“Why does shit like this always happen to my rotten ass?” – R.L.H.
The man who said the words above probably didn’t realize he was speaking for the downtrodden and hard luck of the world when he spoke those words of frustration and exasperation. Nor did he realize I’d be using his words to describe a sentiment shared by Portland Trail Blazers fans from sea to shining sea, but here we are…
The Blazers’ injury and draft-related woes have been re-told as a cautionary tale to would-be GMs for years like some kind of pro basketball boogeyman creeping in the knees and joints of promising Portland players, just waiting to strike when the time is worst. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are the latest victims of said boogeyman, but Darius Miles, Sam Bowie (different circumstance) and Bill Walton find themselves associated with some variety of Rose City fever. To be fair, Bowie and Oden had the misfortune of preceding Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant in the draft; a sin so egregious that both men’s names will be forever intertwined with the Hall of Famers who came after them.
As much as I fantasize about an encyclopedic-length Choose Your Own Adventure novel based on NBA scenarios that could’ve, but didn’t happen (guarantee I’ll revisit this idea multiple times in the future), reality still looms with its cold hands and dark mornings. Despite the Roy/Oden apocalypse, the Blazers’ 2011-12 reality is much more comfortable than the unforgiving steel of a coroner’s cold table—which is where Roy’s career sadly resides. Mourning is a necessary part of the grieving process, but let’s not lose sight of the potentially exciting group Portland’s pieced together beginning with a man who’s blossomed over his five-year career: Mr. LaMarcus Aldridge. Prior to last season, I never liked his game and considered him soft by NBA standards. At 6’11” with broad shoulders, athleticism, balance and coordination, he was far too talented to get seven boards a night over his first three seasons. In Roy’s absence last season, Aldridge matured and seemed to become tougher, smarter and more polished at the same time. If I’m holding him to the All-NBA standards he’s achieved, the only thing I can ask is for him to continue improving his rebounding. 8.8 boards per game still seems like an underachievement. The other area of concern is that Aldridge just had the second heart surgery of his career for a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. From all reports and internets, it’s not a life or career-threatening issue, but damn … can a Blazer fan go through an anxiety-free season?
It’s a fun cast of characters with Aldridge. Raymond Felton’s back it with the weight issues and while it’s easy to make jokes about fat NBA players, Felton’s Ricky Hatton-esque off-season weight gain habit hasn’t prevented him from steadily improving as a pro point guard. He’ll be spelled by recent signing, the 50-point mercenary, Jamal Crawford who returns to the Northwest in a homecoming of sorts (he’s a Seattle product). Crawford has always been a mesmerizing player on the offensive side of the ball based on his lean, lanky physique and heat check-ability. His limbs are made of rubber which allows him to make cuts and do things with the ball that other humans are physically unable to do (except for Rajon Rondo, who seems to be from a similar planet). In another era (like the 70s), I feel like the Big JC would’ve been adored for the effectiveness of his on-the-court trickery and competed with Earl Monroe or George Gervin for icon status. Yep, I like me some Jamal Crawford and hope to someday write an e-book about him that uses Youtube clips for footnotes and celebrates his underrated contributions to physical creativity, artistry and inventiveness.
The Gerald Wallace/Nicolas Batum tag team isn’t quite as fresh as Jamal, but Crash and Batum should provide ample highlights. Batum’s one of those players who’s always overrated by video game developers and thus gets overrated by some percentage of video game-playing NBA fans simply because he’s good on a video game. The reason the pixelated version of Batum is nice is because two of his best skills translate perfectly to the gaming realm: Dunking and shooting threes. Is this the year the real-life version (just turned 23 and already has three years of experience in the NBA) lives up to the promise foretold by NBA 2K11? Or will he have to play second fiddle to Wallace’s maniacal efforts?
There are other Blazers of intrigue like Wes Matthews, Marcus Camby and the Rhino, Curt Smith and owner Paul Allen, who happens to be a bit stranger than I realized. Unfortunately, it’s the absences of Brandon Roy and a hobbling Greg Oden that continue to attract the headlines. Even if this group of players is able to make the playoffs and advance out of the first round for the first time since 2000, we’ll all witness it under the burning question … what if they had a healthy B. Roy and Oden? And what that happens, just look back to the quote at the beginning of this post.