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Have the Blazers Made It?

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Veteran reader Jamon51 send me a nice e-mail yesterday resurrecting a couple of old posts from early in my Blazersedge tenure.  Of particular interest was this post from August of 2006.  The post was entitled "We'll Know We've Made It When".  I had pretty much forgotten about it until Jamon brought it up.  It's an interesting measuring stick for how far this team has come in three years.  Here is the text, with commentary.

You'll know we've made it when...

1.  When you don't read one, single article prior to training camp about how one of our guys has turned over a new leaf, gotten in shape, found Jesus, made up with the coach, discovered a new commitment to defense, or decided to just keep his mouth shut and play this year.

Training camp isn't here yet, of course, but since we didn't see that kind of story last year it's a pretty safe bet we won't find any this year either.  Anybody remember the days when the annual Rider/Bonzi/Zach/Darius reformation story was as much an autumn rite of passage as the turning of the leaves?  This is one of those things that turns out to be bad by definition.  No matter how nice the story seems if you have to say that kind of stuff, you've got the wrong players.  Now that we have the right ones the difference is clear.

2.  When you can read people's opinions on the team without every second sentence being about the media or any other local institution and how unfair they are in their conspiracies against the organization. That also goes for official team statements.

Ah...the good old days of the media-front office wars.  Of course we wrote about them but frankly it made me kind of ill to do so.  It was like giving a blow-by-blow description of children fighting at the playground.  It held as much intrinsic value as The Hills, just with less good-looking people.  Thank goodness we're done with that.  The Blazers aren't going out of their way anymore to stick a burr in the saddle of every local writer they can find.  The media has picked up on the vibe that the public wants some good news along with the criticism, plus they've noticed genuine improvement.  Now when there's a tussle you at least know it's about something.  Fans still complain about media folks they disagree with but it's less frequent and seems like more of a tangent than a center-stage discussion.  We all get to talk about basketball.  It's much better.

3.  When the front office is unified, organized, free of confusion, and basically quiet in the background...like the foundation that you know holds your house together but otherwise you take for granted and don't notice.

Let's get something straight.  Kevin Pritchard did a marvelous job of hitting the campaign trail the moment he became the team's General Manager.  He was spokesman, cheerleader, and authority figure all bundled together.  He did radio, TV, newspapers, podcasts...the whole gamut.  You couldn't go a week without hearing him three times over.  Tom Penn's media comet was briefer and left less of a trail but he showed himself to the world early as well.  Since then both men have done an equally marvelous job of disappearing.  The whole front office staff, while more accessible, is at the same time less noticeable on a daily basis than they once were.  Nothing is going wrong in the public view.  There's nothing much to write about them.  They're among the best in the business, they're efficient, and they're dead quiet about it.  This is perfect.  People instinctively want the celebrity GM but in practice it usually turns out worse than it looks in theory.  Bob Whitsitt was the young hotshot type.  He had an ego a mile wide and made trades every year.  You couldn't help but notice his hand in the mix.  It worked for a while, but ultimately that's hard to sustain.  The greatest front office folks know how to make the moves that don't grab attention...sometimes even to reject the moves that will.  You don't notice the Spurs staff at work.  You noticed Isiah Thomas a bunch though.

4.  When the team and the arena are owned by the same person.

Done and done.  The commitment shows too.  This may be the biggest off-court development of the last decade.

5.  When you can stop talking about team leadership because on the one hand it's so obvious that there's no question and on the other hand it's so effortless that it doesn't look like you need any.

We're close.  On a team this young leadership is always going to be a work in progress.  But Brandon Roy is Captain Kirking it up.  There's no doubt who belongs in that center seat on the bridge.  The effortless part will come with experience.  It already looks effortless on Roy's part.  There are just a few remaining seams to be patched overall.

6.  When all the trade speculation switches from who we want to get to who people are trying to pry away from us.

Again we're close.  We've seen a shift this year with Fernandez and Batum...both prized players.  The players above them are close to untouchable so you're not going to hear much about them.  One or two moves remain before we've truly reached this point.  A year from now we should be there...or at least close enough to not notice the difference.

7.  When the draft is more of a curiosity than a necessity, summer league is a mild diversion, and everything before the All-Star break is just a warm-up for the real season.

Yeah...this year pretty much qualifies.  It surprises me when people say Kevin Pritchard is a draft-move guy and the draft is consistently going to be critical to the Blazers and the centerpiece of his managerial tenure.  That has been true up to this point because that's how you build a young, solid, talented team without cap encumbrances or old guys with alternate agendas.  That's not discounting KP's acumen.  He's clearly among the best the league has ever seen in his draft-day performances.  But this can't always be the method.  If we're centering on the draft because that's Pritchard's M.O. rather than that being what the team needs our run is never going to get off the ground.  You're going to have to recycle more and more resources into the draft to keep getting those high-end picks and results.  At some point the returns diminish.  We may see more moves yet, as the team's foundation isn't finished yet.  But when that core does reach completion its growth and cohesiveness are going to determine the team's success far more than anything that happens in June or July.  Excitement only happens in the summer for bad teams.  For the good team it comes in spring.

8.  When blogs like this one become semi-redundant (hopefully not ever fully) because you can have this kind of enthusiastic conversation about the team with your family, your friends, and even strangers on the street. In this way I'd love it if the Blazers and the Portland community put me out of a job (so to speak).

Well, I haven't been put out of a job, thank goodness.  But the resurrection of Blazer talk in the community at large has made the job a lot more fun.  The site has grown along with that public interest.  It's nice to feel like you're speaking at a rally instead of feeling like a lone voice crying in the wilderness.  It's far better when thousands are carrying the standard.  It's a good time to be a Blazer fan.

Three years on, have we made it?  Almost.  We're so close you could probably lean out and break the finish line tape.  However there are a new set of standards in front of us...a new race to be run.  For all the joy in having gotten this far, most of these things are pretty basic.  They're indicative of goodness, not necessarily greatness.  That we're able to celebrate them is a measure of how far the team has come.  That we have to celebrate them is a measure of how far the team had to come.  We're far beyond those brief, dark years when we flirted with the status of worst franchise in the league.  We've also got a ways to go before we're flirting with being the best team in the league the way the Drexler and Walton teams did.  We saw some of those differences in the season past.  Beginning this October we're going to see how the team begins the next leg of the journey.

For now, though, a round of applause for having made it this far would not be amiss.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)