The Portland Trail Blazers just finished a 41-41 season, making the playoffs but failing in their quest to improve over the past year’s performance. Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question: How do we all feel about that?
I’m just going to ask you what Amanda asked Spock. How do you feel? I mean are you happy with the state of the Blazers? This isn’t the logical approach you usually go for but I just want to be different and know about how you see the Blazers.
Props for going with the Star Trek reference. That’s how to get your question answered! The short response is that I’m not Pharrell-level happy but I’m not Alanis Morissette after a breakup either. Where on the scale I land depends on the time perspective from which you measure.
Only recently, when CJ McCollum became a starting guard and the Blazers fielded a dynamic, All-Star-level backcourt, did they begin to crawl out of the shadow of the 2006 “dynasty that never was”. The 2006 and 2007 NBA Drafts were watershed moments for the franchise, approached only by the coin flip in 1984 and trading away Clyde Drexler in 1995 for significance. (Obviously the 1977 Championship was the biggest moment in franchise history but that was the culmination of several years of drafting and building rather than a couple of close-knit turning points.) Watching ultra-high, generational draft picks disintegrate before your eyes...there’s just no way a franchise can recover from that. A potential dynasty instead went out with a whimper when LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs in 2015. Compared to what could have been, no amount of 40-ish win seasons and first-round playoff appearances bring solace.
If we fast forward a little and accept the crumbling of the Roy-Oden-Aldridge dynasty as accomplished fact, the Blazers are doing fairly well. They were doing better with the Aldridge-Nicolas Batum-Wesley Matthews-Damian Lillard core. Watching that fall apart wasn’t fun. But they retained Lillard and added McCollum. That’s at least a start on the road back. It could have been worse. (I’m trying not to look sideways at Sacramento right now.) The Blazers haven’t really succeeded with their young roster but they haven’t failed either. Start the clock in August, 2015 and we’re doing OK.
Spin forward just one more season, though, and we have to admit that this year was a step backwards. For the first half of the season, the Blazers barely looked like they could play. They recovered, in part because of a trade and in part because the schedule got easier, but still...wow. The real jaw-dropper was signing the roster to the third-highest aggregate salary in the league, a condition which isn’t going away soon. When your team is relatively healthy, is earning $112 million per year (heading to $137 million including draft picks), and you can only muster 41 wins, you’ve got serious problems. If this were NBA2K17 GM mode, you’d rage quit and start again.
On the other hand... Jusuf Nurkic! How much of a difference can he make? That question alone is enough to restore some semblance of happiness. At least there’s a legitimate upswing possibility. It probably won’t be enough to head back to the lofty hopes of 2007 but it might erase the memory of 2016-17. If it’s not a happy ship, at least it’s a life ring.
We could probably justify the case for the low end of Portland’s happiness scale being “pretty depressed” and the high end being “neutral, wait and see (with hope)”. As May, 2017 closes I’m on the higher end of that range. If Blazers fans hadn’t been stuck there for multiple seasons (just with prettier things to distract them) I could make the case for more optimism. As it is, we’re probably doing well to be at neutral, clinging to the edge of a rock after having just plunged through the shark-infested waters of December and January. This rock isn’t home by a long shot, but for now it’ll do.
What say you? What’s the range on your Blazers Happiness Meter and where does the needle stand? Comment below and keep the Mailbag questions coming to email@example.com!