I’ve held off on my season recap for a couple of reasons. Chief among them: this was one hell of a Playoffs. During each round following Portland’s elimination in the opener I felt like the time just wasn’t right to reflect, what with so much good basketball still left to be played.
Another reason I didn’t immediately get a retrospective of the season out was the fact that the season hardly feels over. Not a day has gone by since Dallas closed out the Blazers that team hasn’t made some kind of local headlines. From trade rumors to GM firings to speculation on draft picks, it may be the offseason, but there is certainly no rest for the weary.
I have a final reason for my grace period, if you feel like you need just one more: the looming lockout. This Final series is likely to be the last bit of NBA basketball we’ll see in awhile. Writing a season recap is to admit that the season is in fact over. And with that admission comes the knowledge that we have no idea when the next NBA season will start.
But having said that, the Champions have been crowned, the first championship books are rolling off the press, and that means that it’s time to take a look back at the Blazer’s 2010-11 campaign.
I’m going to do this in three parts. Instead of going over the season’s big picture, and rehashing the same old storylines that we’ve unpacked up and down starting last September, I’m going to look at a selection of specific incidents and happenings. Hopefully this piecemeal deconstruction of the season will give us a sense of where we went in 82 regular season games and six Playoff games, and might even shed some light on what might be in store for the Blazers should there be an NBA season in 2011-2012.
So here goes:
Top Five Surprises of the Season
5) The play in game three of Chris Johnson
This might seem like an interesting place to start a season recap, considering that Johnson spent much of the season in the D League and played only five and a half minutes in game three of Portland’s opening round series. I’m kicking off the list with CJ because in those five and a half minutes he played with the kind of hustle and grit that had been missing from a lot of Blazers in the first two games of the Playoffs, and because he showed what is totally possible for these Blazers in the future. A healthy, athletic back-up power forward on the roster, and Portland might just become a force to be reckoned with. That, and after watching a revolving door of less than stellar back-up bigs get burned all season, it was nice to see the Blazers put a guy on the floor in an important situation that looked like he actually belonged.
4) The acquisition of Gerald Wallace
I’m listing the Gerald Wallace signing as a surprise because it was such a marked change in strategy from years passed. Every season, around the trade deadline, talk has centered on what kind of deals Portland should make to get better, and when and how they planned to get those deals done. There have been many years when the Blazers had pieces, everybody remembers Raef LaFrentz and his expiring contract, but every year the deadline comes and goes and Portland does very little. The Blazers have brought in guys like Von Wafer and Michael Ruffin, yes they went out and got Marcus Camby last season but still, and the team hasn’t gotten any better. Bringing in Gerald Wallace, and doing it for role players, indicated that this team means business. Of course, the firing of Rich Cho negated much of that feeling, but such is life.
3) Winning the same amount of games against the NBA Champs as the Miami Heat
A lot of people picked the Blazers to beat the Mavericks in the first round of the Playoffs, and when Portland didn’t live up to the hype there was a definite sense that some had overvalued the Blazers. But as the Playoffs rolled on, and the Mavs shellacked the Lakers and knocked off the NBA-darling Thunder, a new line of thinking began to emerge. Had Portland given the Mavericks their best run of the postseason? Argue that all you will, I’m not saying yes or no. But know this, the only team to win at home against Dallas twice was Portland, and the only team to beat Dallas two times in a row was Portland.
2) Wesley Matthews
Some of you might be shocked that I pick Wesley Matthews as a surprise. By the end of the season Wesley was a major part of the Blazers’ relative success. When Wesley played well, like he did in the opening quarter of game three of the Playoffs, Portland was nearly unbeatable. When he was off, like he was in the first two games of the Playoffs, the Blazers were doomed. We all knew by the end of the season that the Blazers lived and died by his hand. But remember, Wesley was undrafted, in only his second professional season, and playing to earn what some considered an inflated contract. Wesley could very easily have folded under the kind of pressure that that scenario presents. He didn’t. Wesley’s offseason will likely be devoted to developing that consistency that will put him over the edge, which is way better than having to go out every night and try to prove his value.
1) LaMarcus Aldridge
Like Wesley, LaMarcus is a surprise only when you go back to the kind of expectations we all had in the beginning of the season. LA has long played just well enough to frustrate the hell out of the fan base. Otherworldly talent notwithstanding, LaMarcus Aldridge has spent much of his career not living up to expectations. That all changed in 2010-11. LA deserved the All-Star spot he didn’t get, and earned his All-NBA honors. When the season begins again, the Blazers will be his team. That, in and of itself, is a surprise.
Moving on to:
Top Five Disappointments of the Season
This list will include a few specific injuries, of course, but I want to start with just injuries in general. For the second season in a row Portland spent much of the year dealing with hurt guys. The list of Blazers that missed games due to injury is significantly longer than the list of guys that didn’t miss any time. Injuries disrupted the flow of the season over and over, and more than that put the fan base and the team constantly on edge. How fun is to watch a game thinking that every time a guy hits the deck they might be done for a week or two, or forever in the case of Jeff Pendergraph’s season? Not very.
4) Losing twice to Golden State in April
I know it’s kind of silly to add this to the list of disappointments, but it’s something of a stand-in for all the games Portland lost in 2010-11 that they should have won. The Blazers have now made the post-season three straight times, and should feel like they have a legitimate shot at the top four in the West in the next season or two. One sign of a team that is ready to make the leap from first round doormat to contender is winning against bad teams. Another sign is closing out the season strong. I know Portland’s last loss to the Warriors was meaningless, but a week earlier they let one go at home that could have been a clincher. To reach that next level, the Blazers have to establish themselves as the kind of team that gets the job done against bad teams.
