We've talked a lot about our youth and inexperience this year. With a few nice wins under our belts and everybody in a celebratory mood for a while it seems appropriate to point out that along with our youthful blunders there are also signs that our team is indeed developing beyond what it has been. Here are five reasonably good signs that your team is progressing, drawn from recent events and conversations, including some that have happened here.
1. You start winning your home games.
Young teams don't win consistently, but emotion and comfort usually make home wins far easier than road wins. The poster children for this in the last decade were the Nick Van Exel-led Denver Nuggets, who never progressed much beyond .500 in their early years but were demons in Pepsi Center. Obviously they lost home and away in the years they had the worst record in the league but the first sign that they were emerging again was the ability to defend their homecourt. At 8-3 the Blazers aren't doing badly so far. Even if that comes back to earth a little it's reasonable to assume our home record will be better this year than in recent years.
2. You start making national highlight reels and columns.
Right now everybody and their uncle is complaining that TNT blew our win streak status and ESPN.com and YahooSports keep putting up pictures of Bo Outlaw instead of Travis Outlaw. (On the latter I still point to the fact that back in the day Terry Porter, an All-Star, was called "Kevin" half the time by national broadcasters even after we made the Finals and had the best record in the league.) But let me ask you this: How long has it been since we've even been mentioned nationally? You can scream West Coast time zone or big-market bias all you want, but the truth is we haven't been talked about for five years because we've sucked rotten manatee testicles for five years. Getting mentioned by anyone, anywhere is a serious step up even if they mistake us for someone else or have no clue how to spell "Przybilla".
3. Your spouse and/or significant other starts liking the team.
This is ripped straight from Tweener's timely diary in the sidebar but it really is a legitimate sign. Really rotten teams don't attract any casual spousal attention because:
A. Their play looks awful and is hard to watch. And...
B. You aren't that inspired about them, which your spouse/S.O. picks up on. Why, then, should they watch?
The minute your blanket-hogging roomie stops in front of the T.V., points to a player, and asks, "Who is that?" you know you're on to something serious. At the point at which they actually watch a quarter or more you know you're becoming the real deal again. If they actually buy a piece of apparel for their own use (or ask you to do so for Christmas) you're going to be a champion.
4. People start talking about what players are doing instead of what they might or could do.
We talked about this a little in the Quick Chats from the last month. When a team has nothing for fans to latch onto they will start inventing things. This usually involves taking seldom-seen or inexperienced players and elevating their status significantly. The conversation goes, "With more playing time..." or "In a couple years..." or "With the right coach..." or "If he can just develop this one thing..." All of it has to do with things that don't exist yet. That almost always means the present reality is too gruesome and depressing to talk about. At the point you start talking about what your guys are actually doing out on the court you know you have started to develop a real team. We've been doing a fair amount of talking about Brandon, Lamarcus, and even guys like Webster, Jones, Jack, and Outlaw this year.
5. Your team results become more important than individual achievements.
Another sign you have a bad team is that conversation looks like, "Did you see that dunk Player X threw down last night?" or "Do you think Player Y has a chance to make the All-Star game this year?" A tremendous amount of visceral excitement or frustration surrounding individual performances usually indicates that you've already given up on the team actually winning and are settling for any bone you can get. A sure sign that your team is improving is that people start caring less about who makes the All-Star team or how awe-inspiring a guy's vertical leap is and care more about how well the team played as a unit and whether they won.
There are, of course, many more measures...most of which we have not achieved yet. But these five seem firmly in our pockets this year and this was not so (or at least less so) in years past. We are making progress and that's good to see.