R.I.P. 2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers
October 26th, 2010—April 28th, 2011.
48 wins, 34 losses.
First Round Playoff Exit
The playoffs, like the Hobbesian state of nature, are nasty, brutish, and sometimes short; depressingly short. So we turn first to the memories of yesteryear.
Just two seasons ago the Blazers, behind the do-no-wrong offensive wunderkind Brandon Roy, won 54 games. They made the playoffs for the first time in what felt like much longer than it actually was. When that Trail Blazers team fell to a sixth-seeded Rockets team the loss was heartbreaking but understandable; Greg Oden was a shell of himself and Brandon Roy was basically the only player capable of creating a shot that wasn’t a jumper. The Trail Blazers fell in the sixth game of the first round, “Next Season…” hope whispers.
Trades were made, new players arrived (including former “all-defensive team member” Marcus Camby), everyone got injured—even the coach. The Trail Blazers fell to the Phoenix Suns in six games, in spite of a miraculous comeback by an injured and counted-out Brandon Roy. “That’s Okay,” hope whispers, “just wait until everyone is healthy next season. It can’t get any worse.”
Then suddenly Greg Oden’s junk hit the internet. Rudy Fernandez was desperate to be anywhere but Portland and Kevin Pritchard’s golden-boy status fizzled out on national TV as he carried out what everyone knew would be his last NBA draft. After making his mark there and not in free-agency, it was fitting that Pritchard would leave after the draft, even if it was like watching a man who’d been sentenced to hang tying his own noose.
The anti-Pritchard Rich Cho blew in on by way of Oklahoma. More comfortable in numbers, he said little, but smoothed a front office and ownership team that at the time looked un-tethered. The season began and so again did the injuries. Brandon Roy seemed on the verge of complete disability, unable to produce at his former capacity, and perhaps even lucky to simply remain in the league. Fans labeled him “selfish.”
After being nearly written off as a number-one, LaMarcus Aldridge rose to fill the void. A trade was made for former All-Star and “all-defensive team” member Gerald Wallace and Portland got a “favorable” playoff matchup against the Dallas Mavericks.
Well, we all know how that went.
“That’s alright…” hope whispers, searching for an excuse. “The Blazers just need more size. Next year, when Oden is healthy …”
Hope is a fascinating thing, springing eternally and yet frozen by bitterness and cynicism—dammed by disappointment.
However, a first round playoff series victory would have meant what, exactly? In a Western Conference where the parity and talent level are such that an eight seed can beat a one seed in six games, a playoff series victory can be more indicative of a favorable matchup than the caliber of the team. Without a healthy Brandon Roy, Portland didn’t have enough favorable matchups to beat the Dallas Mavericks, much less the Los Angeles Lakers or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Had Portland advanced, hope would have sprang and flowed against the current of logic and reason to whisper, “This could be something special…”
The link between hope and reality is progress; falling short is understandable as long as there is consistent, measurable steps made towards a goal. The Trail Blazers did not seem to make much headway this season, which is disheartening.
Please, do not mistake me for a messenger of hope; things will probably get better, but much is yet to be done. Roy is still without meniscus in his knees. Oden is still in recovery, and what used to be a jump-shooting team has devolved to the point that no one on the roster can seem to hit a three pointer.
Hope, however, is not the only source of happiness. Leo Tolstoy once said, “happiness is nine-tenths perception,” and that while one may not be able to control the circumstances that surround them; one does control their own perspective. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, 29 will not win a championship this season; hell, there are a lot of teams that haven’t won a title ever.
Besides, past championships are a poor salve for disappointment; ask my friends here in San Antonio if their four trophies make their recent loss any more bearable. A championship is an amazing memory, the ultimate ending to a season-long struggle, a moment where (sans the fans of the opposing team) the entire world cheers with the victor.
Of course, one need not be awarded a trophy to have a special moment. During game four of the series, and in front of the Rose Garden’s adoring fans, Brandon Roy overcame. Once again, Roy shot and dished and drove and willed his team to a historic come-from-behind victory, finally overcoming a 23-point deficit with lurching bank shot. Every observing basketball fan in the world that wasn’t rooting for Dallas willed and prayed for that shot to go in and screamed in delight when it did. The story was too good, the odds were too improbable, the reality too harsh; and yet Brandon Roy went nova just one more.
In retrospect, Roy’s performance is even more impressive. Yet if games Five and Six are any indication, the Brandon Roy of old has not returned. He still has injuries that may not ever subside, needs more time to adjust to what his body will allow him to do (not to mention, the ins and outs of the point guard position). It isn’t as though Roy was just waiting and then something clicked and everything is magically better. A shell of his former self, Roy played his heart out in an all-time great offensive display that rivals any offensive quarter by virtually anyone, then fell back to earth.
Thus, as we lay this season to rest, shed no tears for what could have been. Rather, celebrate what was. It was beautiful to see Aldridge shoulder the load of leadership and re-invent his game. It was beautiful to see the chemistry that the team developed, even if it did result in “three goggles” becoming a nation-wide phenomenon. It was beautiful to watch Brandon Roy walk on proverbial water one more time, and the lack of a championship does not diminish that beauty in the slightest.
Now, we look forward to a new draft, and a new collective bargaining agreement that will likely either radically change the basic financial structure of basketball and player movement or wipe away an entire season. With such uncertainty ahead, little can be said positively or negatively about Portland’s prospects of winning a championship in the near future other than to say that they are at least a healthy roster away from contention, which is no small obstacle. I cannot say there will be hope, but I can say there will be basketball in Portland (which is more than Seattle can say and more than Sacramento can promise) and I can tell you that the next season—whenever it takes place—will excite. It will be frustrating. And at times, it will be beautiful.