I own a Portland Trail Blazers Mitchell and Ness snapback hat (sorry, Oleh & David). I bought it immediately after they signed Damian Lillard to a long-term extension this summer, and I knew that he was going to thrust into a primary leadership role. As a basketball enthusiast, adorer, and fan, I wanted to be sure that I supported anything spearheaded by Lillard.
Portland did not have many groupies (let alone supporters) back in July. All of the prominent figures on the roster had moved on to greener pastures via free agency or trade. LaMarcus Aldridge? Gone. Nicolas Batum? Deuces. Wesley Matthews? Toodles. Robin Lopez? Go take your bounty against mascots elsewhere, man.
Seemingly, all that was left was Lillard, head coach Terry Stots and a former lottery pick that had only shown glimpses of what he could become, a squirrelly guard by the name of C.J. McCollum. Sure, the Blazers could be fun still. A fast-paced team with two whizzing guards capable of putting up points and providing some quality entertainment value. But they would never be a playoff contender. NOT IN THE BLOODBATH WESTERN CONFERENCE.
Well folks, here we are. Much has been written about Portland over the last month, so I will refrain from going too far into how enjoyable they have been to watch this season. However, I must say, what a pleasure it has been to have an organization rebuild on the fly and resist the urge to punt on two or three seasons because in the NBA you either want to be contending for a title or playing for ping pong balls.
The Blazers make basketball fun. Much like Golden State (obviously to a lesser degree), the team chemistry oozes on every possession, with the ball zooming around the perimeter with a certain palpable energy that can be felt even from my dorm room. Not many teams routinely run a fast break like this:
Bless James Harden and his knack for auspiciously finagling his way to drawing fouls in similar situations, but this style of basketball is second to none. (Other than the Warriors... Oh and maybe the occasional Spursgasm.)
Spurs basketball = poetry in motion.https://t.co/aD6wCN6vy2— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 24, 2015
Each Portland possession has purpose and a particular cadence to it. Despite Lillard and McCollum often sharing the brunt of the shot attempts each game, every player feels involved in the offense. There are no lulls -- no single side of the floor clearouts that drain the shot clock and disrupt the flow of the game. If there was a stat that charted the most kinetic energy produced by a team, I would have to bet that the Blazers would rank in the upper echelon.
Quite simply, every player seems to know what they are doing:
In a vacuum, that statement sounds too simplistic. They know what they are doing. Duh. They are professionals. Yet, sometimes in this league, the art of being in the correct spot and "doing your job" is often overlooked. Just ask Pelicans fans. How many times have we been frustrated watching random defensive assignments be blown or the offensive spacing to be completely out of whack for no real reason? Too many to count.
What has happened in Portland this season shows what a foundational star's talent, leadership and demeanor can do for the path of pursuit for an organization. The Blazers were supposed to be cellar dwellers this season, but they are not. Instead, they are a raucous bunch right in the thick of the playoff race with the mentality that they can go toe to toe with anyone. Are they going to win the title this year or within three years? No. But who cares, they are pleasantly poised to be relevant for years to come.
New Orleans (Anthony Davis included) can learn a thing or five from the trail that has been blazed by Portland as the sun begins to set on the 2015-16 season. Even in an analytically consumed sport, organizational culture really freaking matters and a team that plays with a certain cohesive intensity is much more likely to produce on the court.
After all, a team that goes to Top Golf together, stays together.
The Pelicans may never play a style similar to Portland's aesthetically, and they may not even have to in order to win games heading into next season and beyond. But I do think there is value in adopting a camaraderie that mirrors that of what has been established by Lillard and others. At the end of the day, it all starts with AD.
We have our foundational star. Now we just need a foundation.