That’s right, it’s been nearly 13 years since the Blazers were outscored 31-13 in the fourth quarter, shot just 22% from the field, and squandered a 15-point lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to a Los Angeles Lakers team on the verge of 3 consecutive titles. Since then, they’re 7-22 in the postseason, tallying 6 first-round exits amidst 7 playoff-less years … and I’ve had it.
Many of you are quick to point out the freakish injuries responsible for this subpar stint, with your finger aimed squarely at the ghost of Greg Oden and sheepishly towards the cartilage – or lack thereof – in the knees of one Brandon Roy. But the time for self-pity is no more, and it’s time to start holding this franchise accountable for the mediocrity it’s been providing us with for the better part of this century.
We – and I use that term loosely – have an all-star power forward. We have a potential franchise point guard.
We have young and athletic wings. And we have an owner with the money to clear the obstacles that the majority of “small-market-teams” can’t get over or around. Yet, for the 13th consecutive season, I’m watching teams like Indiana (without any discernible stars), Memphis (minus a true superstar), and Golden State (lacking the veteran leadership thought to be vital) making the type of runs through the playoffs we used to habitually see in the Rose City.
True, this team lacks depth. True also, they lack the size in the middle to protect the rim and clean up the boards during crucial offensive possessions late in games. But those are the realistically acquired pieces opposed to the more difficultly acquired ones (stars) that Portland already has in place.
It’s hard to find “stars,” but depth and role players are the responsibility of a sound front office, and the jury’s still out on General Manager Neil Olshey, Assistant GMs Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry, and the scouting staff responsible for evaluating the talent best-suited for this particular team. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and now Damian Lillard are the cogs of a potentially very good team, but without another scorer, a viable bench, and a role player or two, this franchise will continue to leave us wanting what Indianapolis, Memphis, and even perennial doormat Golden State have come May and June and that’s not right.
It’s time our stars start acting “as if” rather than telling us they are. Batum needs to stay on the court. Injuries are becoming a habitual problem for the 5th year player and he’s overdue regarding “making a difference” for this team. Aldridge needs an aggression transplant. Talent will only take you so far, and this team needs more than his talent to get where it wants to go. And Lillard, while exceptional in year one, must become the leader in year two that the aforementioned seem incapable of becoming.
The Blazers aren’t good enough. That shouldn’t be news to anyone who has or does follow this team. But it should be old news for those same followers sooner rather than later. The last decade of relative futility, coupled with the dark cloud of misfortune which has spent the better part of the last 5 years drenching us with calamity, has lulled us all to sleep. Expectations have eroded to an unacceptable level and it’s this city’s job to communicate to the powers-that-be that the status quo won’t work … not anymore.
Get better; that shouldn’t be too much to ask, nor is it out of line to expect. It’s been 13 seasons since that ill-fated day in Los Angeles and it’s time for this franchise to start a new clock, and its fans to make sure they do it.
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