It's always amazing to me how quickly this whole thing begins. I mean, we know it's coming. I've been inside the gym during some of the five-on-five pick-up games, so that's a pretty good indicator that the season is near. But, still, when it actually kicks off it kind of seems like we never had an offseason- like things just continued with no real break. It usually
feels that way. This year, however, is different.
I sat at media day on Monday trying to figure out what exactly felt so different. Then, on Tuesday night, watching the evening session of camp, I started wondering again why this has such a unique feel to it.
Perhaps it's the new members of the coaching staff, and there are several. There are also new people involved with player development, hustling around on the court. Then, of course, there's a new general manager, and two new assistant GMs. And, finally, there are new faces on the court, and some that we've become pretty accustomed to, are not there.
That should be enough right there to make things feel very odd. But, I've seen change before, as I'm heading into my 11th season with the team. The new people being around aren't totally responsible for the difference that's in the air.
Perhaps it's that I'm not sure what the theme of this season should be. Clearly, that doesn't have to be figured out right now. But, when you think back over the last five or six seasons, we had very strong clues as to what to expect, what factors were automatically built in to our thinking and why. We went from the dismantling of the team, to a transitional year or two, to the rebuilding, to winning the lottery, to surprising people by winning 54, then to battling through so many devastating injuries, and still winning 50. And now, there's.... what exactly? What is it? Does any of this make sense at all? (wouldn't be the first time, if you're shaking your head).
The Trail Blazers are no longer rebuilding, don't have the crutch of being "one of the youngest teams in the league," can no longer shoot for a playoff birth like it's the holy grail, and will probably be called unrealistic if they openly start talking about a championship.
So, where do we find ourselves? Is this some kind of basketball purgatory? That's probably the wrong term to use here, but I've heard purgatory described as some kind of spiritual waiting room. Or, as some people describe it, it's the condition or process of purification. That sounds pretty close. I know judgement is involved as well, so that's pretty fitting for where we're at right now, correct? This new team was born, has matured, has changed its form and is now waiting to see where it's headed- up or down. Okay, it's a stretch, but clearly there are similarities when it comes to the ultimate destination being unknown.
On this team not being able to be considered a clumsy, youthful, innocent bunch anymore, we're spot on. I talked to LaMarcus Aldridge about that on Monday. He began shaking his head well before I was done asking the question, making me think he's spent time thinking about this himself. To listen to the brief conversation with L.A., click here.
Seeing one day of training camp isn't enough to get a solid feeling, but it seems like a different approach is being taken by these guys. This is especially true in the guys like Aldridge, Brandon Roy (click here
for my interview with Roy), and Nicolas Batum. There isn't this "happy to be here" kind of air to these guys. It's more of a determined approach, and a we've-been-here-before-and-are-ready-for-the-next-step kind of feel. There weren't many smiles on Tuesday, and the intensity wasn't forced the way it can be on the first day of camp. In short, this team has grown up.
I will say that watching this team on the first day of camp was exciting. It's very easy to start dreaming big. Even with the question marks that are hanging over this team. Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla went through drills with their teammates and looked very good. Joel, in fact, finished one drop step move with a thundering two-handed jam, then, as if remembering he's supposed to be taking it slowly, hung on the rim for an extra count and landed softly. He actually laughed at that, because he shot a glance at us and probably read our thoughts, that were something like "what the hell are you doing?"
Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, and Elliot Williams looked very comfortable, considering this was their first day on the job. I'm telling you, take your expectations for Babbitt and move them up a notch. And this comes from a guy who usually tempers expectations for rookies.
I'm not going to waste my time, or yours, attempting to temper expectations for Batum. The guy is ready for prime time. It's cliche to say "breakout season," but watch for five minutes and Batum just jumps out at you as a guy who's at a different level.
Okay, like I said, it's easy to get excited.
I can't wait for the rest of the week.