Well, the Portland Trail Blazers are done for the season. It really is too bad. The San Antonio Spurs proved to be too much for them in the Western Conference semifinals, sending them home for good in just five games. Before you continue reading, I want you to take a moment to slump your shoulders, exhale sharply, and maybe give your nearest coworker/family member/non-threatening stranger/house cat the stink-eye. You will feel a little better, I promise.
You good? We good? Good. It is time to look at the overwhelming positives that this historic season yielded for Portland. Today’s read is more of a list than a narrative, but I believe it will be cathartic. Think of it as a fragmented ‘ugly duckling’ speech for the team, but with optimism founded in sincerity instead of preteen placation. The Trail Blazers are making strides and are damn-near majestic water fowl.
All signs point toward an even better 2014-2015 season as the Trail Blazers continue to grow, so here are a “few” things to think about in the coming hours of frustration, days of sadness, and months of eager expectation:
- The Trail Blazers made it further in the NBA Playoffs than they had since the 2000 Western Conference Finals, 14 years ago.
- As a five seed, they took a game from the top-seeded Spurs, who had the best record in the entire NBA.
- To get to that point, the Trail Blazers ousted the Houston Rockets, who were widely anticipated to win in the first-round.
- The Trail Blazers improved their regular season record by a monstrous 21 wins (33-49 to 54-28).
- Every starter averaged a career-high in one or more major statistical category.
- Terry Stotts received votes for Coach of the Year.
- Neil Olshey received votes for Executive of the Year.
- Robin Lopez received votes for Most Improved Player.
- LaMarcus Aldridge finished Top-10 in the MVP race.
- LaMarcus Aldridge made his third consecutive NBA All-Star team.
- Damian Lillard made his first NBA All-Star team.
- Damian Lillard became the first player in NBA history to compete in all five major events at NBA All-Star weekend.
- Damian Lillard set a new franchise record for 3-pointers made in a single season (218).
- Robin Lopez set a new franchise record for offensive rebounds in a single season (326).
- As a team, the Trail Blazers led the league in free throw percentage (81.5 percent).
- As a team, the Trail Blazers led the league in rebounds per game (46.4).
- One time I tasted dog food and it was ‘meh’ (are you still paying attention?)
- All of Portland’s starters are healthy.
- All of Portland’s starters are between 23-28 years old.
- All of Portland’s starters will be signed through next season (barring trade or stupidity with Lopez).
- Thomas Robinson is showing signs of rapid improvement off the bench.
- Will Barton is showing signs of rapid improvement off the bench.
- The Trail Blazers have moderate, financial flexibility to sign free agents.
- Portland is now one of the most desirable free agent destinations for mid-level players.
- The Trail Blazers already know what their biggest problems are (depth and defense).
- The Trail Blazers now have extremely valuable playoff experience.
In just one season, Portland went from fringe-relevant to fringe-elite without even tearing down and starting over. There was no blockbuster trade, no franchise altering draft pick; just smart acquisition and smarter operation. This team has so many great things going for it and I am confident that management will capitalize on internal growth. So endure the basketball hangover and pick your next horse for the coming weeks, because come October it’s time to saddle up this swan-stallion for an even wilder ride.