One of the post-game radio questions tonight was what our goals for the second half of the season would be besides making the playoffs. With the need for speed in the radio format I felt the subject needed a little more treatment here.
Disclaimer for Militant Folks: This doesn't mean I think we can't make the playoffs, just that there are also important things to be accomplished even if we don't.
Goals for the Year Besides the Playoffs
1. Continue to win every game you can.
One of the themes in recent years has been, "Do we try to win all we can or do we develop our young players?" That dichotomy doesn't exist anymore. The players we're playing are the same players who give us the best chance to win. They also happen to be the exact players we need to develop in order to make our future bright. Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw...these are the guys we will need to step up in the years to come. Right here, right now they need to develop a taste for, and expectation of, winning. This team needs to figure out what you need to do in order to win on a regular basis...not in spurts or streaks when things click, but routinely and no matter what happens. There is no higher motive this year than winning games. It doesn't matter how many we end up winning, what matters is that we take every one we can.
2. If you lose, lose in a way you can learn from.
This flows from the first. The recent Cleveland game, for example, was a learning opportunity. We learned a little something about being prepared and making every possession count. Perhaps after getting torched at the last second by an opposing superstar Brandon was saying, "First off that won't happen again and second off...that could be me doing that to someone else." The blowout loss in Detroit, by contrast, was less educational and more demoralizing. Even with the early success this team still has a steep learning curve and needs to be taking things from every game, win or lose. That usually means playing hard enough to give yourself a chance and then trying to figure out why it did or didn't work.
3. Continue to promote Brandon Roy as a leader and superstar.
We need to milk every ounce of respect Brandon can get from his peers, opponents, and officials. There's a lot of talent in this league. At a certain level perception distinguishes a guy as much as ability. Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal were great, but they got to push off with their forearms to get shots not just because they were talented, but because they were perceived as the best. They got the opportunity to hit critical shots in part because everybody expected them to get that opportunity. The cake has to be there, but the star-level respect is the icing. Every bit of credit we can get in Roy's account will legitimize us as real contenders and not just Cinderellas when we start to challenge for real. We need to train people to see (and expect) excellence in everything Brandon does.
4. Get Lamarcus and Travis minutes in meaningful situations.
(Martell too if he's up to it.)
These guys need a chance to prove themselves...not so much as NBA players (we know that already) but bona fide contributors for 48 minutes. They need to develop and practice their moves, shot, and style. They need to be able to respond when we depend on them. The need to fight when opponents game plan against them. We're a heck of a lot closer to being great if they're for real and if they are CONSISTENTLY good. They won't get consistently good without earning, and producing in, legitimate minutes.
5. Try to find out what else you have.
When you start asking about the rest of the team you have to figure out whether you're comfortable with Jarrett, Channing, and Sergio. You need to know how much James Jones is worth to you. If they stay, what is their role and how well will they fulfill it? If they don't stay, what do we need instead to take their place? We have two seasons to get a read on most of these guys but next year should be less about figuring things out and more about pushing for the playoffs. That makes this year's evaluation pretty important. Not all of this need happen in games either. Much of this work comes in practice.
6. Develop your bodies, minds, and heart.
We're already finding out how important this is. We need to get stronger. We have to grow accustomed to the grind and fatigue. Our guys need to learn how to eat, travel, rest, and deal with the emotional and mental price of being in the league as well as the physical cost. The players need to begin learning when to go all out and where you can cut corners without sacrificing production and performance. Endurance is the name of the game and the repetitive grind of the season is the only place you can learn it.
7. Watch every playoff team you go up against, especially when you're playing in an important game.
This is the best and most important experience of all. How are those teams prepared? What are they doing to stop you and maximize their own potential? What is their demeanor before, during, and after the game? What does it feel like being in a game with critical meaning. You can never really know until you've done it yourself but you can pick up some things by watching the Spurs, Suns, etc. We matter a little more this year. Teams are beginning to take us a little more seriously. Take advantage of that to find out how seriously-challenged teams approach the game.
If we can manage most of this our season will be a success no matter what the record ends up being. The theme that should be echoing from Game 1 through Game 82 of this season is, "That eventual championship begins NOW." These things will help us take the next small step towards it.