When I think back to that fateful April day when the Trail Blazers were awarded the #1 pick, I can still feel the goosebumps on my skin. I still hear the voices, shouting in the post-pubescent chords, of myself and my friends Casey, Nick and Matt. I still remember the incredible sense of “we’re here, we’re back; everything is going to be fine!” Travel from that April afternoon into the future, well the present, and you find that those feelings of hope, elation, exuberance are as faded as denim and replaced with a sullen and downtrodden countenance unsure of where to look. The future looked so incredibly bright and full of promise, until cloud by cloud, just like a Portland winter, the light was choked by the cumulus cover. It’s actually sinisterly poetic how Portland’s dreariness is a metaphor for what has occurred with the Portland Trail Blazers the last five years: just when you think there will be a chance for sunshine, you get dumped on in an unrelenting fashion.
My fandom is at a crossroad: I want success for the team, but I am guarded in how much optimism I have for them. I feel they have made strides in certain areas, and a majority of it occurred at last season’s deadline by letting Nate go, trading away Gerald for a pick, trading Marcus for expiring (and really terrible) youth and finally (about a month too late) saying, “Yeah, this is DEFINITELY not our year.” I loved the fact that the team was going to be terrible for the rest of the year. It was better to see certain players try, like Hasheem Thabeet, with comedic results than to watch Felton dribble a ball off his foot for the Avagadro’s number-th time (6.0221415e+23). That was me late last year. I loved it. I enjoyed finally having something entertaining to watch, rather than that continually frustrating and irritating charade of a basketball team. Those moves signaled the end of a failed era and an organization wide realization that drastic changes, and potential struggles, were needed if the Blazers were to get better.
[Ed. note: after the trades were completed, the new players shuffled in, the Blazers organization had talked with some the higher-ups with AEG at the Garden and asked the ushers to engage the fans about their feelings on the team, players and newfound vision. Most of the reviews from fans I talked to were happy, though very vocal about their displeasure with all things Felton, while others were upset and wondered aloud if they would renew their season ticket packages. Just a very interesting tidbit because it seemed like the organization/fanbase was back in the dismal days of 2001-2005 where the Blazer faithful’s approval rating of the organization was as low as the creepiness factor of Mitt Romney’s “binder full of women” comment was high.]
My fandom is my own right, as yours is your own right. You’re entitled to your feelings and opinions just as much as I am to mine. A good portion of you will not enjoy what I am about to write, and that’s perfectly fine. Do not villify me though, because then you’d be a hypocrite. So here it goes: I do not want these Blazers in the playoffs. I do not even want them sniffing, let alone thinking about the postseason. I would rather suffer through a devastatingly horrid season where I can find solace in lottery balls than I would enjoying another first round exit. A hellacious season of losing in the NBA is more appetizing than continually living in NBA purgatory: being decent enough to get in, but too good for a nice draft pick and not great enough to advance into May. It’s at this point where I feel a good number of people will disagree and bombard me with a plethora of rose-colored visions, a myriad reasons to have hopes higher than I realistically should. I’m personally just not seeing it.
Ben Golliver of Blazersedge wrote a fantastic Media Row Report in which he broke out the Picasso perfect “Expectations Graph,” depicted below.
Ben took the time to explain what his Cartesian plane meant, and I would advise you to read it for yourself because it is eloquently stated. The Blazers, after an astonishing run to begin the season were in the upper right hand portion: they were slated to make the playoffs (even though I did not see it) by pre-season prognosticators. Shortly after that sizzling start, the Blazers started losing, and losing in bad and embarrassing ways. Their residency started to shift into the upper left where upheaval was around the corner. The upper left hand corner is, as Ben states, and I agree, the worst position to be in in the NBA. Nothing positive comes from continually underpreforming expectations: all it brings is headaches, bad picks in the 20s (Nolan Smith over Kenneth Faried anyone? SERVE IT UP BARKEEP!), signing retread veterans and saying, “This guy will put us over the top!,” cap hell a la the Atlanta Hawks and holding the record for “longest time between excursions into the second round of the NBA playoffs.” After ripping the roster to tatters, the Blazers dropped like a rock in the bottom left… which for what they were as a team is perfectly fine. They sucked, they should want to suck and they’d be better off by sucking. This season, I wouldn’t mind much of the same. As currently constructed, there is too much uncertainty due to inexperience and complete unfamiliarity to the NBA game to expect anything more.
This isn’t to say that I want constant and consistent tanking because that has not proven viable, just ask Sacramento and Charlotte. It is highly unlikely a team is going to luck out like Oklahoma City did with being able to stink with Kevin Durant and nab Russell Westbrook, then turn around and struggle again and get James Harden. It is an avenue that needs to be traveled because the recent years of what the Blazers have done have netted underwhelming results. I do want Damian Lillard to wow me and make me have confidence that the team has finally ended its decade long search for its point guard of the future. I want Meyers Leonard to grow throughout the year to the point where I feel he may be a starter. I want to see Joel Freeland be a David Lee-ian rebounder off the bench. I just want to see Victor Claver play. I want Nicolas show me he is worth the money the Blazers showed him. But if they struggle as a team while they do these things and losses pile up? I don’t care because come the NBA Lottery, the fruits (yes, I said fruits) of their struggles may be rewarded in a nice draft pick (even though 2013 is a shallow draft class, nothing like the Andrew Wiggins led 2014 draft). I would even try being terrible for two years just for the opportunity to be in the running for the aforementioned Andrew Wiggins. I hope that while they wade through the struggles this year, they grow as players and reward my hope with more tangible takeaways than they would if they earned a playoff berth and an unceremonious playoff loss.
Finally, what do I expect out of this team? Aside from being bad? Nothing. I expect nothing else. Follow Kunu, let Kunu be your instincts: don’t try to make expectations for this team. Just don’t. Just hope that the sun may shine. If it doesn’t, oh well. Remember, there are some things you cannot control. I mean, the weather outside is weather.