My e-mail correspondence this week has come in three flavors, oft-repeated. Opting out of a hundred and a half e-mail responses, I'm going to address people's questions as best as I can here.
1. How concerned are you really about Brandon Roy's pre-seasons performance?
As far as wins and losses, not concerned at all.
As far as Roy himself, I have more questions than concerns. If, as observers have stated, he is going half speed, resulting in poorer-than-expected performances, I wonder why. If the answer really is that pre-season doesn't matter there's an obvious solution: don't play him! If my superstar came to me and said he needed to rest a few more games, practicing with the team but otherwise saving himself for the season, I'm good with that. Negotiate a good run for a couple games then just sit him and give Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez, and maybe Jerryd Bayless or Elliot Williams more minutes. Trotting him out to squeeze a haphazard performance out of a reluctant player doesn't help anyone. If it runs deeper than a lackadaisical approach to these games--keeping in mind that Roy is the team leader and hasn't been lackadaisical about many things on the court in his Portland tenure--I'd like to know how deep and in what direction. Is this mental fatigue, a shift in perception, some kind of chemistry problem, lingering injuries, or what? I'm prepared to hear any answer made possible by these questions but I'd like to hear it.
Even that concern runs fairly shallow, though. Roy will be what he will be and that will probably be good. If this were just about one guy the issue wouldn't be warm. But Roy is the heart of this team and the heart of their offense. Without him on point and contributing the rest of the team gets thrown off. It'd be like rehearsing for the Neil Diamond tour without Neil Diamond. I am concerned about Roy's performance affecting the continuity of the team heading into the regular season. Which brings us to...
2. How concerned are you about the team's performance this year?
Under normal circumstances pre-season performance doesn't weigh much. But the Blazers are in specific circumstances this year, looking to transition from a good team to a great one. That precise leap involves disciplines they've not had to evidence in full flower, among them continuity, flexibility, self-sacrifice, and consistent excellence no matter what the circumstance. You don't expect to see all guns blazing in pre-season. You do expect to see the basic framework for the season. We haven't seen a successful formula yet in terms of X's and O's, much less those more esoteric disciplines. I remember the Drexler years well. Did those teams live and die by the pre-season? No. In fact I remember some serious complaining about playing extra games on concrete foundations in tiny towns. But you didn't see disjointed, sporadic, roller-coaster behavior either. A truly great team under the same circumstances as the Blazers wouldn't perform like this. The smoke around this team may not indicate a specific fire but it's still making it hard to breathe right now. The Blazers may be able to flip the switch for the start of the regular season but under pressure I'm not confident the switch will remain flipped, which is the exact quality we were looking to see from them this year. We've seen great around these parts. No matter how you slice it, this isn't great.
Getting down to brass tacks: the Blazers will still be a good team. Nothing has changed that. They'll certainly make the playoffs. I don't think their chances of making that second-round goal have decreased either, at least not on this evidence alone. But they need to do everything they can to make the road level and straight to that goal. A high seed is an irreplaceable prize. High seeds are built on the approach to each game from 1 to 82. In past years a slow start would have been a minor bump. Aiming for the current target it's a mistake for which they will pay, should that come to pass. In that sense I am concerned.
3. How much does Rich Cho's inaction so far bother you?
I get this question less than the other two but I understand it the least. In fact I just don't get it.
Back in seminary we studied Pastoral Care: what you do when somebody comes into your office for help/advice or you go and visit somebody in the hospital...that kind of thing. One of the first things they taught us was that saying nothing in response to someone's utterance was a choice. It was a viable choice. Often it was the best choice. When approaching the bed of someone battling cancer you have to hush the voice in your head that's yelling, "Oh no! What are you going to do? What are you going to say? You must be the Wise One! You must make it all better!" That's all about you and how you're perceived, not about the situation or what's appropriate in it. You have to be able to say something if you assess that as the best course of action. If silence and patience are called for, though, making up something just to hear your own voice (or worse, impress someone...even if that someone is yourself) is a poor choice and the wrong way to live out your responsibility.
Doing nothing is not always a sign of inaction. Doing nothing is sometimes the best action possible. It doesn't mean you're not doing your homework or don't care. It can mean that you did your homework and every possible "something" at this juncture is worse than staying put. Absent further evidence, I'm assuming that's where Rich Cho is at.
This roster is not finished. I don't believe for a second that the Blazer Brain Trust thinks it is. But I wouldn't move even Portland's most trade-worthy players in haste. Nobody tripped Portland's trigger for a Rudy Fernandez deal. How desirable are Portland's other available assets at this time? They're worth chatting about but no Blazer player high on the shipping list will garner automatic attention, let alone sweetheart offers. The right moves may take time. Pointing fingers at the General Manager during that waiting period and wondering why he's not doing his job doesn't make sense.