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The Payoff

Here you go, folks!  Kurt from ForumBlueandGold paying off on our little wager, as promised.  Enjoy!

I don't think you fans up in Portland need me to tell you that the future is bright. I read the comments here and I know you know the game, you can see it. You're team has some of the best bloggers in the business (you even slipped a homer onto the roster) and they are telling you the same thing.

But I will tell you that other fans are noticing, too. In the case of myself and other Lakers fans, we see our team as built as a title contender for the next five years (give or take) and we wonder who else will be trying to fit through that window. And it is clear Portland is one of those teams, albeit a year or two away.

And Portland has done it the smart way. My personal belief is that organizations win from the top down -- the best franchises have a plan to build a team that has everyone on the same page, from ownership to the kid that runs out with the mop and gets the sweat off the floor. Know what kind of team you want to build, get a coach who can execute that plan, then draft to fit the system.  You see that in San Antonio, and they've been winning for a decade. You see it in Detroit. Humbly I would say the Lakers have built to their system.

And you see it in Portland. As one of my commenters, Darius, pointed out, you've followed the San Antonio model to the T. (Right down to winning the lottery and selecting the best big man in a decade.) More importantly, this is not just a stockpiling of stars without concern for how they will mesh (see Denver).

Another commenter and writer on my site, kwame a., put it this way:

"What I like about the Blazers talent is that there are no redundancies -- it all fits well. Oden is a defensive minded center who will control the boards and score right at the rim. Aldridge is a skilled, offensive minded big man who can score from the high post or the block. Roy is a steady, controlled, flawless combo guard who can create offense and make plays. The role players (Webster, Outlaw, Rodriguez, Fernandez) all provide athleticism and shooting. It's a collection of players that should perfectly complement each other and cover all skill sets."

Personally, I love that Brandon Roy already has a midrange game and uses it. I love that LaMarcus can go inside or outside. Your role players can all shoot. Against the Lakers, when Nate and the boys realized Luke Walton on Outlaw was the mismatch (Luke can't stay with anyone athletic) you exploited it like a veteran team with isolations and pick-and-rolls. Bottom line, you don't play like the youngest team in the NBA. In an NBA filled with players who have a me-first game honed in AAU contests, Portland has guys with mature games at a young age.

What's scary for the rest of us is with all the talent already on the floor in Portland, you have Oden and Rudy Fernandez in the wings. I've been fortunate on my blog to have several readers from Spain (and I've picked up more recently, for obvious reasons), and they are players and youth coaches who really know the game. And for almost three years, they've been telling us that Fernandez is the real deal, that the team that gets him is going to have a very special player. So you've got that to look forward to.

On the court, there are still questions about how this team will evolve, at least to my eyes. Not on defense, however (despite having pretty pedestrian statistics this season). We've seen a good, aggressive defense for stretches, including the win over the Lakers. When your defense has not worked it's because it has had to collapse to protect the paint against the league's slashers. We don't know what kind of offensive game (or, apparently, haircut) Greg Oden will bring to the court next year, but we know he can board and defend. That is going to allow your perimeter defenders to be more aggressive, and the whole thing will suddenly look better.

And, it will allow you to run. Having Oden cleaning the glass will allow your guards to leak out on the break, and you'll get more of the easy transition baskets that make the game simpler.

I'm curious to see if you will develop a true go-to guy (ala Wade when the Heat won) or more of a team effort in crunch time (ala Detroit). It will be fun to watch this team learn how to win at the NBA level in the coming years. Maybe a veteran role player who has some rings can speed the learning process along, but Portland is already on that track.

In a couple of years out two teams likely will be fighting for the same trophy again late in the playoffs. I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden going at it for a decade or more. Right now, it's fun to watch your team and its athletes grow and mature. In a couple of years I may not feel that same love, but the respect for how it was done and the quality of the game will remain.

--Dave (