The Blazers’ loss to the Mavericks in game 6 is still fresh in both my memory and my emotions. It hasn’t even been 24 hours. I wrestled with whether I should wait to write this post, let the loss last night (and the season as a whole) sink in. In the end I decided that it may be therapeutic for me to write it now.
I was watching the Blazer exit interviews on TBTV earlier this afternoon and Nicolas Batum revealed that for the first time instead of just disappointment or sadness, he is angry that the Blazers are out of the playoffs in round 1. Nic also said that because of this he does not plan to take as much time off this summer and is planning to get back to working out soon (even planning to hire a personal trainer as LaMarcus did last year). A few minutes later 1 of the reporters present asked Wesley Matthews about Nic’s comment and if Wesley felt the same way. Wesley’s response: “I’m always angry” (as he laughed). That comment struck a chord though.
Look at what Wesley has done in his first 2 years in the NBA. He was an undrafted rookie and he worked hard that summer and in training camp to earn a roster spot with the Utah Jazz. But Wesley didn’t just earn a roster spot; he eventually earned a starting spot for the Jazz, playing for Jerry Sloan, one of the most respected coaches in the NBA. Wesley went on to sign a lucrative deal with the Blazers as a free agent in 2010. It seems that one of Wesley’s largest motivating factors was anger; anger from not being drafted, from being overlooked. Look what that anger was able to motivate him to achieve.
I hope that the rest of the team takes a page from this section of Wesley Matthews’ book. I hope each player can look inside of themselves this off season and find that extra something, that anger, that burning desire to be better. I’m not questioning the passion that these guys have for the game, but I want them to be hungrier, to be angrier. I want them to be pissed that the Blazers are, for the 3rd time in a row, out after the 1st round. Use that anger as motivation and come back just as angry in the fall.
Wesley seems to be live by the mantra he posts to his Twitter account on most days: Rise & Grind. I hope that this mantra is adopted by each and every Blazer in this off season. When it comes to playoff basketball, it’s not just about the basics. It’s about fighting for every rebound, every loose ball, and as Nate McMillan so often puts it: just scrapping. Every win in the playoffs has to be about rising and grinding. Another day, another game, time to grind it out. I hope that the Blazers have finally learned that lesson. Thought I do want to emphasize that I am not mad at the team or the players, but I do want them to be mad.
When I got home from the game last night I read Sarah's blog about the reactions of players and I read tweets about players looking stunned, both of which were gut wrenching. When the final horn went off last night, I cheered until every last Blazer walked through the tunnel into the locker room because I love this team. But before I left the Rose Garden I looked around and saw those same looks on the faces of the fans around me. I spent time saying goodbye to people who seem like family. As Patty Mills would say, they're my FANmily. You sit next to someone 40+ games a year, season after season, and you can’t help but bond. I've screamed, jumped, sweat and cried with these people. I hugged the people who sit around us all season. I said goodbye to my favorite members of the stunt team (who sit by us in the aisle every 4th quarter and may not be coming back next season). I hugged our Rose Garden usher and promised to stay in touch during the off season.
I’m going to miss this in the off season, all of it, even the heartbreak. My friend reminded me of this line from Almost Famous: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” Insert “silly little game, or some team” in place of “silly little piece of music, or some band” and that is exactly how I feel about the Blazers. Because to me it’s not just about basketball, I live and breathe this team.
The future of the current Blazers' roster is in limbo. My gut tells me that we are going to see several players moved before the first game tips off in the fall. Who would you like to see stay? Go? The wait until October feels like a long one, let’s hope we don’t have to wait even longer. And will someone please keep my seat in the RG warm for me? Because I'll be back next year, with frickin' bells on.
Photo Credit: Brucy Ely of The Oregonian