Trail Blazers at a Crossroads
“I’m tired of losing, man.” Said Gerald Wallace after Saturday’s lack luster loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. I think just about every fan in the Rose Garden shares this sentiment, but sometimes I wonder about every player on the Blazer’s sideline.
Fueled by those fans, the Blazers started the season with one of the strongest home records in the NBA. A talented, exciting team everyone in Portland believed had the tools to win got off to a promising 7-2 start. This included impressive wins on the road against OKC and against the Lakers in the RG, Charles Barkley went so far as to call the Trail Blazers the best team in the Western Conference (that’s what I get for listening to Charles Barkley). But what happened? Since then the Blazers have not won consecutive games since January 23-24. It looks as if some players are counting down the remaining games until the off season, like a high school student counting down the days until summer vacation.
The Raymond Felton experiment has failed. He pulled a Chris Johnson showing up to camp out of shape, and apparently ready for another month of “Contract negotiations.” Trading an established PG for a player who was the same on paper, only younger, is not necessarily a move forward. Andre Miller is one of the best lob passers in the NBA, and the Blazers thrived off of it. Miller was the gel, distributing the ball to the hot player, or making the play himself if he had too. Felton on the other had has come back with sloppy passing, combined with inaccurate shooting.
Nate McMillan responded appropriately, he benched Felton and replaced him with the 6th man of the year 2010 Jamal Crawford who went 20-4-8, shooting 6-8 from the field and 5-7 behind the arc. Crawford didn’t come to Portland because he had to, Crawford became because this is where he wants to be. He says he wants to win and I believe him. I can see it on Gerald Wallace’s face. He wants to win too. Not to mention the recycling bin he knocked over in the tunnel leaving Saturday’s game. Joel Pryzbilla turned down offers to play on championship contending teams, and was fined after Saturday’s game leaving in frustration avoiding the press. Pryzbilla wants to win. I believe Lamarcus when he says he wants to win, and he is the closest thing we have to a franchise player. Other than that, I am looking for the Blazers to make moves at the coming trade deadline. I know the Blazer’s headless front office considers Nicolas Batum an untouchable, and his recent increase in production has helped keep the Blazers from falling apart completely. However, he’s a wanted man. Of the remaining Trail Blazer’s roster Batum has the highest stock. Combined with moving some expiring contracts and getting Raymond Felton far out of Portland, maybe we could land someone ready to bring what Portland needs to make it to the next level.
All the wishful locker room talk in the world isn’t going to spark what this team needs to make a legitimate run in the playoffs. If the Blazers continue like this and miss the playoffs all together, I fear the blame with fall on head coach Nate McMillan, one of the best coaches in the NBA. If the Blazers miss the playoffs, it will be McMillan looking for new employment over the off season. That will leave the 2012 Blazers as perhaps the most talented lottery bound team the NBA has seen.
The Blazers now start a seven game road trip two games behind the 8th seed in the west. This is the kind of road trip where, as we have heard in the locker room before, we find out “what this team is made of.” Unfortunately as we stumble into the trade deadline, the locker room woes will only deepen, and I don’t think Blazer fans are going to like what they see. As Gerald Wallace said, “We know we’re a better team than this, we know we’re better than some of the teams we are losing to. This is hurting like Hell” Well prove it.