I think back to the Trail Blazers' first-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and can't help but smile.
So many people were frustrated and disappointed that the Blazers were swept. They expected more out of their team and couldn't accept that they couldn't win one game or even take a game down to the final shot before losing.
Well, how does that look now? Nobody in the West could handle those guys and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.
So if somebody asks me what we learned from the playoffs to this point it's that fans of the Trail Blazers must find some patience. Folks, you aren't close enough to the Warriors -- barring a miracle or catastrophic injury to more than one Warrior player -- to challenge them anytime soon. It's just not yet realistic to believe.
Yes, Portland improved last season with the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic. But the Blazers -- and just about everyone else in the West -- still have a long way to go.
That's where the patience -- and some understanding of the situation -- comes in.
Instead of making a futile, desperate effort to beat what appears to be at least a temporary dynasty, it's best to plan to be the franchise on the rise. You want to be the team patiently putting the building blocks together so that when the Warriors begin to fade, you will be ready to challenge. The Trail Blazers are doing this -- making incremental changes to improve their roster WITHOUT MORTGAGING THE FUTURE! I give them full credit for resisting the pressure to make a panic move.
The Celtics have done that, too. General Manager Danny Ainge has resisted the urges of fans and media to pull the trigger on a big deal that would cost his franchise all those draft picks and young players. He's been waiting for the Cavaliers to drop back a little. But Boston has been ahead of schedule getting to the Eastern Conference finals and has nothing to lose at this point. I think, though, it's obvious the Celts are still a player or two away from being able to seriously challenge Cleveland.
Of course, that's what Boston's first-round pick is for this season.
The key thing to remember, Portland is not -- and should not -- be in the market for a high-priced rent-a-player. This is not the time for a big-ticket free agent who will be here for a season and then head to another franchise. One season of Paul George, for example, would not do this team any good and it's time people --including Portland players -- stopped talking about it. George has his sights set on southern California, most likely with the Lakers, and the price that would have to be paid to acquire him is too steep.
Now don't misunderstand me, if there's a chance for Portland to make a major leap by trading multiple players not including Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Nurkic, I would expect the Trail Blazers to do so. As long as the player acquired is under team control for the long term. This is no time to roll the dice on a futile one-year mission to catch Golden State.
The plain truth is, those guys are just too good right now. Whether they win the title this season or not, it's one of the most formidable rosters ever put together in the NBA. At some point, though, that roster will split up through injury or free agency and come back to the pack.
The smart play is the long play. Be the team in waiting.
Build. And build one piece at a time, taking the long view. Think about two or three seasons from now. Be smart and strategic. Develop the players who are here now -- there is time for improvement, individually and as a team. Use the time as a positive so that when the situation is right, this team is fully prepared to make the next step.
Yes, that's going to be difficult for some fans (and players) to swallow but until we see signs of cracks in the Golden State foundation, it's best to show some patience.
It's a virtue, you know.