Blazers Fall in Finale
The NBA's third-youngest team (which has been using the league's youngest playing rotation lately) has seen it's season come to an end. The Golden State Warriors, who were out to secure the sixth seed in the Western Conference, had to fight down the stretch, but ended up recording a 99-88 victory.
I'm going to keep this relatively short, as one normally gains a good amount of perspective after a short time. I hope the fans have that, even as this year's team closed the season on this losing streak.
There's all this talk about growth and progress, and how the future of this franchise is bright. l do believe that. But, for me it comes down to some pretty basic thoughts. As I was sitting courtside wrapping up the broadcast, I was remembering back to how the season ended a year ago and was easily able to remember my thoughts then. Uncertainty and disappointment was overwhelming, as we knew the team had a coaching vacancy to fill, a GM job that was open, and roster spots that would soon be available.
Even if this team fell short of your expectations, the situation after this game feels entirely different.
Yes, Damian Lillard, and his historically-good rookie season has a lot to do with that, but it's actually more than that. There is stability, a clear-cut plan in place, a core to build around, and the right people are pulling the strings.
Lillard will be the Rookie of the Year. The only question is, will he will the award in unanimous fashion? I think there's a good chance of that happening, but I also know there are some voters out there who will choose the path of the contrarian, if for no other reason that to be contrary. That's their right, and I'm not going to get too caught up in that. I also know this- it won't really matter to Lillard himself. At times he almost seems embarrassed by all the attention and the awards, and his only focus will be on the team getting better.
That may sound cheesy or cliche, but that's just what Lillard believes. As good as he's been on the court, he's even better off of the court. He's a leader, he's a budding superstar, and he's humble. He's proof that you can be all three at the same time.
Of all his accomplishments this season, the fact that he was the only Blazer to play in all 82 games may be among his most impressive feats. He actually ended up leading the entire NBA in minutes played. He's a rare talent, and I honestly feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I talked to Damian briefly after the game, congratulated him, and told him goodbye. He said, in his usual straight-forward fashion, "goodbye? I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here in Portland, getting better all summer."
We have talked so much about Lillard here late in the season, but there's something else that bares repeating. LaMarcus Aldridge had a terrific season. He had 30 points and 21 rebounds in this final game. He was an all-star again, and his importance to this team has been very evident late in the season.
Wesley Matthews, who had to struggle with injuries for the first time in his career, vowed to come back stronger than ever. Nic Batum battled injuries as well, but also had his best season, playing up to and above the big contract he signed last summer.
Will Barton has a long way to go, but showed with opportunity came the chance at production. He was one of the bright spots over the final few games. And, Meyers Leonard will only get better. There were times he looked like he was over his skis, but that's how most rookie seasons go. Measure him by Lillard's yard stick and you'll be disappointed. But, looking at his progress since the opening day of camp and you have to walk away pleased.
Then there's Terry Stotts. He can coach, and he can lead. He is the right coach for this team. This is really an area where I'm actually too close to give an objective opinion, because I like the guy so much. I wasn't sure what to expect when the Blazers hired him, but I have to say that he's blown away my expectations. He's got a great balance to his teaching, a great perspective on life, and his players love him. They also respect him, and that's probably the most important thing.
At times in my job, especially during a season like this, we spend a lot of time selling hope. And, even with the season ending the way it did, complete with falling short of the playoffs, this feels like an easier sell than ever.
The Blazers will enter draft lottery in the 10th spot. Going into the final night of the regular season, the possibilities were 10th, 11th, or 12th. Even though I never see any positive benefit of losing, I'm not going to deny that landing in that 10th spot feels pretty good.
A lottery pick, cap space, and a system in place. A veteran core that is just about to reach its prime, the rookie of the year, and a clear plan. That's what you want. That's what the Blazers have.
It should be interesting.
I'll be back soon to post again, and to update many of these same themes. I'll also pick a few moments from this past season, once I take time to digest them, and list my favorites. But for now, it's time to get some sleep and start the process of unpacking. The season is a grind, physically and mentally, and now it's over.
Thanks to all you great Blazer fans for watching our broadcasts, and for reading and commenting on the blog.
I'll talk to you soon.