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Murphy3
11-27-2001, 07:39 PM
Blazers are meeting lowered expectations
By Sean Deveney - The Sporting News


The good people of Portland are catching on. For the first time in more than two seasons -- a string of 104 games -- the Blazers played at home, and good seats still were available.

It was November 20, a game against the Rockets. Tipoff was just after 7 p.m., and you could have walked up to the Rose Garden ticket window at 6:59 p.m., plunked down about three days' worth of salary and gotten yourself a seat for the game. Heck, you could have gotten there at 7:02. If you were lucky, you might have gotten a spot next to an empty seat, which is useful for storing your jacket, your popcorn and your "Trade Whitsitt" sign.

The Rose Garden holds 19,980 fans, but last Tuesday, there were only 18,210 present, and even with the creative counting methods that make most professional sporting events "sellouts," this one was too far short to fudge. This is an indication, perhaps, that Portlanders understand what is becoming apparent as this season unfolds: The Blazers really are not that good.

This is mediocrity, Portland. Jump on in. The water is tepid, of course.

This is difficult to accept. After all, the Blazers have a payroll of about $83 million, the kind of money one expects to translate into a trip deep into the playoffs. Scottie Pippen plays for this team, as do Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace and Shawn Kemp. These are stars, right? One of the league's budding players, Bonzi Wells, is the Blazers' leading scorer.

This team appears to be at least as good as the one that nearly knocked off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals two years ago. Naturally, expectations are high.

Well, it's about time folks in Portland follow the lead of stock market analysts, the American education system and single people at last call: Lower your expectations. It's a lot easier to find happiness that way. Forget about The Finals. Forget about catching and beating the Lakers. The Blazers are a pretty good team but not a great one, not one of the league's best.

"I don't know how high the expectations are because this is not the same team," says coach Maurice Cheeks. "I don't know what everyone else's expectations are, but I know ours are to play hard and get better."

Coincidentally, those are the same expectations held by the St. John the Baptist eighth-grade boys team. Play hard and get better, kids.

This is not simply a personality issue, though the Blazers are about as appealing as a colonoscopy. That was the mantra last season when describing the team-talented but troubled. They still are troubled, no one will argue that.

Kemp, who missed the playoffs last season while in drug rehab, is still on the team. Pippen criticized Wallace, the newly mellowed technical-foul magnet, for his upbeat attitude after a recent loss. The Blazers' top free-agent signee, Ruben Patterson, entered a modified guilty plea to a rape charge last spring and earlier was convicted of assault for breaking the jaw of a man who scratched his BMW. How charming.

More pertinent are the team's on-court troubles, as Cheeks has found. There are too many players to fill five positions. There is not enough time for small forward/shooting guard types such as Wells, Patterson, Pippen and Derek Anderson without cutting out Stoudamire at point guard and sending him on an odd, self-imposed trip to the disabled list (which was Stoudamire's response to losing his starting job). The more rookie Zach Randolph plays as Wallace's backup at power forward, the more $12 million is wasted as Kemp sits on the bench.

What the Blazers are left with is a mish-mash of pretty good players at all positions. It's not a matter of keeping everybody happy. You could turn the Blazers' locker room into Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but it won't change the fact this is a poorly constructed team, one without a chance at a championship.

Cheeks has juggled playing time based on what is working, and the result has been some odd combinations. Steve Kerr has played some point guard. An injury to Pippen forced Erick Barkley into a starting role. Randolph played the final quarter of a close loss to Sacramento last week while Wallace sat on the bench.

After the game, Wallace said, "Anything I say, I'll get fined."

When asked whether it was odd to keep a two-time All-Star on the bench for an entire quarter, Cheeks said, "What's odd? That I coach the game to win the game?"

Odd or not, this is a group without roles. The Blazers are among the worst rebounding teams in the league. They are given to throwing the ball around in search of the spectacular play rather than the easiest two points.

"You throw the ball around when everybody out there is a legitimate threat," says Pacers small forward Jalen Rose. "And that's what they have, everybody is a threat. Who do you go to? A lot of times in the NBA, you have two, three guys who probably are going to shoot the ball, one or two guys to rebound, one or two guys to pass. They've got five guys out there who can do all of those. In that, it is hard to find rhythm. They have not bonded, you can see that.

"They have had ups and downs on and off the floor. They have had a coaching change. They have had changes in their roster. And all along, they are doing this with high expectations. It's really hard to meet expectations that way."

Actually, it could be very easy for the Blazers to meet expectations. All you have to do is expect a pretty good team with a so-so record. The Blazers were 7-7 at the end of last week. That means they've met expectations perfectly.

Sean Deveney is a staff writer for The Sporting News. Email him at sdeveney@Sportingnews.com.

MFFL
11-27-2001, 09:40 PM
Where's the summation? I don't want to read all that i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif

Murphy3
11-27-2001, 11:34 PM
haha..good point

Umm...The blazers have a bunch of average to slightly above average players that don't mesh well together. There's too many guys wanting to get the glory but only one basketball in play. No one wants to rebound or do the dirty work. The team is meeting expectations, but only if you had the correct expectations..... an average team that will have an average season

MFFL
11-27-2001, 11:41 PM
Outstanding summation. i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif

I've often wondered why the Portland model was so admired. Really only 8 guys play a significant role on a team. The rest should be specialists (rebounders, defenders, 3 point shooters, etc) who are replaceable. That's why the Lakers are successful right now - Shaq & Kobe & who cares. Those other players are the supporting cast. Portland has never established a pecking order and thus there is chaos.

madape
11-28-2001, 02:00 AM
Portland sounds like the perfect home for that bastard Karl Malone

Mavinator
11-28-2001, 07:18 PM
The Portland model is not a bad one- Portland just did a bad job following their own plan. A ton of talent spread out over all your positions CAN win a championship- remember, Portland was only 10 minutes of horrendous play against the lakers from winning it all.

ma-gaga
11-29-2001, 10:50 AM
The Portland model: To intimidate other teams by assembling STARS. Good idea, if you can afford it. Pippen, Wallace, Staudimire, Kemp, Anderson. The names and talent are there, but they don't have a clue on how to use it.

If you could take anyone on Portland who would it be?

madape
11-29-2001, 03:06 PM
Dale Davis - he'd fit in very well as a starting PF here.

Mavinator
11-29-2001, 05:31 PM
Agree. I'd also be happy with Stoudamire or Kemp as backups...

MFFL
11-29-2001, 10:00 PM
Dale Davis would be our starting center, not our power forward. Davis/Bradley could be a very good center combination. Unfortunately the Blazers acculumate players, they don't let any go.