If I had to pick one word to describe the general feeling surrounding the Blazers right now it would be “anticipation”. After years of toiling uphill it feels like we might finally have a chance to crest the summit in the near future and pick up serious momentum towards some really good times. Certainly it’s hard to watch the ongoing playoff series without imagining what it will be like when guys in scarlet and black start walking away with some of those four-to-x victories. This begs the question: How long is it going to take for the Blazers to be good?
The answer, naturally, depends on what you mean by “good”.
Technically speaking, that 41-41 record makes the Blazers at least decent as we speak. While it’s possible the team will pull a classic
If you’re talking “really good”, though, I don’t see it happening next year. For one thing we’re still going to be brutally young. We’re adding key players but they’re new to the league and of tender age to boot. None of them will be 25 yet, nor will any of our main players. Plus THE main guy, Greg Oden, will be in his rookie season. You’re going to notice him the minute he steps on the floor. He looks different, walks differently, and plays differently than anybody on the roster. His physical attributes--strength, size, fluidity, presence--will amaze you. You’re going to go crazy the first time he stuffs back somebody’s shot like they were an 8th-grader. At the same time you’re going to notice him not being able to use that body to full advantage. He’ll likely start his post moves too far out. Speaking of post moves, he won’t have them defined well. He’ll flip hooks when he should have spun and spin when he should have dunked. He’ll get out of position on defense some too. The guy needs some time. I hope folks in this chronically-impatient day and age will realize that a year or two isn’t too much time to invest in the future linchpin of your franchise. I also hope that “Oden’s a bust” and “Why isn’t he better?” comments are kept to a minimum. The key to getting through anybody’s rookie year is to appreciate the good things they bring and watch for baby steps in improving weaknesses and general awareness. (That goes for Rudy too, by the way.)
Speaking of general awareness, NBA Live has taught us some pretty funky things about what it takes to build a cohesive team. You can’t just throw guys together and expect all of their strengths to come out immediately. These prominent new guys will mean major shifts in the roles and opportunities of everybody else on the team. It takes a while to get used to that. It takes a while to learn where a guy likes to catch the ball, or how much you can depend on him defensively, or where and when it’s worth setting a screen for him. Anybody who’s played basketball even on a casual level understands that it’s a game of situational awareness. Teams usually need a good, solid year together to develop an understanding of each other. This is doubly true with young guys. This is also one of the reasons I doubt you’ll see a major move (meaning a move designed to add key pieces who will affect the franchise for the next decade) this summer. Things are too loose yet. We have to taste the soup before we add another ingredient.
No matter what the roster ends up looking like on paper, next year is not likely to produce any kind of sustainable greatness.
The year after next has the best chance of providing an exponential leap. This isn’t really rocket science. Roy and Aldridge attaining early-veteran status, plus Greg Oden with a year under his belt, plus a clearer definition of the roles and abilities of the supporting cast, plus the cap/trade flexibility to add that Buck-Williams-like missing piece…that all adds up to an eye-opening entry onto the national stage. Despite this you still have to wonder about everyone gelling. You’d also like to have one more year on Greg. I’d guess this would be our first chance to experience playoff basketball with any expectation of winning a series. Whether we do actually win one or not we’re likely to get our nose bloodied somewhere along the line, which is exactly the experience we’ll need. This season will be like the first year moving up to a new division. We may have put on another couple pounds of muscle to graduate from middleweight to heavyweight, but we’re not ready for a title bout yet.
It’s that third year out where things start to get intriguing. Roy and Aldridge are now in their early prime. Oden is a third-year guy and should come into his own. Everybody else knows the drill and (hopefully) the pieces fit. We got a taste of real success last year and now we know what it takes to get there. The decade-long window cracks open a bit. It’s unlikely we’ll make it through right away, but we ought to have at least an arm or leg out by now.
Whether we bust out right on schedule, a little earlier, or a little later one thing’s for sure: exciting times are ahead.