I want the Blazers to tank. I know the Blazers need to get their superstars through the draft. I want them to have a legitimate shot at Wiggins, Parker, Randle, the better Harrison twin, etc. I believe this is the type of draft that could legitimately change your franchise. I think there’s at least a chance that some small market team gets their Tim Duncan, if that’s even possible in the current NBA. I don’t want to sneak into the playoffs next year. I don’t want to be the team that takes the Rockets to an “interesting” five games in the first round. I can’t stand the Blazers becoming the Macklemore of the NBA, spectacularly mediocre with an overly white fan base. I want to say the Blazers have screwed this off season up, that they should have traded LaMarcus Aldridge and done their best to be their very worst. I want to make fun of Paul Allen, question Neil Olshey’s decision making and write the stereotypical “woe is the poor Blazers fan who has had to endure such crippling disappointment” post. But I can’t do any of that.
Tankathon 2014 has been ferociously competitive. Terrible teams are tanking with inspiring passion and precision, and the Celtics are burning the farm to the ground while Danny Ainge smirks “what fire?”. While the Blazers’ bench was amongst the worst in the NBA last year, their starting five was that of a playoff team. In order to get bad enough, Olshey would’ve had to move at least Aldridge, maybe Nicolas Batum too. At some level, moving Aldridge seems like an obvious choice. His age and talent make him the worst type of rebuild player. He will keep any roster from reaching its highest form of terribleness, while deservedly wanting a situation more conducive to title contention. No one walks away satisfied .
Unfortunately, the Blazers are a little stuck. A bad team is unlikely to trade their 2014 pick for Aldridge, and even if they did his play would likely decrease the value of that pick by the time the lottery rolls around. Maybe the Blazers could move Aldridge for a handful of younger assets, but they’d be stuck getting cents on the dollar. If you can’t get good return value, keeping Aldridge really becomes the only option. Fortunately for the Blazers, retaining Aldridge is a good problem to have. Aldridge can only help the development of Damian Lillard. Having an intelligent, extremely talented big man to work with, around, and through is an invaluable experience for a young NBA point guard. The fans love Aldridge, and with so many weakened teams, the Aldridge-Lillard-Batum core may be enough to carry the Blazers to a playoff berth.
If the Blazers can’t get worse, they might as well get better. Not only has Olshey improved the team, he’s done it at next to no cost. Acquiring Robin Lopez, a defensive-minded center, on a cheap contract was the perfect antidote to the J.J. Hickson plague. Lopez provides the rim protection required of any center that plays next to Aldridge, something Hickson was never suited for. Olshey took advantage of Houston’s burning desire to clear cap space, and netted Thomas Robinson for essentially nothing. This is a no lose situation for the Blazers; Robinson can’t make their bench any worse. Certainly he was somewhat of a disappointment last year, but he has the talent and work ethic to become a useful NBA player. Add in an intriguing, generally well thought of prospect in CJ McCollum, two cheap useful bench guys in Dorrell Wright and Earl Watson, and the Blazers have at least upgraded their bench from “abominable: keep away from children at all costs” to “I might vomit a little but it’s not so bad once you get used to it.” Given the situation, Neil Olshey hasn’t just been good, he’s been damn near perfect.
Barring a miracle, the Blazers aren’t getting an Andrew Wiggins or a Jabari Parker. There’s not a clear path back to relevancy; there’s no one to put the entire weight of the franchise upon. Lillard is terrific but I’m not sure he’s that kind of special. For the, Blazers I think that’s a good thing. They need a break from the savior storyline. It’s refreshing to just try and forget about expectations and deliverance. For even the best teams, perfection and triumph can be disappointingly elusive. I think it’s a good idea to let this team breathe. It’s okay to wait this one out. It’s okay to both want more and be satisfied with less. With all the young talent, the promise, and a little Rose Garden voodoo magic this will be a very fun team. For now anyway, that should be more than enough.