Column: Resilient Blazers are nowhere without Roy
When Greg Oden was healthy, it was there.
When Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez and Joel Przybilla were still lacing up and running the hardwood, it was there.
And even when Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan ruptured his Achilles tendon and LaMarcus Aldridge was popping a handful of Aleve to dull the pain, the yellow Post-it note remained fixed in the top-right corner of Brandon Roy’s locker.
On the note, two words written in red ink: stay humble.
And that is just what Portland’s star guard has done this season.
Without Roy, the Blazers are nowhere.
The spark that is Jerryd Bayless has helped Portland survive the storm.
Rookie Jeff Pendergraph is producing strong, powerful waves.
And if Juwan Howard is the team’s most valuable player through 34 games, then Martell Webster is the most improved.
But in the end, it all comes down to Roy.
He has been the most honest and most open. He has called things out when they didn’t feel right, stood up for his teammates and coach when outsiders tried to crack the shell, and stood in front of his locker after each game to answer everything thrown his way.
Most of all, though, Roy has shouldered the load. And he has done it all while staying humble.
Numbers tell part of Roy’s story.
The two-time NBA All-Star is averaging team highs in points (22.9) and assists (5.0). He has recorded at least 23 points in 14 consecutive games, despite playing with a strained left shoulder. And he has averaged 27.1 points throughout a cruel December while leading the Blazers (21-13) to a first-place tie with Denver Nuggets in the Northwest Division.
But Roy has also led with courage, fearlessness, and leadership, blending strength and dependability with a war-like mentality bordering on the verge of desperation.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” said Roy, following Portland’s 103-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at the Rose Garden.
So Roy and the Blazers just keep on winning.
If there was ever any question as to whether the new face of the franchise was worth a maximum contract and the $82 million in guaranteed money he received from the team last summer, this season has answered it.
Is it any coincidence that Roy’s December ascension coincided with the loss of Oden, who played just one full game during the month before being wheeled off the court Dec. 5 after clocking just four minutes against the Houston Rockets?
Simple answer: no.
“Brandon can be as special as anyone in this league,” Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said.
Roy has done what leaders do. He has united the troops, endured pain and losses, and sacrificed for the greater good.
Which is why it must have been so hard for Roy to watch Aldridge hobble off the court with an ankle injury early in the first quarter of Wednesday’s win over the Clippers.
First, Fernandez and Bayless left to check on Aldridge. Then Roy sprinted into the tunnel at the end of the first period, emerging just in time for the start of the second quarter.
Two weeks ago, Roy stood up for Aldridge when questions were again mounting about the forward’s toughness.
“I don’t even really care what people say,” Roy said. “I’m with him every day. I’ve been to battle with him and he’s always been there to show up, especially when we need him the most when guys are out.”
Now, Aldridge is temporarily sidelined. And it is once again up to Roy and the little that remains intact of Portland’s tattered, battered roster to carry on.
“I looked at the locker room and (it) only had, like, six or seven guys. I mean, we laughed, we really did,” said
McMillan, referring to the scene during halftime of Wednesday’s victory over the Clippers. “We laughed for a minute, because we’ve lost so many guys and all of these empty seats.”
Amid the wreckage of injuried bodies, it’s easy to lose sight of just how special this season has already been for the Blazers.
Aldridge, Howard, Webster, Bayless and a rotating crew have kept spinning the wheel.
McMillan and his staff have kept dead roses alive — Sarge deserves to be the frontrunner for NBA coach of the year, if he’s not already.
Meanwhile, Pritchard has made the best move by making none. By holding his slightly damaged cards tightly against his chest and not giving into the temptation of instant gratification, Pritchard is allowing a surreal season to play out before changing course.
“You’re always challenged in life,” Pritchard said. “It’s how you respond to those challenges that determines your character. And I think we’ve got a high-character team.”
But neither McMillan, Pritchard, nor the Blazers would have survived the emergency room without Roy. And as Portland has dug deep and fought its way toward the top, Roy — humble, fearless and strong — has carried the flag.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazers Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter