland, so I basically ignored the team for a decade. A couple years ago I started following the team again, which eventually led to my finding blazersedge last September. (Btw I love blazersedge, but that's another fanpost.) Since then, I've participated in many a discussion with fellow B-edgers, and have even filled in for Timmay! (sort of) during a summer league game recap. Well, without further ado, I'll get to my discussion.
Over the course of the offseason there have plenty of spirited discussions about the Blazers' future. Frequently in those discussions arises the debate of the best course of action given the team's situation. In other words, to win or not to win: that is the question to which I'm referring. And when that debate arises, differing opinions arise. One that I've seen several times looks like this:
If this core can't get us to the finals, then management might as well blow it up and start over. What's the point of making the 7th or 8th seed, only to get obliterated in the 1st round? (This is NOT a quote.)
I likely exaggerated to a certain extent with the blatant onesidedness of this "opinion," but not very much. But before I make my counter-proposal, I must say that I agree with the premise behind this argument, but I don't agree with the conclusion. I sure don't want to become the Bucks, or even Hawks, of the West, nor do I want a roster whose ceiling is a first or second round playoff exit. I also understand the potential dilemma with Aldridge, and that that does factor into the Blazer's future. But I think it's too early to give up on the team as it is. Since 2012 was a train wreck, and 2013 a "retooling" year, those years seemingly don't put our team in a very good light. But both those years were transition years, and in 2013 the team's goal was not to be good. The team's goal was to build. Last year's experience and this summer's acquisitions have helped to achieve just that.
Unfortunately, the Aldridge situation puts a time constraint on the team's growth. Thus, I understand the desire to part ways with LMA now and start overhauling the team if it doesn't seem that he'd stay anyway. I also understand the hesitance to believe that a low playoff seed and early exit would be very effective in persuading him to stay. As to the first part, I agree with trading Aldridge if he's not going to stay, but I disagree with the notion that we've already lost him. As to the second part, I believe that a playoff spot, especially a low one, would do more for this team than many think. Why, you may ask... Let me tell you.
In 2012, the Golden State Warriors finished what must have been a disappointing season at .348, after finishing .439 the year before. But in the course of that season the Dubs had tweaked their core, drafting Klay Thompson, adding Andrew Bogut and adding the absence of Monta Ellis to their core of Stephen Curry and David Lee. At the end of 2012 their group consisted of Curry, Thompson, Lee, and Bogut. That summer they drafted Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli; and added Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. That roster had some solid pieces, but too many question marks. Too many question marks, anyway, to gain any respect in the West. Most places were writing the Warriors off...again. (I know that Bleacher Report doesn't have the best track record as far as credibility goes, and I don't know anything about this site or this site; these are just to show the general consensus.)
Then, to the surprise of all, the Warriors started off the year hot. Curry was shooting lights out, all the young guys were contributing, and Jack (and sometimes Landry) were considered strong candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. Lee and Curry were both in the running, with Lee succeeding, to be Golden State's first all-star selection since forever ago. And this all happened without their defensive stalwart Bogut. At the end of the season, they had fallen off somewhat and landed in 6th. At that point many people assumed that the Warriors' hot start was somewhat of a fluke, and that they would be no match for the 57-win Denver Nuggets. Sure, Danilo Gallinari was out, but the Nuggets were still the superior team. Right?
Not according to the Warriors. In six games, the Nuggets were the ones trudging out of 2013 in defeat, and the overachieving Warriors were packing their bags to go to San Antonio. Well, we all knew how that would turn out. The Spurs were resting up after tearing through the title-aspiring Lakers, waiting for their next victim. So in walked the brave little Dubs, who fought valiantly in game 1 but came up short, then fought valiantly in game 2 and...WON?! Game 3 went to the Spurs, then the Warriors tied it again in game 4. The Spurs didn't lose again until the second game of the NBA Finals. In other words, Golden State toppled the mighty Nuggets, then came way closer than any non-Miami-based teams to beating the Spurs, from the 6 seed.
So, great story about the Warriors, but we could care less about them. How does this help Portland? Because Golden State was in the same situation last year as Portland is in now. They had a young team; star PG and PF; lots of young, unproven talent; freshly upgraded bench; poor defense coming into the season--the parallels are uncanny. Now, Golden State could have decided to tear it up and try to get some picks and cap room, but instead they stuck with what they had. They knew their group had potential; they just had not seen the potential realized. All they'd done in the offseason was add a couple bench guys and some draft picks, no big-name, superstar, needle-moving guys. They just stuck it out...and their potential was realized far beyond what anyone expected. Now Golden State is seen as one of the best young teams in the league. Also, they were able to land a needle-mover after their exciting season was over.
My point is this: too often we as fans view tanking or contending as the only ways to go, treating the bottom of the playoffs as a purgatory that must be avoided at all costs. But if we are never get good enough to get into the purgatory, then we'll most likely never be good enough to come out the other side. I understand that there is a difference between one or two years of 7-8 seeds and a ceiling at that level, and I understand that everyone else understands that too. But I don't think we'll ever know our ceiling unless we play to win. Even if playing to win will only get us into a low playoff seed, it will open doors that tanking never would. Tanking provides a lot of potential, but playing to win is what turns potential into actuality. If Portland plays to win this year, I think people will be surprised at what they see, and being a surprise team is kind of fun.
Just ask the Golden State Warriors.