Portland Trail Blazers Emerge From Aldridge Saga Healthier Than Ever
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Among the big winners was the excellent Jason Quick, formally of The Oregonian, now of CSNNW. Quick won best column of the year for his piece in the immediate aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. It was titled, “LaMarcus Aldridge is gone, and now the Trail Blazers can exhale their relief.”
It was a terrific and intelligent piece of sports-writing – fitted with the anecdotes of a beat-writer and the clout of a columnist – but equally as important, it was right. Now, some seven and a half months after it was published, it looks close to prescient.
When Aldridge bolted – along with most of the rest of the Blazers’ 2014-15 roster – it seemed like this franchise was headed for several lost years at a minimum. In fact, much of the summer of 2015 in Portland felt like a Blazers funeral.
But, while upholstered with chilly statements like, “I appreciated the level of relevance his [Aldridge’s] play afforded the Blazers,” Quick’s article stated from the outset the true feeling at One Center Court around LA’s departure.
The Blazers weren’t happy to see Aldridge go. But they weren’t exactly devastated either.
For several years, the Blazers had placated Aldridge. The club made Aldridge the face of marketing campaigns, pushed his All-Star bids, and dealt with his reluctance to play injured.
The efforts wore people down. Aldridge’s bouts with selfishness and insecurity came to a head in the playoffs last year, when an absolutely dismal effort against the Memphis Grizzlies suggested that his head was already back in Texas.
As long as Aldridge – and his ego – remained in town, the Blazers couldn’t fully become Damian Lillard’s team. Of course, Aldridge’s presence made Portland a contender – and had Wesley Matthews not gone down last spring, who knows where the Blazers would have ended up last year.
So losing LA hurt. Bit when the dust settled this summer, the Blazers were left with Lillard, Neil Olshey, and Terry Stotts – and, starting from scratch as an NBA franchise, it’s hard to do better than those three.
The first half of this season has borne that truth out. The Blazers sit in seventh place in the Western Conference at the All-Star break, with eight wins in their last ten games.
With several of the teams teams at the foot of the Western Conference having collapsed in fairly dramatic fashion – hello, Houston! – it’s not at all difficult to envision a world where the Blazers are playing playoff basketball in the spring.
The fact that Portland is competitive now – and, for their warts at the beginning of the year, they’ve almost always been interesting – is terrific. Winning is always better than rebuilding.
But what the events of the summer – along with the new CBA – also gave Portland was a ton of flexibility. The Blazers need to spend. They need to spend in excess of $20 million before next season.
And that brings us to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. The Blazers have been kicked around in a multitude of rumors, with no clear signal that the team is going to be active in the next few days.
CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ dynamo two-guard, has been deemed untouchable by the organization. He shouldn’t be. McCollum and Lillard have so much in common, it’s hard to see a world in which they’re the two main components of a championship contender.
But whether Portland listens to offers for McCollum or not, this Blazers operation of 2016 should be treasured. It’s ridiculously hard to find good NBA coaches, and in Terry Stotts, the Blazers’ have one of the league’s best.
If the Blazers’ successfully complete their playoff push, Stotts will be in the Coach of the Year conversation. Olshey will be in the Executive of the Year conversation as well.
Mostly, though, this is a fun team. They play with zeal and get better each night. With Aldridge gone, the culture around the club is hugely improved. It’s onwards and upwards.
Paul Allen, so often guilty of meddling, has hardly made a Blazers-related headline in the last four years. That’s excellent news – and the single clearest sign that an organization that couldn’t get out of its own way for years has finally turned a corner.
The NBA is an interesting place right now. This year has been an exemplar in how important culture is in driving success. The Golden State Warriors, who have terrific chemistry, are tearing the league apart. San Antonio, of course, isn’t far behind.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is paying heavily for failing to build its own culture of accountability. The Cavs are a mess – and appear to be in the midst of blowing up what just a year ago looked like a can’t-miss championship lock.
And that’s just the top of the league. The Houston Rockets’ debacle – which the Blazers have had front-row seats for in recent days – has everything to do with the miserable atmosphere around the team. There are similar stories all around the NBA.
This stuff matters. Talent, of course, counts for the most. But in today’s NBA, an onus is being placed back on franchises to do more than assemble stars. That helps a small-market team like Portland, and softens the blow of Aldridge’s departure that much more.
This isn’t to say Aldridge was some sort of cancer. He was, by all accounts, capable of great kindness and generosity at times. But this new Blazers outfit feels lighter – more assured, more confident, and maybe even poised to become another perennial playoff team.
The health of this franchise is fairly miraculous when you look at its recent past and what its overcome in the last year. Some, like Quick, saw it coming from a mile away. Others weren’t so sure. But what we know now is this: the Blazers’ renaissance in 2016 is real – and it should only get better from here.
