Perusing comments and e-mails from folks around Blazer Nation I've observed a subtle, yet pronounced, shift in attitude towards Portland's star, Brandon Roy. When Roy was Rookie of the Year and the team was on an upswing he could do no wrong. Perhaps love clouded the eyes of fans but in most ways the grandiose descriptions of his effect on the franchise were accurate. Roy was leading the Blazers out of the Dark Ages and into their next Renaissance, kicking butt and making clutch plays along the way. Now, though the team is doing as well as ever (albeit having plateaued for a year after massive injuries) the perception has changed. One hears disparaging remarks about Brandon's style of offense. He's paired with Nate McMillan and tagged as the reason Portland hasn't produced more points. His defense has come under increased scrutiny. Folks are wondering openly why other guards supposedly can't work alongside him. The point shouldn't be overstated. The majority of the fanbase still loves and respects Roy. But the winds of change are a-blowin'.
Part of this is predictable. Long, long ago I forecast that Portland fans were going to have less fun and less unabashed love for their players and team as the winning total rose. As the perceived stakes become higher each moment and every issue becomes more serious and tension-filled. This is part of the joy and heartache of sports. When the Blazers were winning 25 games per year Roy's play was something to celebrate for its own sake. Now it's supposed to lead to more wins. If the win total doesn't increase to the level fans expect individual play, especially that of the team's star, loses luster. Brandon is getting paid handsomely now. For better or worse, when salary goes up unbridled devotion goes down. It's easier to empathize with the underpaid sophomore than the fat-cat senior. Roy's injuries hobbled him last season, especially in the playoffs. Those last, indelible images of an ineffectual starter are hard to erase until new stimulus comes forth. Familiarity also breeds contempt. The same awesome drives we witnessed three years ago elicit more polite applause than wonder. Having seen dazzling plays from Roy many times before our response changes from, "How'd he DO that?" to, "OK. What next?"
In reality, Roy is a better, more polished, more aware player than he was in his Rookie of the Year campaign. He's able to pick his moments. He plays off of teammates. He looks more like a basketball player than a solo artist. His production remains high. You can count on him to put in points and keep pressure on the opposing defense night in and night out. That said, his shortcomings are also plain. He looks slower as opponents have become more used to his tricks. His defense is mundane, sometimes poor. His in-game domination can turn to good or ill. Part of the reaction to Roy comes from Blazer fans having to accept limitations from a player who, in his best moments, looks completely unbounded.
To me the issue rests in a simple spot: Brandon Roy is the only superstar-quality player the Blazers have or are likely to get in this generation. From the moment he took the floor in his first Summer League game he was different. LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless...nobody has approached him in style, carriage, or effect. It's possible to win without a defined superstar in this league but it's rare. Young teams have virtually no shot of pulling off what the veteran Detroit Pistons did at the turn of the century. Greg Oden may be the weight behind the train but Brandon Roy is the engine. If he's not chugging the Blazers aren't moving. Roy's game is not perfect but it's both good enough and the best the Blazers are going to get. Portland has to find a way to work through, not around, Brandon if they are to succeed. Whatever people are prone to saying about him, he is the type of player who should make that easy.
What are your thoughts on Brandon Roy? Have your perceptions of him changed over the past couple of seasons? If so, how and why? Is Brandon capable of leading this team to a title? Would you ever consider trading him, as some have suggested in this week's CP3 flurry? Weigh in below.