Well, that's that. The Blazers inspired 2008-09 season came to an end in Game Six of the first round with a 92-76 loss to the Rockets. I'm sure that there are a ton of sources where one can go to get complete recaps on both that game and on the whole series, and frankly I am in no mood to revisit what was likely the worst part of the Blazers season. I instead wish to first reflect on the overall success of the season, and then delve in to some more in depth stuff. I also intend to keep writing about Portland for at least a few more weeks to A) completely summarize the 2008-09 season, B) prepare for the 2009-10 season and C) help me stay awake for these damned graveyard shifts.
So let me start by saying that I am very proud of everyone currently within the Blazers organization. Even three years ago the Blazers were still known as the Jail Blazers and were led by the likes of Zach Randolph and Darius Miles and stumbled through 30 win seasons. Now, while their performance the the playoffs proves they aren't title contenders yet, they are legit playoff contenders and a respectable team on and off the court. Brandon Roy is a top 3 shooting guard in the NBA, and with his typical strong finish to the season LaMarcus Aldridge looks like an All-Star. Portland tied for the 2nd best record in the West despite fielding the youngest active roster in the NBA. They have their shortcomings, which will be addressed in upcoming weeks, but the entire league recognizes that they are a future force in the league. While the strong close to the season swelled many fan's hopes and even expectations to a first round series victory and even some to think they might knock off the mighty Lakers, there is no way to call this season anything but a complete success.
So now, without further ado:
All Prediction Review Part I
In a way it is fun to look way back to the start of the season, when hopes ran rampant and expectations ran high. I'll dive in to invididual player predictions next week, for this week I'll look in to my own predictions for the team as a whole as the season progressed, so as to give a case study to the mindset of a Blazers fan through the course of the year.
Before the start of the Blazers first preseason game I made a handful of guesses as to how the season would unfold. Here's a sample:
- "Either Roy or Aldridge will be an All-Star, though likely not both due to the massive amounts of talent in the West." Woo hoo. Turns out I was right on this one, though Aldridge not making the All-Star game was more due to his own performance- he didn't start to look like a star until after the break. Still, 1 for 1 so far!
- "Pritchard will win an overdue Executive of the Year award for simultaneously stripping away the Jail Blazer image and building a winner." Er, I was a bit off on this one. In fact, KP didn't garner a single vote for Exec of the Year (an outrage, in my opinion). I guess the horrible mishandling of the Darius Miles situation along with all the Pritch-Slapping turned a lot of voters off. Oh well, Portland fans know who the architecht of this future champion is and that is all that matters.
- "Both Rudy and Oden will be serioues contenders for Rookie of the Year, but the award will ultimately go to Miami's Michael Beasley. Rudy will also be runner up in the 6th man award to Manu Ginobili." Ouch. 0-5 in one prediction. Rudy and Oden were solid role players for the Blazers but never true contenders for the Rookie MVP (though Rudy did make the All-Rookie 2nd Team). Beasley was a slight disappointment as Derrick Rose ran away with the award. Rudy wasn't even the best bench player in Portland (Travis Outlaw was) and Manu Ginobili spent most of the year injured wihle Jason Terry was amazing for Dallas. Let's just move on...
- "Outlaw, Frye, and Lafrenz will be traded before the deadline for some veteran help and perimeter defense." Well, this almost happened. As the trade deadline approached Outlaw, Frye, and Raef were all heavily involved in trade talks that could bring in anyone from Amar'e Stoudamire to Vince Carter to Richard Jefferson. However, KP eventually decided to stick with the current core, specifically not parting ways with Outlaw, in order to not disrupt the chemistry. Portland responded with a very strong finish to the season, so it's hard to argue (though I bet the Blazer would have been better in the playoffs with Carter instead of Outlaw, who was nothing short of terrible against the Rockets).
At this time I also predicted a 47-35 record, a 7th seed, and a loss in 6 games to the Spurs. I shortsold Portland in every way except the 6 game series loss to a Texas team.
Roughly 1/4 of the way through the season I revised my predictions as certain aspects of the team became more obvious. For starters, it was clear Roy would be the star of the team. Also it was obvious Greg Oden wasn't a savior. At the time of these prediction Portland was 13-6 despite a hellacious start to the season, much to the delight of Blazer fans.
- "Brandon Roy won't be voted by fans to play in the All-Star game but the coaches will tab him as the Blazers only participant." Again, bingo. I highly doubt Roy will ever be voted a starter, at certainly not until Kobe begins to slow down because he and Chris Paul will and deserve to be locks as All-Star starters. However, I also believe that Roy will be an annual participant in the midseason festivities, as he is pretty clearly the 2nd best SG in the West and arguably the 3rd best guard overall in the the conference. Crap, was that another prediction?
- "Keving Pritchard will be the Exec of the Year, and (coach) Nate (McMillan) will be in the running for Coach of the Year." 1 for 2 on this one. As I previously said, KP was shut out of Exec of the Year voting. However, Nate finished 4th in COY voting, which I would consider to be "in the running." Since he's working in Portland, it would take nothing short of the best record in the West in order for Nate to win the award, even though every year he's been with the team they've improved by at least 9 wins and the fact that Portland won its most games in six year despite 3 starters missing significant time due to injury and having the youngest active roster in the NBA. Not that I am bitter.