- Portland Trail Blazers’ Aminu to Participate in First NBA Game in Africa
- Portland Trail Blazers’ Frenzied Offseason Has Been Part of the Plan All Along
- Portland Trail Blazers-Inspired Adult Beverages That Should Exist In Rip City
- Portland Trail Blazers’ Salary Commitments
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – Feb. 25
- Portland Trail Blazers Weekend Preview & Predictions – 1/30
- Portland Trail Blazers’ Playoff Heat Check: January Edition
- Portland Trailblazers Season Update
- Synergy Over Seeding For The Trail Blazers Down the Home Stretch
- The Best and Worst Drafts in Trail Blazers History
- So Far, Odds Makers Not Betting On Trail Blazers
- Should The Trail Blazers Retire Brandon Roy’s Number?
- Should The Portland Trail Blazers Trade CJ McCollum?
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – Feb. 2
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – Dec. 9
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview - Nov. 24
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 12/1
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview - Jan. 12
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 2/9
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 2/3
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 2/2
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/10
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/4
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 4/6
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/30
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/24
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/16
- The Portland Trail Blazers Begin Summer League Play This Weekend
- The Trail Blazers Make A Series Of Trades On Draft Night
- Trailhead Coffee Roasters Do Coffee Right
- What Merits a Retired Number For the Portland Trail Blazers?
- Trailer is Released for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Trailblazers Lose Dorell Wright For 4-6 Weeks
- Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard Releases New Rap Song
- Trail Blazers’ Success Can Only Be Gauged by the Playoffs
- What The Portland Trail Blazers Can Learn From The NBA Finals
- What to Give to Each Portland Trail Blazer this Christmas
- Why The Trail Blazers Should Retire Jerome Kersey’s Number 25
- Will The Portland Trail Blazers Have a ‘Top Ten Defense’ This Season?
- Who Will Be the Next Portland Trail Blazers Villain?
- Which Young Bench Player For The Portland Trail Blazers Will Step Up?
- What’s Next for the Portland Trail Blazers
- Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: Why Friday’s Game is So Important
- Trail Blazers Roundtable: Impact, Injuries, Predictions, and Paychecks
- Three Questions for the Portland Trail Blazers
- Trail Blazer Fans Hopeful For New Rising Stars
- The Trail Blazers’ Offseason Plans
- The Trail Blazers’ Lost Weekend
- The Trail Blazers Set Their Sights On 2 Players
- Trail Blazers Bulk Up Frontline By Signing Ed Davis
- Trail Blazers C.J. McCollum Predicted to be Most Improved of 2015-16
- Trail Blazers Power Forward Meyers Leonard Gets Hitched
- Trail Blazers Preview: Three Upcoming Games
- Trail Blazers Mid-season Review
- Trail Blazers Great Jerome Kersey Dies at 52
- Trail Blazers Confirm Allen Crabbe’s Spot on Roster
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 12/8
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 12/1
- It’s Time For The Portland Trail Blazers To Commit To Terry Stotts
- Kobe Bryant’s Retirement Puts To Rest Trail Blazers’ Dead Rivalry With Lakers
- How to React When Ex-Trail Blazers Come Back to Play Against Portland
- Inner Struggle: Should the Portland Trail Blazers Try to Make the Playoffs?
- How the NFL Can Learn From the Portland Trail Blazers
- LaMarcus Aldridge Likely Leaving the Portland Trail Blazers
- Man Killed in Crash with Tractor Trailer Truck
- NEW: Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview - Jan. 5
- NEW: Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – Dec. 15
- New Revealing Trailer Released for First Authorized Kurt Cobain Documentary
- Neil Olshey, Portland Trail Blazers Won’t Talk ‘Playoffs, Lottery’
- Meet The New Trail Blazers: Gerald Henderson And Noah Vonleh
- Hank Stern: 10 Questions for the Trail Blazers
- Governor Brown Signs Bill for New Trail Blazers License Plate
- Al-Farouq Aminu Agrees To Contract With Trail Blazers
- Al-Farouq Aminu Has Been Perfect Nicolas Batum Replacement For Trail Blazers
- A Plea To All 12s: Support The Portland Trail Blazers
- 5 Most Anticipated Games on Trail Blazers’ 2015-16 NBA Schedule
- 5 Crucial Games Remaining On Portland Trail Blazers’ Schedule
- Analyzing Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer #2
- Bike Local: The Banks-Vernonia Trail
- Double or Nothing - A Trail Blazers Season Preview
- Five Takeaways from the Trail Blazers’ Lackadaisical Preseason Debut
- Damian Lillard And The Trail Blazers Discussing Max Extension
- Corn Maze Designed to Honor Life of Former Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey
- CJ McCollum’s Progress May Be The Silver Lining Trail Blazers Fans Are Looking For
- NEW: Trailblazers Game Canceled by East Coast Blizzard
- NEW: What Oregon and Ohio State Can Teach the Trail Blazers
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview
- Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview
- Portland Trail Blazers Roster Breakdown: Phil Pressey