Here we stand on Season's Eve, finally. Unless and until we make the playoffs again this remains the best part of the year by far. As we approach a new year it's good to have a little perspective on the things that matter most.
First and foremost this season is about establishing Lamarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy as bona fide scorers and fledgling stars. Obviously those two get a lot of credit in our circle but we have to remember that every NBA team has promising, young players. Right now in the national consciousness Lamarcus and Brandon are more or less two more in the crowd. This year needs to be about getting them the ball in positions where they can make things happen. They need to start getting the respect of the referees. They need to learn how to deal with defensive pressure and double teams. I'm not as concerned about stellar point totals but if we reach the end of the year and either or both have horrible shooting percentages, huge numbers of turnovers, or maybe worst of all low free throw attempts then we've not gotten the best and brightest out of them or our season. These are the only two guys who will play this year who are guaranteed to be with us long-term (barring a LeBron trade or something crazy). They matter the most.
This season is also about developing offensive and defensive continuity as a team. We have a radically different lineup than we did last year. Our entire style of play is changing. We also have an extremely young team. The first few months of the year we are likely to look disjointed. That doesn't matter. What we look like in March and April matters. We will transform again when Oden returns next year but the groundwork for that return is laid now.
This will be one of our last years to really get good looks at guys without having more than pride on the line. One of the major themes of the year will be sorting out the point guard jumble, the small forward position, and the future of Channing Frye. Outlaw, Webster, and Jack all look poised to deliver. We just don't know what (or how consistently) they will deliver yet. Heck, we're not even sure of their positions. We absolutely need to know more by the end of this year because we're going to have to make decisions soon...not only about whether to spend money keeping them but about our weaknesses as a team and how to fill them. This is put up or shut up time for Travis and a solid chance for Martell and Jarrett to impress.
More philosophically this team needs to gain some confidence that it can win. We've been through horrible years of losing and picked up a lot of bad habits. We aren't likely to end up with a winning record overall but we desperately need a taste of victory for reinforcement. Along with that taste for winning will come a distaste for losing, which is equally important. Perhaps the worst habit we've picked up is shrugging our shoulders and giving up when things go south. There were people on this team who just...didn't...care. We need more fight than that. How we respond to going down 10 or 15 may be as important as our number of victories. We need to see the team continue to stick with the game plan of unselfishness, moving feet, and hustling no matter what the situation.
Feel free to add your own important things in the comment section. Before you do, though, I'll add one more...this one for us as fans:
I think it's important that we enjoy this season. Even being a passionate fan I'll admit it's been hard to really let loose and enjoy the team without reservation for a long while now. There was always another shoe to drop. The shoes are all on the floor now. There's no reason not to have a ball this year. We shouldn't be getting too caught up in high expectations or rewards at this point. It would be a shame if we anticipated too much, too soon and let the team possibly falling short dim our perception of them or the year. This is going to be an absolute blast. Even more so if you take, say, a five-year view of the situation. Do not miss the fact that this is the first year we can realistically claim starting the season that we are on an upswing as a franchise. The little things that go right this year are going to blossom into big things eventually. Although there will always be things to analyze and criticize--and we will do both--I see no reason to get down on (or about) a team this young with this many promising players who are also trying to do things the right way. As long as they keep working at getting better this season is a complete freebie for this team and for its fans. Enjoy every minute of it before the expectations start getting more serious and we all start scooting way farther towards the edges of our seats.