After a busy off-season compared to years past, the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to embark on a successful 2020-21 campaign two weeks from now. That begs the question: what does success mean? Have definitions changed now that the frontcourt is stacked with defenders and the starting guards are turning 30?
Today Dave Deckard and Dia Miller unpack their personal definition of success this season. See if they match yours.
Dave: With new players come new expectations. These aren’t your father’s Damian Lillard Trail Blazers anymore. The team is deeper, more talented, and by Lillard’s own confession is primed to make a run now. Does that change the definition of success for you this season? What plays into it most for you? When all is said and done, what would make you say, “That was a great year?”
Dia: You know this isn’t going to be a simple answer for me, Dave. Obviously the most straightforward answer is that the definition of success would be winning a championship. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t agree with that. Blazers fans all want to win a championship. It’s been 43 years since Portland won. We have made It to the Western Conference Finals but we want to win it all. We all want to see Damian Lillard win it all. That would be a very clear definition of success, don’t you think?
Dave: I mean, that’s kind of like asking, “What do you look for in a guy?” and hearing, “Must be Ryan Reynolds and only Ryan Reynolds.” But ok, hard to disagree with. Are you saying that nothing short of a title would be real success? I can almost get behind that, but even I have a little more mercy than that. If we’re talking wins and advancement, I’d say making it to the Western Conference Finals and showing decently there is the bar. This team is past the “moral victory/let’s show the pundits” stage. They have plenty of players on single-year contracts, two stars rounding 30, and a looming luxury tax bill if they want to keep any semblance of the current roster intact. They need to show they’re capable, in unambiguous fashion, this season.
Will anything short of a title do for you in the win department?
Dia: I agree that a Western Conference Finals win would be big. Huge even considering the way the West is stacked this year. Making it to the Western Conference Finals alone would be great, but winning would definitely be a big deal for Portland. Honestly, making it past the first round feels like a win. Personally, if we can outlast the Lakers, THAT would be quite a win in my book. Can you imagine how that would feel? Especially after losing to them in the first round this year, and being projected as the 9th seed (I’m still not over that) while the Lakers are projected at 1st? Forget a ring, lets take out the Lakers and call it a season. The Championship is obviously the biggest win but it’s definitely not the end all be all for me.
Dave: Accompanying that might be people outside of the Moda Center mentioning Damian Lillard and “MVP” in the same sentence? I don’t think, on a team this deep and coached by Terry Stotts, that Dame will ever have the Westbrook-Harden-like statistical production to actually win the award, but if the team does really well, he’ll get credit. The league really wants to like him in an official way (in addition to the usual feel-good, “This guy is great” informal talk). If Dame finished Top 5 in NBA MVP balloting, that would be incredible. Top 3 would be a dream.
What else could fall onto your “success list” this season?
Dia: I would love to see that. He deserves it. Sometimes I feel like “politics” (and I don’t mean the actual political kind—lets not get started on that) really keeps the right people from their awards. I know I’m biased when it comes to Dame, but he deserves to be in the running if he plays like he has been.
Another big success in my opinion would be multiple All Stars. Obviously Dame. I think CJ MCCollum has a shot if he has an incredible season, and I know both Dame and Enes Kanter have mentioned that Jusuf Nurkic should have a good chance at it this season. I’m hopeful. I would love to see Nurk as an All Star.
Dave: That one will be so hard in a packed Western Conference, especially with Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic patrolling frontcourts. I’d settle for national pundits mentioning Nurkic about as often as they mention Rudy Gobert. Nurk probably won’t be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s one of the shining examples of the newly-evolving center position: multi-skilled, mobile, and a team player. I bet he can get love from smart analysts.
Also watch for one or more Blazers bench players to be mentioned in conversations for Most Improved or 6th Man of the Year. They don’t have to win the awards, but even being in the discussion would be a huge sign that something is going right.
Earlier today I posted that rebounding, forcing turnovers, and fast-break points would be huge steps in the evolution of this roster. Of the three, rebounding is the most important, but I’d consider a non-bottom-third finish in transition buckets as a sign of success. Do you have anything you’d like to see along those lines...styles of play or stats that would make you say the Blazers were improving?
Dia: I definitely hear what you’re saying. The West is absolutely stacked. But the exciting thing is that I think we can hold our own. It won’t surprise me at all to hear Blazers’ names being thrown around. I’d like to hear Dame in the talks for MVP, even if he doesn’t win it. I think if we can manage to play a solid season and take a high seed, that is a very real possibility.
As for your question, Can I just say defense? Defense, defense, defense. I suppose all of the points you mentioned play to that. Personally, I want to see more forced turnovers. Our offense last year was number 3 in the league. We put up some big numbers with scoring. I remember you tweeted at one point something about how our defensive strategy was score 200 points, and as funny as that is, it seemed to be true! We have shooters. We have the ability to score—a lot. So now I want to see us get those turnovers. I want to see us take the other teams chance for a bucket away, and get those points for ourselves. I’m getting excited just thinking about this, because I think this is the year we do it.
Dave: Ok. Western Conference Finals or higher, names mentioned for national awards, turnovers and fast-break points rise...anything else on the success list? I guess my only other one might be Gary Trent Jr. becomes everything the Blazers want him to be. I’d settle for Covington or Jones, Jr. too. Zach Collins even. But I think Trent, Jr. could become a critical cog in the future of the team.
Any last ones from you?
Dia: I have high hopes for Gary Trent Jr. Like, really high. If you haven’t noticed, my high hopes typically come with blind faith. So as far as I’m concerned, Gary Trent Jr is already a win. Let’s be completely honest, in my mind the Blazers are already standing on a confetti-filled court, bolstering that trophy high up on their six and a half foot tall shoulders and Rip City is parading around our houses wearing every single piece of Trail Blazers clothing we own having our social distancing victory parade. Is that too far ahead on the list of success? If I can’t go that far, then I’m just going to say this— the biggest success of all to me is and always will be being good people, kind people. I think so far, we have seen that. But moving forward, the season will be successful win or lose if our guys use their voices and their platforms to do something good. While we may or may not win a championship ring, I have every confidence that that is something we will accomplish.
Dave: Confetti and kindness, not necessarily in that order. Only you could come up with that combination.
How about the rest of you, though? How has your definition of success evolved this season, or has it? Share in the comments below and we’ll look forward to reading!