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Wins, Development, and Forward Motion


I don't get why everyone (maybe including YOU) is so down on the Blazers' chances this year. I see a young roster full of potential here. Yes there are a bunch of unknowns but unknowns can go up as well as down. Where's the half-full glass? With that starting lineup we could make the playoffs!

A Devoted Blazermaniac

Hey, more power to you. But gloomy is a matter of perspective, really. I'm actually looking forward to this season far more than I was looking forward to last year's after we found out Brandon Roy and Greg Oden weren't coming back. And this is coming from a guy who feels the team is on worse footing--immediately anyway--than they were in December of 2011. The real question is, what are you looking forward to?

If you're just counting wins and losses (with all due respect to your Blazermaniac soul) these times may try you. At some point one has to step back from the home bleachers and measure this team against the competition. That's what everybody outside of Portland is doing right now and the results aren't positive. Frankly we don't even need to leave the Rose City to assuage speculation about making the playoffs. I don't believe even the Blazers themselves think they're going to see the post-season this year.

I got a reminder of the team's current situation reading this update from fitsnstarts regarding ESPN's ranking of players around the NBA. Now granted, it's a subjective exercise...a lark to fill the summer. But before the chorus of "Those bozos don't know what they're talking about!" arises let us remember that Portland fans would be citing them left and right if they listed 5 Blazers in their Top 20. It's not strictly indicative but it does give you some idea regarding roster expectations:

Victor Claver--460, Elliot Williams--422, Will Barton 409, Luke Babbitt-401, Ronnie Price--373, Sasha Pavlovic--357, Nolan Smith--338, Meyers Leonard--330

As I said in a (self-admittedly) brilliant comment under this Fanpost, the problem with this story is that these aren't guys trying to make the roster, this IS the roster. Or at least this is a good part of it. We haven't hit Jared Jeffries or Joel Freeland yet but it's hard to imagine them cracking the Top 200.

Read that list again. The Blazers aren't building a winner this season. They're pursuing a couple of tactics:

1. They're throwing every young prospect up against the wall to see who sticks. These guys are going to get far heavier doses of playing time than they would on teams concerned about record alone. The purpose here is more winnowing than winning. The Blazers want to know who will help them down the road and what spots they still need to fill.

2. They're filling in the corners of the roster with cheap, temporary veterans who can play a little and provide good role modeling for the young guys. These players won't impact future cap flexibility they way more capable vets with correspondingly larger contracts would.

You might be able to get away with a supporting cast like this if you're fielding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in your starting lineup. But then again, maybe not. The much-maligned Miami Heat bench will include Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis this year. Even with those guys getting long in the tooth, Miami's bench would probably whip Portland's straight up.

The Blazers don't have Miami's star power. They have LaMarcus Aldridge. He's one of the best players of the current generation, but even his most ardent supporters would have to put him somewhere in a thick dogfight for, what? Maybe 8th-10th best player overall? And that's the most optimistic construct. Many people would rank him well below. Overall I'd guess Aldridge would be in the middle-third of #1 options around the league. And he's the only player the Blazers have even approaching proven stardom. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are nice pieces but they're not going to revolutionize your franchise. That leaves the team depending on a rookie point guard--albeit an exciting one--for upward mobility. I like Damian Lillard but even hitched to Aldridge he's not going to be able to drag this roster out of the muck this year. Portland just doesn't have the horses.

I suspect most Blazers fans realize this, which is why people are focusing on different areas to generate excitement. If you're looking to see how Lillard fares, what Batum will do now that he has a contract, and which of the half-dozen unproven players on the roster will show themselves worthy of future consideration, this is your year. Again, getting the answers to these questions will be far more interesting than seeing a group of mis-motivated veterans bail on the season and each other was last year. At least the current players theoretically want to play. We're just not sure if they can. That story will be worth watching.

Also of note this season: nobody's waiting in the wings. What you see is what you get. I don't know about you, but after years of wondering whether Oden or a decent Roy would return, I'm actually relieved by this. The taste of some of the likely-impending losses may be yucky, but at least they won't be bitter. Swallowing the initial pain and skipping the lingering aftertaste is fine by me.

In the end, folks, it's less about static position and more about the direction of your motion. The last few year's Portland squads have looked decent on paper but they all moved backwards. Sometimes that was through no fault of their own, but there it is. We don't know if this year's squad will begin moving forward but at least this is as backwards as it's likely to get for a while. As they say, there's nowhere to go but up. Even a little up with this group should be enough to enthuse us for a season.

--Dave (