Column: After a season of searching, Webster finds his way
By the end of the season, his hair had grown out. Wild and wooly, loose and free.
By the end of the season, he had at last stopped listening to all the voices that pulled him 100 different ways at once, and only heard his own.
By the end of the season, he was no longer a young man. A kid filled with potential and possibility, but sometimes overloaded with the weighted expectations that come with promise.
By the end of the season, Portland Trail Blazers forward Martell Webster had finally arrived.
As a player. A teammate. And a man.
Brandon Roy captured the heart of the Blazers this season.
LaMarcus Aldridge captured the pride.
Juwan Howard, the wisdom. Andre Miller symbolized the will. Marcus Camby represented the soul. And Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham and Rudy Fernandez at times played with a mix of passion, drive and just enough craziness that allowed a no-quit Portland team to survive body blows that would have floored nearly every other contender.
But no one captured the 2009-10 Blazers better than Webster.
“We know it could’ve been easy just to throw it in and forget about this season,” Webster said. “But, hell no. That’s not us. We went out there and we battled all season long. We played through so much adversity.”
A year removed from foot surgery that forced him to miss all but five minutes of the 2008-09 season, Webster joined Miller as the only Blazer to play in all 82 regular-season games this year. In contrast, Portland missed 311 games due to injury.
And after entering training camp emphatically stating that he did not care about starting and only wanted to finish games, Webster was then asked to fill in at starting small forward when Batum went down just before the season began. Webster eventually started 49 games, helping guide Portland through the franchise’s toughest three-month stretch since 2005.
Through it all, the fifth-year forward averaged 9.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 24.5 minutes, while knocking down a team-high 124 3-pointers. He twice set a career high with 28 points, and knocked down a career-high seven 3s during a Feb. 16 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
But as is often the case with players who play the game the right way, numbers do not do justice to Webster’s on and off-the-court achievements this season.
Numbers do not show how the No. 6 overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft finally found his way. And how he did so by doing everything that was asked of him.
Webster evolved into one of the Blazers’ top defenders, taking on everyone from Denver’s Carmelo Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, while only being bested by Camby in terms of show-stopping blocks.
Webster also went through long stretches where he served more as an offensive decoy than a weapon, pocketing his pride in the process.
And from Feb. 23-April 14, Webster endured the cruelest run of his young career. As Batum returned to the starting lineup and showed off a new array of skills, Webster’s once-prominent role on the team was slowly erased.
But unlike several of his sometimes too-proud teammates, Webster never spoke out. He never publicly questioned the righteous ways of coach Nate McMillan. And like the resilient Blazers, who could have easily called it a day and cashed in numerous times this season, Webster never caved.
The 23-year-old Seattle native said his character would not allow it. Then he said the same of his team.
“If we do that, then we’re doing what everybody expects of us,” Webster said. “And we don’t listen to anything they say. We know what they’re saying, but we don’t listen to it.”
The ability to tune out white noise and channel critical chaos was essential for Portland in the playoffs. Left for dead before a Western Conference first-round series against Phoenix even began, the Blazers picked up two victories and nearly stole a third to even the matchup before falling to the Suns, 4-2.
Following a Game 6, season-ending defeat Thursday, Webster was one of the last Portland players to leave the team’s locker room. He dressed slowly. He spoke slowly. And when he wasn’t smoothing out tired limbs, he was roughing up his increasingly wild hair.
But Webster’s heart was still beating just as strong. And the confident, assured, hard-willed speaking voice he discovered during an unpredictable season was just as resolute.
After temporarily extending the Blazers’ season Thursday, dropping in 13 second-half points and three key 3s during Portland’s spirited yet ultimately unsuccessful rally in Game 6, Webster spoke about accomplishing his ultimate goal: being a better player this season than he was two years ago.
Then he tipped his hat to his teammates, acknowledging a group of Blazers who showed their true, bright colors as they overcame a rollercoaster-like year filled with unending trials and tribulations.
And then Webster put his new world and Portland’s crazy, surreal season in perspective.
“You work your (butt) off and things just don’t quite go your way, it’s kind of hard to deal with,” Webster said. “But you accept it for what it is, and you live in your mind. I had to do a lot of that this year.”
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter