Column: It all depends upon how you look at things
The Portland Trail Blazers have taken some hits during the past few months.
And it hasn’t been the normal what-have-you-done-for-me-lately shells and arrows that often are all too casually sent flying throughout the sports atmosphere.
It’s been much more direct. Such as: What’s going on? Who’s in charge? Who’s leading whom? And just exactly what’s happening to the beloved Blazers?
Which, on one hand, is totally understandable. It hasn’t been a picture-perfect last few months for Portland. And if you see a glass half empty, then you’d view a 2009-10 season effectively lost to chaos and injuries; one that ended in disappointment and disarray. Highlighted and followed by unexpected firings. Trailed by unplanned and unwanted change. Then capped off by a sleepy offseason that has seen indecision and uncertainty trump proficiency and progress.
It’s an easy sight to take. And one that, in some ways, is hard to argue against.
The Blazers are still operating without a general manager and an assistant GM, while concerns about top-down meddling persist. Question marks hover over the heads of key players such as Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla and Rudy Fernandez. And while teams such as Chicago and Miami have either restocked or reloaded, the main components of the 2010-11 Blazers currently look very similar to the 09-10 team.
And that’s when the glass gets turned upside down. Half empty to half full.
Because Portland obviously didn’t need a GM to lock down Wesley Matthews, prying the Blazers’ No. 1 free-agent option away from Utah. And Portland clearly hasn’t required a GM to make another soft-serve exhibition run through the Las Vegas Summer League.
Then there are the question marks, all of which will soon answer themselves. (Oden’s future is in his hands and God’s; Przybilla should never be doubted; Fernandez is Fernandez.)
Which directly leads to the Blazers’ roster. And by this point, the glass should again be brimming full.
Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and either Marcus Camby or Oden combine to form one of the premier starting fives in the league. Jerryd Bayless, Fernandez, Matthews, Oden/Camby and Przybilla are all either top-tier backups or starters on other teams. And everyone from rising second-year forward Dante Cunningham to rookies Luke Babbitt and Elliot Williams will likely be given the opportunity to step up and contribute.
Thus, much like in 09-10, Portland’s roster is loaded. But where 15 players initially felt like too much last season — too much talent; too many assets; not enough minutes or floor space — the Blazers’ current make up feels much more reasonable. And practical and livable. There’s real breathing room and true potential, rather than tight air and forced expectations.
Next, factor in that only 7-8 athletes on a given team are going to make a mark during crunch time in the playoffs. Then pick your top eight Blazers. Still seeing things as half empty?
Now, examine who has left Portland during the past month — Martell Webster — and who is most likely to leave — Rudy Fernandez. Both players have shown flashes of undeniable talent and potential. But both were also the most visible critics about their limited roles and desire to play for something more. Webster is now in Minnesota; Fernandez has become the Blazer most likely to be traded. Which is not a knock on either player. But simply a reminder that a small-market Portland franchise still has big-market goals, and an organization that has not won a playoff series since 2000 has shown no signs of settling anytime soon.
All together, what we’ve seen from the Blazers during the post-Kevin Pritchard era has not been absolute brilliance. That would have been impossible, and anyone expecting it could use a dose of reality. But it definitely hasn’t been the absolute mess some would have you believe.
The roster is still loaded and stacked, and one healthy season could change everything. Meanwhile, the primary players within the organization have been running a bare-bones operation that has ultimately accomplished the team’s short-term goal: signing Matthews, with the hope that the undrafted second-year guard can be the lock-down defender Portland lacked last season during a first-round playoff loss to Phoenix.
Now, all signs point toward an eventual multiplayer trade, possibly bringing the Blazers an All-Star caliber point guard the team has lacked for years, and Roy has never played with.
And while one more major roster move will take planning and time, Portland is just one strong GM hire away from being in exactly the same point it was at the start of last season.
Or, if you re-examine the glass, the Blazers actually might be
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