30 Teams, 30 Days
Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview.
We continue previewing the Northwest Division with the Portland Trail Blazers. You can read past previews here.
by Sandy Dover
Contract extension talks were (and are still) going back and forth. A new point guard came and got signed (with existing point guards on the roster). The small forwards still haven’t thinned out with a legitimate alpha dog. The GM is talking about obvious starters being bench players (I.e. Andre Miller). The franchise center is still finding his way in the world of hardwood.
And Portland is still on the rise in the NBA.
It’s understandable that with young teams, over-saturation and lots of praise can do a lot to undo a team’s internal stitching and after years of success, failed success, out-and-out stinking and revival of spirit, the Portland Trail Blazers are a team that is still worthy of the promise that many observers audibly convey.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the team won’t have its questions.
After a seesaw-like period of talks about maximum contract extensions, Brandon Roy is now legit and firmly entrenched in the relative long-term future of the franchise, and he’s trying to bring up the standard of his team’s success. While getting your own training shoe and custom-color Internet-only NikeID sneaker usually confirms the presence of success, he’s still working to make some things concrete. He’s coming back lighter and tighter and ready to score, despite the fact that he’s arguably the Trail Blazers’ best point guard (and probably one of the best in the League), but considering his knee and foot issues over the years, all will be watching to see the imminent leap from “next” to “now” status.
The T-Blazers also have to figure out the situation with the small forwards. Thank God Roy isn’t in the conversation, because he’s better the other options available to Portland, but there’s still some work to be done. Martell Webster has had flashes of considerable promise, but hasn’t made a great mark since leaving high school for the NBA; Travis Outlaw is obviously talented, but is elusive in the mix of the right lineup combinations and Nicolas Batum is finding his way physically in the game. This isn’t said to discount Rudy Fernandez, who has become frustrated (and rightfully so) about where he fits in.
Greg Oden is still fighting for respect and some patience from the consensus populace, after trying to compete in his rookie year after coming off of microfracture knee surgery—something that has never happened in the NBA, mind you. A Juwan Howard here, a Joel Przybilla there…it’s starting to form substance of promise, but the good is yet to be seen in full.
Rip City peeps finally have an alpha dog full-time point guard that is guaranteed to succeed in Miller—and with no disrespect, but it’s better that way with Steve Blake to come up in reserve minutes, who is a really efficient player overall. Miller’s no loser and a necessary guide to the team pursuits of Roy’s elite gravity as a Magic-like motivator. Jerryd Bayless can further develop his instincts as both a distributor and scorer, and it’s all more weapons for the Blazers in the end.
And so now the conversation becomes, “What about the Lakers? Can they even handle the Jazz? The Mavericks?” and those questions, while legitimate, are also irrelevant to how far Portland goes in 2010, because at the end of the day, it’s going to be about their growth and how far they’re willing to go to change for the better—look to Nate McMillan.
Mr. Sonic himself has kept the young squad reined in for X-and-O discipline, much to the frustration and frequent chagrin of some his roster. It probably has worked out, kept some of the guys in their place and in good standing on the court…but this is the time to break free, and McMillan has to realize it. There’s no good in keeping a LaMarcus Aldridge around if he’s never going to finish on the break; there’s no point Roy shedding some muscle mass if he’s not gonna have open lanes to slash through; and there’s definitely little need for Batum, Bayless and Fernandez to fill lanes after a missed field goal if there’s no fast break.
So instead of dressing up as Steven Hawking for Halloween and asking the hypothetical NBA questions concerning the T-Blazers’ destiny in the cosmos, just watch them and let Nate’s boys satiate that discernable hunger on Time Warner.