Portland Trail Blazers - TrueHoop
Trail Blazers, Meet the Ball. Ball, Meet the Blazers.
Used to be that you'd watch promising young Blazer squads and think ... hmm ... wonder what it would be like to try ... giving the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge a lot more. Or, what happens if we gave the ball to Sergio Rodriguez and just pushed the hell out of the pace for a while? How about the pick and roll with Joel Przybilla? But it was all a pipe dream. This team wasn't really going to do much of anything different, because Portland's bread, and Portland's butter, was a certain Zach Randolph.
Zach can do a lot of things on the basketball court. But he's the anti-fast break. He doesn't force the turnovers inside to start the break, and he doesn't get down court in time to finish it. Similarly, he can't play center, so that means you have to pair him with another big slow dude. And who is scared of a fast-breaking team that has two slow dudes on it?
Even more importantly, Randolph needs the ball to be effective. There's a cruel irony to this: he made a name for himself as a rookie as one of the greatest garbage players of all time. Long arms with amazing hands at the end made him a put-back machine. He'd somehow grab just about any rebound in traffic, and then he'd get a high-percentage shot off without any trouble.
He also, as a kind of cruel bonus, had all kinds of post moves. To most viewers, that seemed to be an even better proposition. He can get all those second-chance buckets, and then we'll give it to him twenty times in the post and ride him to championships.
But ever since they started making him a focal point of the offense, the team has been mired in the bog of underutilized teammates. I mean, the fact is he's not a terribly alert passer. He does not have eyes in the back of his head, and sometimes it seems like he doesn't have eyes in the front either. I can't name a player who "blossomed" playing alongside Zach Randolph. Instead, there have been young players who did what they could with limited touches.
Which is no way to run a youth movement. Which is part of the reason Zach Randolph is no longer a Blazer.
So now instead of watching Blazer games and wondering "what if ..." Nate McMillan and Kevin Pritchard can watch and think "let's try ..."
To go from knowing what you're going to do, to not knowing, might not seem like progress. But as Portland was guaranteed never to win a title with Randolph, it was time to turn on the randomizer.
And now we have three players that I hope will retire in red and black: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden (on layaway) as well as a promising assortment of bishops, rooks, and knights: Martell Webster, Taurean Green, Jarrett Jack, James Jones, Travis Outlaw, Joel Przybilla, Sergio Rodriguez, Steve Blake, Channing Frye, and Josh McRoberts.
How does that all shake out this season? Don't really know.
It was never about this season (and it got even less about this season when Greg Oden had microfracture surgery).
Not that I don't have a sense of urgency, but talk to me in 2011, when Portland's best players are due to be All-Stars.
I'm loaded with questions, honestly. In the mean time, I'm glad that instead of having just questions all season, we might get a real asnwer or two: Can LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy stay healthy? Can incremental improvement in Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Jarrett Jack make a real difference? Does the presence of Steve Blake and shooter James Jones change things for the better? Why is everyone so nuts about Taurean Green? Is there some way that Sergio Rodriguez can lead a winning NBA team?
Most importantly, I want to know if the notion -- promoted uniformly in Portland media -- that this team has a special spirit of unity is for real. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm cautiously optimistic.
Predicted Record: 34 - 48