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Portland Trail Blazers Need to Keep Losing

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Before the Portland Trail Blazers 2015-’16 campaign, there were whispers running through Rose City that the so-called experts predicting the NBA season were wrong about the Blazers, rumblings that a 30’ish-win season was selling this team short. There was speculation and hopes that this team could be the Phoenix Suns of two seasons ago and be a surprise playoff contention team. Then, there was the 4-2 start to the season and those whispers turned slightly louder, proclaiming to the world that everyone was wrong about the Blazers. Then, there was the 6 games that followed, including Monday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and there was silence once again. 

Except for this fan. I’m am perfectly fine with how things are shaping up for the Blazers. Portland needs to lose and it needs to lose often. After a modestly successful start to the season, the Blazers (4-8) are now who many thought they were going to be. And that’s just fine by me for three main reasons.

First, to be anything shy of a championship contender in the West is pointless. In the Western Conference, there is the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder (if Kevin Durant remains healthy). The distance between those three teams and the rest of the conference is a gulf so wide that any other team that dares to cross it will end up in mediocre purgatory, doomed to forever be Vine food for Stephen Curry’s endless parade of viral highlights. Below these contenders are teams living in a pipe dream. The L.A. Clippers are five Gary Buseys running up and down the basketball court, the Memphis Grizzlies’ door to a championship is still wide open, although it is located somewhere in the 1980s where Charles Barkley awaits with open arms, the New Orleans Pelicans slow start has already doomed them and the Houston Rockets … well … they are the Rockets. For those teams not entering the bloodbath that will be the playoffs, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. This is where Portland needs to be; well back of the playoffs, picking up lottery balls along a brick-shot-laden road. 

Second, does anyone want to see this team lose in the first round? Again? Following the Blazers’ last trip to the NBA Finals in 1992, Portland spent the next 6 years losing in the first round. Those teams, after a memorable three-year run, were stuck in mediocrity, good but not good enough. Following the Conference Finals That Shall Not be Named in 2000, the Blazers spent the next 13 years being bad to average, never getting out of the first round of the playoffs until Damian Lillard’s improbable shot against the Houston Rockets in 2014 only to lose again in the first round one year later. I have had enough of losing in the first round of the playoffs. Portland is not equipped to make a long playoff run in this hotly contested conference. Not this year.
At some point, Portland will have to earn their playoff stripes again, which may mean another eventual first round ouster, but I hope next time it’s because of growing pains and not because the Blazers are settling for average. If Portland were to somehow manage a spot in the playoffs this season, they would probably be no higher than a seventh seed and a guaranteed Ronda Rousey punching bag for one of the top three teams in the conference. I would rather have a shot at drafting another difference maker to go alongside Lillard in the lottery than see them go down in flames again after one round.

Lastly, know that there are varying levels of being bad. There is rebuilding bad and then there is constant screwing up rebuilding bad like the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Damian Lillard

Rebuilding can be a relatively painless process if you draft competently, have good management, and have a little luck on your side, something which the Blazers have been woefully short of for some time. This kind of bad should only last a team two or three seasons while still being somewhat entertaining as fans can witness the infusion of young talent blossom before their watchful eyes.

If you are the Philadelphia 76ers, however, then you are on a whole other level of bad; bad management, bad draft picks and bad luck will give you what the Sixers have been for the last decade. Following the Allen Iverson era, the Sixers have whiffed on draft picks featuring Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Evan Turner, and possibly Joel Embiid. They have mismanaged their roster on multiple occasions with questionable signings and roster moves, the organization seems to have no clue on how to put together a winning roster even in a conference as thin as the East. Philadelphia has not had a winning season since 2005 and have only been to the playoffs twice during that span because they reside in a conference that rewards pedestrian performance even more so than Dancing with the Stars. 

We will soon find out how good Blazers’ general manager Neil Olshey is at his job because the immediate future of this team rests on the moves he makes from here on out. Portland, if Olshey plays his cards right, should be a quick rebuild. The Blazers have a franchise centerpiece in Damian Lillard and a rising talent in C.J. McCollum. They have a team full of young players that the organization will need to evaluate for the future. But, Portland should, and have been so far, at least be enjoyable to watch as many on the roster has something to prove. Only Lillard has a secured spot on the future of this team. The Blazers have been bitten with bad luck on past rebuilding projects, injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy derailed Portland’s last attempt at a full rebuild. Hopefully, that bad mojo doesn’t stick around for this latest effort. 

The Blazers will not woo any big name free agents during the offseason and their talent as it stands will not blossom overnight. They need to have growth this season, both collectively and individually. But, they also need to lose. Which is all OK. Losing can be both humbling and educational, something the last three NBA champions know something about. Also, I’ll take how this team loses over how the Los Angeles Lakers lose on any given night. Watching Portland’s young talent give it their all every game is vastly more entertaining than watching a decrepit Kobe Bryant hoist up 30 shots a night. The Blazers play hard, they play competent defense as they did Monday night, and they have some offensive weapons. But, it just isn’t enough to compete in this conference. They need to find out if C.J. McCollum is the real deal. They need an answer in the middle or a better way to use Mason Plumlee. They need more depth off their bench that routinely gets destroyed by the opponent’s second unit. They need another weapon besides Lillard in the fourth quarter when the Blazers seem to melt down. There are many question marks and holes to this team and it will take time for answers to be found and leaks to be plugged.

The Blazers need to get burned in the fire that is the Western Conference, then learn and rebuild themselves from the ashes. The landscape of the NBA is in constant motion, those teams that are willing to shift and evolve with the changing landscape usually come out on top. Look no further than the Golden State Warriors, a team perfectly built for today’s guard-heavy, three-point lovin’ NBA. Just three years ago, the Warriors won only 23 games. However, they drafted wisely with Stephen Curry in 2009, Klay Thompson two years later and a second round steal in Draymond Green in 2012. They hired the right coach in Steve Kerr after letting go of Mark Jackson who was popular among the players and the city. They signed some key free agents and had the foresight to know when not to tinker with their chemistry. All that, combined with a little luck (health) along the way and the Warriors are now NBA champions. Golden State had a near perfect rebuild, a formula the Blazers should look to follow. But, first, they need to lose. A lot.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#8 The Longest Yard

Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.  

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

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#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.


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