As the dog days of summer continue, it becomes harder and harder not to look forward to the beginning of the 2010-11 regular season. The storylines are all over the place, the Miami conglomerate, Phil Jackson’s last year, Shaq in Boston, etc. As I turn my focus towards Blazer Nation, things are a little different this summer. There’s generally an oddly satisfying feeling of hope, hype, anxiety. This off-season, there seems to be a sense of worry in the mix and I’m not really sure why.
There is no mistaking that this off-season has been mighty different from those in years past. That difference has nothing to do with a new General Manager , Nate McMillan being in the last year of his contract or even the Rudy Fernandez telenovela. For the past two summers there have been specific needs, at specific positions where Portland needed to get better. This off-season…the need for moves is not really present. This Blazer team is not quite at a cross-roads but they are in brand new territory. For the first time in this era there is a sense of urgency attached to this team.
Why a sense of urgency? Let’s face facts here. First off, the turnaround is officially complete. This is not the ‘OMG we’re this good’? team, this is the ‘hey we’re supposed to better’ team. This band of brothers has put Rip City back on the map with two straight playoff appearances and consecutive 50+ win seasons. Year 1 was full of uprise, a young team shocking everyone by being better than anyone could have thought they were. Year 2 was supposed to see advancement, with hype of even a potential Western Conference Finals appearance…however an onslaught of injuries to everyone associated with the organization, a nasty front office battle and another defeat in the first round left an odd taste in most people’s mouth. That same optimism that fans had the past couple off-seasons have been replaced with a little bit of pain. And it’s harder to be optimistic when there’s pain involved.
The question that I find myself struggling with is what exactly are realistic expectations for this Blazer team?
It’s tough to gage how Portland can do for a number of reasons, none more important the competition they face. The Western Conference is tougher than a $2 steak and does not look to be slowing down any time soon. Let’s just let some numbers do the talking. Two years ago, 48 wins barely got you in the playoffs. Last year, it took 50 just to get into the post-season or roughly the same amount of wins that would get you home court advantage in the East.
It’s hard to say any of Portland’s competition took a step backwords. Hate it or love it, the road to the NBA Championship goes through the Lakers. Teams like Denver, Dallas and San Antonio remain dangerous and seemingly should have a ‘desperate determination’ about them, considering their championship windows are heading towards the opposite direction. Oklahoma City is on the rise, the Rockets are doing everything they can to get in and the Jazz just don’t lose in Salt Lake City which keeps them as dangerous as ever.
Back to the Blazers, the one key word attached to this team right now is health. Health, health, health. While health is a concern, it should not be a reason for this unnecessary stream of doubt. I for one and not too worried about it. Even my worst case scenario can’t top what the Blazers went through, an injury plagued season that has rarely been seen in NBA history. And a season that resulted in 50 wins.
There is no denying that the Blazers have all the talent to have a special year. How as a fanbase can you allow yourself to expect greatness? When does a 50-win team ever even come close to being disappointed? Brandon Roy will not play like he did last year that’s for sure. LaMarcus Aldridge has shown that his game is continuing to improve. Andre Miller has a year under his belt and has proven that he has the game to get it done. Wesley Matthews will hopefully not be Martell Webster 2.0 and Rudy might smile.
So what are these expectations I speak of? As tough as it is to write this, I think it’s realistic to expect 50 wins from this team. Division title? I don’t know. It’s not impossible, but it’s going to be tough. Home court advantage? Absolutely. The rest all depends on match-ups.
As a writer, you’re not supposed to ask too many questions, instead provide some sort of answer. That’s not the case here. What do you guys think are realistic expectations for the Blazers? Division title? 2nd round? What would be considered a disappointment?