I love the playoffs. I especially love the playoffs when the Blazers are playing. When an entire city like Portland gets behind a team, it is truly special. Some of my fondest sports memories as a kid were during the Blazers’ romp to the Western Conference Finals in the 1999-2000 season. The number of Blazers flags, posters, billboards, etc. I saw everyday was stunning.
As a result, I always subconsciously want the Blazers to make the playoffs. As I got older and transitioned into a more jaded experienced fan, I started to see the necessity of rebuilding a team, earning lottery picks from bad seasons, and playing the long-term game. The ten-year old Jason inside of me, however, is still always there rooting for the playoffs. This is exacerbated by the fact I have only been to one playoff game in person, and I was so young I barely remember it.
With that being said, I think the Blazers need to take a long, hard look at the upcoming Western Conference, and think carefully about where they belong. I sat down and took a close look at how things may pan out, and I cannot wrap my head around how stacked the West will be this year.
I formally predict that the Thunder (now with Rustlin’ Westbrook back!), the Spurs (who says we are old now?), and the Clippers (we have a real coach!) will be in the running for the #1 seed. The Rockets and the Grizzlies very well could be, but I personally have them on the next tier. I don’t think it’s realistic for the Rockets to instantly gel with the Dwight Howard addition, and I think I am more pessimistic than most about the Harden / Howard combo (not that it will be bad by any stretch).
The Grizzlies have relied on the bruising combo of Marc Gasol + Zach Randolph for their identity the past few seasons, and my concern lies with Randolph. He is already 31, and while he was able to turn back the clock and assuage fears of his demise in the playoffs, the truth is that he struggled during the regular season. He will only get older, and struggles during the regular season for a team = a lower playoff seed.
After these five, it gets murky. The Nuggets turned in quite a magical season last year, and then promptly fired their Coach of the Year, got rid of their General Manager, and let arguably their best player escape in free agency (talk to David for stronger opinions about this turn of events). I still expect them to make the playoffs, but not as nearly as high of a seed next year.
Golden State is quite the enigma to me. I love the Andre Iguodala signing, and him plus a healthy Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson is just scary on paper. There are just too many “ifs” for my liking though – namely centering on Curry and Bogut’s abilities to stay healthy. IF the whole team does stay healthy, then watch out. On the flip side of the coin, I am not sure it is reasonable to assume health for their guys, and the loss of Jarrett Jack will hurt.
This is already SEVEN playoff slots potentially accounted for (of course, nothing is absolutely certain). The Timberwolves with a healthy Rubio, a healthy Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic (if they bring him back) could make noise, and the addition of Kevin Martin is huge for them. The Mavericks with the Mark Cuban + Dirk Nowitzki combination are hard to write off. I could actually see the Lakers, in an odd twist of fate, “exceeding” their current rock-bottom expectations on the backs of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, especially since Mike D’Antoni will actually have an offseason during which to implement his vision.
This leaves the Blazers in a tough position. Of course, if all expectations are defied and they merrily romp through the West to stroll into the playoffs- awesome. I would love it, especially since it would be great “big game” experience for the young guys. With that being said, while I expect improvement next year, I just don’t know if trying to make noise in the playoffs should be the Blazers’ goal next year. When push comes to shove, I do not think it would be wise for the Blazers to sacrifice in other areas (such as young player development) in an all-out attempt to reach the playoffs.
The clock is very much ticking due to LaMarcus Aldrdge’s contract expiration in two seasons, but rather than think shortsightedly about next season, it would behoove the Blazers to take a longer-term view. The team has assembled some great young pieces, and to shunt their development to the side in a misguided attempt to make the playoffs as an overmatched 8th seed is simply not wise. I love the playoffs as much as the next guy, but in this day and age of the league, patience truly is a virtue.