The TrailBlazers started out this year's shortened season with one thing in mind: Don't need Brandon Roy.
On everyone's mind and in everyone's hearts, the once and future king of the franchise had knees worse off than (at an age nearly one quarter of) my grandfather's. One forced retirement later and he's probably on vacation in the Bahamas where his bone-on-bone joints can get some much needed relaxation. He can lay out in the sunshine, something he hasn't seen since probably before UW, stretching that back out, trying to recover from all those times he put the team on it.
Not so distant is the past when he laced up his sneaks six weeks after knee surgery and inspired a comeback win in the playoffs. And then the next game resurrecting a team from a 25-point deficit, and winning the fourth quarter by 20 points, 4-point play included. Everyone forgets that this early return may have been the reason his knees were beyond repair. Self-sacrifice for the playoffs. Heart.
So yes, missing Brandon Roy is only Natural (excuse the pun), but the Blazers made some off season trades and drafts to supplement, if not completely replace, the WonderRoy. And the moneyball 3-for-Roy approach seemed all but perfect for the start of the shortened season. Jamal Crawford and his almost perennial campaign for sixth man came to Portland, along with Raymond Felton, who seemed like the glue that held the Knicks in almost-contention in recent years. Sure, he may not be Elmer's, but Fred Meyer brand is still horse hooves and sticky, amiright?
Most across the league for decades have not given credit to the Blazers when it is due, but this season they did. Lauded for a 7-1 start, the Blazers beat brilliant teams in OKC and everyone's new favorite Clippers and no one could not talk about the Northwest. Not just for hipsters seems an appropriate adage. But, a six game road trip kicked off a stretch that even Richard Simmons couldn't be proud of. Dropping more losses than baskets, the Blazers are just 2-10 in games decided by 5 points or fewer, the last in the league in this category.
The Blazers are now just a game over .500, their stellar home record gone and their road record nothing short of abysmal. The Rose Garden used to be one of the most difficult places for opponents to play, but after seeing your boys lose three straight, blown out by the Wizards, it's hard for a fan to get up enough hype to scream, let alone commit to four hours in a zentai suit with no bathroom breaks. How can I be expected to go balls out -- have you seen me in a zentai suit? -- with my fanhood when I can't expect any heart from the players on the floor?
Some of this is easy to blame on the shortened schedule. A game doesn't go by without three mentions of Kurt Thomas being 39 years old, and Marcus Camby having been playing longer than LeBron has been alive. But, everyone has the same schedule, and old or not, if you're being paid, you play. Brandon Roy didn't have any cartilage and still managed greatness. Just sayin'. And there's not really an excuse for Raymond Felton.
Yes, sir, I'm calling you out. We had to get rid of key guys to give you a starting role, and thus far you have been nothing close to Cool Man Dre. I'll admit right now my expectations for you weren't high, but you've still managed to undercut them. The only reason Crawsome doesn't start is because the bench needs scoring, and the whole league knows you won't be bringing it. Story: I once won a free Subway sandwich by hitting a layup, a free throw and a three pointer without shoes on, in a full-body zentai suit. My hands were covered in spandex/poly blend, as were my feet. I was sliding across the floor, shagging my own rebounds* and I still managed to hit all three shots in a minute or less. Full court homie. Last night you went 0-7, 5 TO in 24 minutes. In one minute, I earned a 6-inch sub ($2.50 street value) with my three made baskets. You were gifted $113,636.37 assuming you keep your job and play all 66 games. That's $4,735 per minute. And you had shoes on!
* Something the whole team needs to work on. Except you Camby. Baus.
This is dark, and it's not meant to be. I'm not saying the season is gone, but to everyone else, it never even began. The great start is forgotten, the buzz is now about David Lee's futon and how the Clippers went from bottom feeding, to feeding the Lakers their bottoms. The excitement that others can recognize what Portland has known all along, the hope that finally, national television might broadcast more games for those of us located outside the range of Xfinity's monopolization arc, the dream almost realized that Portland isn't just the basement it has been for the past seven years...dashed.
But, can I give up hope? Will I hang up the jerseys and call this allegiance dead and buried? Of course not! Who do you think I am, Nixon? I don't dip when it's hard, I stay. Because I bleed red. And black and silver and white, in case you didn't get that thems the Blazers colors. Hard as it is to root for an underperforming team of millionaires, harder still is it to give up on a team you were born to cheer for. A team you know can do better.
The Blazers aren't a group for the fair weather fan. They aren't a franchise for the faint-of-heart. An eighties baby, I'm used to greatness and defeat. I've been through fourth quarter comebacks, and fourth quarter collapses. The good, the bad, the so-ugly-your-mom-calls-'em-a-twobagger, I'm there. So, while they might be worn down by a shortened schedule, old legs and loss of confidence, I'll still sit on my weird-shaped couch, eating my banana chips and watch every minute. If I have to cheer for mediocrity, so be it, I've done it before.
But here's to hoping someone, somewhere decides that, even if the millions aren't enough, a fan like me might be.