I just want to state, for the record, that I’m not overly concerned with the current state of the Portland Trail Blazers. They sit above 500, battling through one of the hardest early schedules faced by any of the 30 teams, thus far.
But, I won’t lie, there are some areas of concern. Areas that were projected before the start of the season. The lack of big man depth, the streaky shooting and the health of Damian Lillard have all reared their ugly heads at one point or another in recent weeks. Not to mention the countless turnovers, which nobody could have predicted.
And it’s a shame because clearly the team that knocked off the the Phoenix Suns in Arizona without Damian Lillard or Anfernee Simons on November 4 is not the same squad that has been running out over the past couple of weeks.
Perhaps it’s the injuries, perhaps the opposition has had time to scout the team, perhaps the frenetic pace the team set early on was unsustainable, perhaps, and I know some won’t like this, Portland just overachieved through the first four weeks of the season.
Regardless of the cause of the recent downturn, one thing is clear, this team is not, as currently constructed, a contender. And that’s fine, I mean General Manager Joe Cronin has admitted as much on multiple occasions.
That doesn’t mean the Blazers’ time at the top of the Western Conference standings wasn’t fun, it was, lots and lots and lots of fun. I mean winning the season series against one of the West’s favorite Phoenix Suns in early November was brilliant. Not to mention inspiring wins against the Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and an Anfernee Simons masterclass third quarter against the Denver Nuggets was pretty impressive.
But part of me is almost relieved that the warts are showing now and not mid February. That period after the February 9 deadline when the false hope enjoyed early on blinded all and sundry to the reality in the flaws of this team. A time when nothing could be done about it.
Honestly, I don’t think Cronin would have been this naive but even the most ardent skeptic was surely swept away by the early juggernaut that was this Blazers team. A mania, a phenomenon that leads us to today’s topic.
This team has played much of its first 19 games with one more of it’s key rotation players sitting on the sidelines. And let’s be honest, if someone had told you the Blazers were 11-8 after 19 games with this schedule, you’d have been pretty satisfied for five pretty big reasons.
- Through those first 19 games, the Blazers have had the fifth-hardest schedule, playing 58 percent of their games on the road.
- Damian Lillard had been out of the game for nine months. No one knew if he was going to be the same old superstar point guard.
- We had no idea how other roster players were going perform, how they would play together and how key rotation players would contribute with changed/increased roles, namely Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons and to a lesser extent Josh Hart and Justise Winslow.
- We were never really sure when the team’s big free agent signing and projected defensive linchpin in Payton would actually play. He still hasn’t
- And we still weren’t sure whether Chauncey Billups was am NBA-level coach.
With so much uncertainty, I think it’s fair that the more pragmatic Blazers fan wouldn’t have had low-ish expectations before opening night against the Sacramento Kings, probably giving the squad time to work through whatever teething problems they might be facing.
Fandom can be a fickle business, a little like politics
If any of you peruse Blazers Twitter like I do, you’d be very well acquainted with the manic nature of fandom, particularly when it comes to this team. I’m an Australian and not for a second going to comment on US politics. I’m not that stupid. But sometimes I think personal political stances are a lot like sports fandom.
You have your diehards at either end of the spectrum ie this team is great, this team sucks with no evidence likely piercing their emotional connection to their view, regardless of what happens. Then there’s that large chunk in the middle that actually pays attention to what’s going on and is prepared to change their minds as things progress. Just like your average swinging voter, never getting too high or too low, prepared to live in the gray — or “grey” as we say down here.
Relating this back to the Blazers, I’m sure there were still a few fans watching the inspiring early play, adamant the roster was rubbish, Cronin destroyed the team, Simons needs to come off the bench and Damian Lillard needs to be traded as soon as possible.
The other diehards used that early high as proof the franchise was ready to contend and regardless of how long the current funk continued, would always point back to that winning period as proof the Blazers have the ability to win the title, this year.
I’ve tried to train myself not to get too high or too low, reminding myself that the Cronin incarnation of the Blazers is not complete and won’t be for a while. I’ve enjoyed the high that was the first four weeks but was prepared to take the good with the bad and vice versa as we trudge through this long season.
Because unless injury fully engulfs this squad, the Blazers will have another run, there’s too much talent not to when you have Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant and co. fit and healthy.
Fandom is a like drug, I’m guessing
It’s human nature for us to want a good thing to last. But when that euphoric feeling leaves us, everyone reacts differently. After 19 games, the Blazers are in the middle of the Western Conference standings. Obviously it’s not as good as the top.
But guys, the lows don’t last forever and neither do the highs. Even the reigning champion Golden State Warriors aren’t having the greatest time at the moment.
My only worry is that some are still trying for another hit, not realising that the hangover and shakes suck, but that sobriety is inevitable and important if you want really want to enjoy this team.
I guess what I’m saying is don’t let one, two, three or even four-game winning or losing streaks get the better of you. Don’t live in the absolute because unless you’re the ‘90s Chicago Bulls or the mid teen Golden State Warriors, there are going to be unhappy periods.
By all means, enjoy the fun play, Lillard’s logo shots, the Simons shooting streaks, Grant’s defense and versatile offensive game, Hart’s tenacity, Little’s improved shooting, Sharpe’s wow potential, Winslow’s Swiss Army Knife skillset, Nurkic’s size and Eubanks’ energy.
This team has a long way to go if it’s going to do any real damage in the playoffs. I trust Joe Cronin to steer the ship in the right direction. But if anyone thought the Blazers were headed for championship glory in early November, there’s only one way to go from there and it’s down.
I want this team to win a championship, that’s the goal, right? But it’s not happening now, nine months after gutting a good chunk of the roster. Expectations were surely raised early on but we now need to look at the reality of this team, potential upgrades in February and what can be done on the court over the next 63 games.