Ah, Earl Watson. If there is one moment of his that I will always cherish, it came in garbage time during the beat down the Portland Trail Blazers gave the Nets back in February. Seeing as it was a blowout, Watson had checked into the game, and was defending the Nets point guard at the time up top. The opposing guard gave a little hesitation move and then a crossover, and Watson reacted by…. doing almost literally nothing.
I am pretty sure that he made no attempt to even defend this particular crossover. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Watson, though. It is to point out that he was not brought to the Blazers for his basketball abilities – he was obviously brought on as a mentor. If this season is to serve as any sort of indicator, it would appear that Watson did something right, as this team was tight-knit from the start.
If you have any doubt about this, read the great quotes from Joe Freeman’s article about the photo he snapped during the Blazers’ last game of the season, the Game 5 loss to the Spurs. As Freeman says, this team was a team until the bitter end, and the players’ sentiments echo this.
As outsiders to an NBA team, I think that we generally don’t know what is going on in a team’s locker room. It is a team’s haven, and any problems that arise there can often be concealed. Of all the professional sports, I believe that chemistry has the greatest importance in the NBA – baseball is largely independent, and in the NFL, so many players are on a team that if there are personality issues, the size of the team can mask potential problems.
In the NBA, with only 15 or so players on a roster, and a sport that is highly dependent on teamwork, chemistry plays a crucial role. This is, in my opinion, a huge part of why the Blazers blew past pre-season expectations. The chemistry that the team achieved allowed the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Again, we don’t know what actually went on, but I will confidently say that Watson’s contributions were a huge part of this year’s success. Throughout the season, there have been little hints here and there, and the players’ affirmation of the closeness of the team only served to solidify my thoughts.
This article talks about how Watson would pull Aldridge to the side during practices to tell him when he needed to speak up. The result? Aldridge exhibited the best leadership of his career. Helping Aldridge to mature will pay dividends for the Blazers for years to come, not just this year.
Here, in an interview with Wesley Matthews, Matthews says that he would avoid coaching, except if it were for Watson. While Watson was in earshot, and the comment may have been a little tongue-in-check, if you read between the lines, you can see the respect that Matthews has for Watson. When it’s all said and done, Watson’s contributions came primarily behind the scenes, but they were just as valuable as any on-court contribution.
Speaking of coaching, Matthews’ comments should come as no surprise, as Watson’s name is popping up more and more in relation to coaching. The latest buzz surrounds the Utah Jazz, where Watson is reportedly interested in interviewing for the head coaching job.
Watson, who played at UCLA, certainly has the coaching pedigree. Although he did never actually play on a team for Wooden during his time there, he stayed in close contact with the legendary coach. If you want to become a basketball coach, visiting with perhaps the greatest of all time every Sunday is a pretty good way to start.
When someone looks back at the history books years from now, they will see a Blazers team that jumped 21 wins in a single season. They will see a team that proved nearly every pundit wrong, upsetting the Houston Rockets in six games to reach the second round. And if they look hard, they will see a certain Earl Joseph Watson, who appeared in 24 games, and played a grand total of 161 minutes.
It’s a shame, because those numbers or those history books won’t be able to show exactly what Watson did for this team. Best of luck to him in whatever endeavors he ends up pursuing.