- "Oden, Rudy, and Batum will make the rookie-sophomore game." 2 for 3 here. While Batum didn't make the team, Oden and Rudy both did (though Greg's chipped patella forced him to miss the game). Rudy was also a dunk contest participant, which I admittedly did NOT see coming. He got completely jobbed there as the NBA rigged it so that it could be a Nate Robinson vs. Dwight Howard final. I mean, how does Robinson score in the 40s when he jumped off another guy to dunk it? I can do that, and I have trouble jumping over a metropolotan phone book! Oh well...
- "Oden will have at least one 20 and 20 game by the All-Star Break." Wrong, but Oden did through up 20 and 15 shortly before the break. In seems like forever ago now, but Oden was really rounding into form right before the break. In his last seven game before the break he averaged a very respectable 16 points and 12 rebounds a game, but then banged knees with Corey Maggette in the last game before the break. Though he continued to play and put up 8 points and 11 boards in that game, he missed the next 6 weeks (a normal recovery time for such an injury).
- "The steady play of Batum will force KP to trade either Frye or Outlaw before the deadline." Well, Batum did continue to play steady through the whole season, though as I mentioned no trade was made. Still, imagine the struggles this team would have had if Batum didn't step into the starting small forward role with Martell Webster's injury leaving the postion open. Batum was a major asset to the team and I continue to believe that his ability will lead to either Outlaw or Webster to be traded eventually.
- "With the schedule getting easier for the next couple of months, Portland will remain a top for team until at least February." I believe here I meant a top four team in the West, not the NBA because at the time of that post Portland wasn't a top four team in the NBA but was the #2 team in the West. It's tough to grade me here- Portland slipped to as low as 6th in the West by February but also was 3rd at one point in February as well. The West was just so bunched up that each win moved you up a spot and each loss moved you down one.
At this point in the season I revised Portland's final record to 52-30 and a 7 seed, still with a first round exit. I got closer on the wins, and 52 wins would have been the 7 seed in the West. I also said "I won't call for any playoff series wins until Portland beats a good West team away from the Rose Garden." They didn't beat a winning West team on the road until March when Chris Paul was injured, and also manage to knock off the wounded Spurs late in the season. It also turned out their ineptidute away from home was their downfall, dropping two very winnable games in Houston.
Half through the season I made a few more revised predictions. At this point Portland was 25-16, but only 12-10 since my last round of forecasting. This was also immediately after Oden had the best game of his career (24-15 with 2 blocks and 2 steals against the Bucks) and right before he chipped his patella.
- "Lamarcus Aldridge will post 18 and 8 or better over the 2nd half of the season." Well, I was painfully close. Aldridge had his typical strong second half, at one point logging four straight double doubles and also dropping 35 and 18 on the Thunder. In Portland's last 41 games he posted 17.9 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. I was off by .1 in each category. So sue me. He would have had the 18 and 8 except that he totaled 13 points and 13 rebounds in the last two Blazer games, in which he had significant rest as Portland won in blowouts.
- "Greg Oden will continue to be maddeningly inconsistent, but still finish close to 10 and 10." In a word, nope. Greg wound up with 9 and 7. Still, had he not been injured I have no doubt this would have come true. He just lost his conditioning right as he was rounding in to form. The best part of this claim is that you can't prove me wrong, so there.
- "Jerryd Bayless will overtake Sergio as the backup PG, but no Blake as the starter." Well, Bayless had every opportunity to do so. At one point Bayless was in fact promoted over Sergio, but was very ineffective in that stretch and was once again relegated to the end of the bench. Still, Jerryd had some very big moments in his rookie year (for example leading Portland from 20 down late in the third to beat the Hornets on the road) and I have high hopes for him down the road.
- "Martell Webster will not be a consistent contributor this year." Talk about an understatement. Webster's broken foor continued to heal, but he only played five minutes this season and none after December 7th. If he isn't traded he'll certainly be a key rotation player next year (damn, yet another prediction. It's like an addiction to me.), and Portland really could have used him against the Rockets. But the important thing here is that I was right.
- "Portland will have a winning record in every month for the rest of the season." Portland had some collapses down the stretch in previous years, and I made this prediction to show my confidence that the Blazers would suffer no such setback this year. The Blazers backed me up, going 7-5 in February, 11-4 in March, and 7-1 in April. But they also took it one step further, only losing back to back games twice in that time span and never in March or April. After years of playing their worst in the spring, Portland got better as the season progressed.
- "Some combination of Frye, Sergio, Raef Lafrenz, and/or Outlaw will be traded." I was just stuck on the trading bandwagon I guess, and it never came to be. Like I said, it came down to the final hours before the deadline, but KP decided to stick with the current team (except for a minor Ike Diogu-for-Mike Ruffin deal). Again, given the close to the season (especially the great play down the stretch from Outlaw) it's difficult to argue with his logic.
Obviously affected by the team's lackluster play in the recent weeks before this post, I downgraded my expectations to 50 wins and still called for a first round playoff exit. I also offered this painful gem: "I don't know if Portland can make it out of the first round without home court advantage and I doubt they will get that." Well, they did get that, and it proved to be an ineffective weapon.
What is interesting to note is that at no point did I predict Portland to get more than 52 wins, and they finished with 54. I also never predicted them higher than 4th, which they achieved, but also tied for 2nd and only were relegated to 4th due to a series of tiebreakers. Basically, I sold the team short this year. They did better than I could have possibly expected and I expected a lot out of such a young team that had honestly proven basically nothing before this year.
So that does it for Part I of my predictions review. Next week we take at look at each individual player. In the mean time, enjoy the NBA playoffs and pay particularly close attention to the Laker-Rockets series. It will be better than you expect.