3) Losing Greg Oden yet again
Like I said, this list would include some specific injuries. We knew Greg Oden wasn’t going to be in tip-top shape in 2010-11, but we all hoped we’d get a chance to see him play at least a little. As a Blazer fan, and perpetual optimist, I believe GO still has a chance to be great and elevate the level of his team. Having Greg Oden miss another full season doesn’t do anybody any good. More than just making me feel bad for a young man that has faced an inordinate amount of difficulty in his short NBA career, losing 2010-11 has now put Greg’s future in Portland in jeopardy. I want him to be successful, but I mostly want him to be successful as a Blazer.
2) The firing of Rich Cho
I know this didn’t happen during the season, but it did happen, and it was a disappointment. Rich Cho seemed like a good fit when the season started, and mostly he felt like a good fit because management said he was a good fit. There’s no doubt that he had a vision for the future of the Blazers, and that he wanted to make his mark on this franchise. He brought us Gerald Wallace, and dealt Jerryd Bayless, two solid moves. He seemed poised to have a big off-season, which may have featured draft day dealing or signing another solid veteran, or both. Now we’ll never know. What we do know is that the Charlotte Bobcats thought enough of the guy that stole their All-Star to offer Rich a job not even a month after Paul Allen dismissed him, that has to mean something.
1) Brandon Roy
Brandon Roy is my top disappointment of the season for a few reasons. First and foremost, I am disappointed that we may never see 08-09 Brandon ever again. In 08-09 I asked then assistant coach Monty Williams what he thought Brandon’s ceiling might be. He said Brandon had MVP quality skills. I’m sure he wasn’t alone in that assessment at the time. Now there’s a pretty good chance Brandon has seen his last All-Star game. Brandon was a disappointment for another reason too. The way he carried himself at times was less than exemplary. I’ve defended Brandon up and down, and I will be the first to say that I think we haven’t seen the last of him, but I’ll also freely admit that his behavior at times throughout the season wasn’t great. We want Brandon to be the superstar that he was, and to present himself in a way the matches that superstar play. When the game wasn’t there late in the season a side of Brandon came out that was unfortunate to say the least. It’s going to be a long road for B Roy; hopefully he’ll be able to adjust his attitude along with his play. Who knows, his could very likely become an epic redemption story.
Top Five Games of the Season
5) December 9th versus the Orland Magic
You guys remember the Red Out game? Portland had just snapped a six-game losing streak, which included losses on the road to the Nets, 76ers, and Wizards, and had won two straight to get back to one game under .500. Orlando rolled in having lost only six games up to that point. The Blazers were facing down another brutal road trip, and were desperately in need of a big home victory to get the home fans from jumping ship, hence the t-shirt giveaway. Dwight Howard went for 39 and 15, but only three other Magic players reached at least 10 points. Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews led Portland, and got some help off the bench from Nicolas Batum, and suddenly there was a slight glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel.
4) February 5th versus the Chicago Bulls
Like my list of disappointments, the victory over the Bulls is a stand in for all the wins Portland collected against good teams in the second half of the season. It wasn’t 08-09, when top tier opponents walked in to the RG and were done by halftime, but the Blazers did close the season with a couple of impressive victories. Beating Chicago was no small feat. Overcoming 36 from future MVP Derrick Rose made it that much sweeter. The Bulls came into Portland winners of six of their last seven, and won seven of their next eight on their way to finishing 2010-11 with the league’s best record. Portland’s standout on this night: LaMarcus Aldridge. His line: 42 points on 15-of-23 from the floor. Second best: Andre Miller, 27 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, four steals, one block, 13-of-13 from the line.
3) March 8th at the Miami Heat
This game was great for a lot of reasons, one being that I watched the final few minutes in a bar with a muted television and my friend had to tell me to shut up every time I let out a shout after a Blazer bucket. More important than that though, this was the game when Gerald Wallace jelled with his new teammates. Maybe most importantly, this was a team win. Portland’s scoring line went like this: LaMarcus 26, Gerald Wallace 22, Brandon Roy 14, Andre Miller 14, Nicolas Batum 11, and Wesley Matthews 10. Miami had only two players score more than 10. Lebron and Dwyane Wade combined for 69 points, but the third highest scorer for the home team was Mario Chalmers with 10. We all know now how Miami’s brand of basketball stacks up against the team game.
2) March 28th versus the San Antonio Spurs
At the time, this was the craziest finish to a game I had ever seen. Back-to-back turnovers for the Spurs, clutch free throws, the very best inbounds play of the season. This game was an instant classic. Two things were accomplished in this win. Nicolas Batum got his first game winner as a Blazer, which could be a huge confidence booster going forward, and Portland proved they were ready and willing to play right down to the final buzzer.
1) April 23rd versus the Dallas Mavericks
Like I said, Brandon’s story could be one of redemption. We may never see this type of thing again, not just from Brandon but from anybody on any team, but we did get to see maybe one of the best games in a seriously amazing Playoffs.
All right, that’s my season wrap-up. I’m sure you all have top five surprises, disappointments, and games, feel free to share them. Going forward there will undoubtedly be rumors to perpetuate and news of the labor negotiations to cover. I hope you all enjoyed the season as much as I did. When the NBA does return, I hope it’s at least half as good as it was in 2010-11.