HERE'S AN UPSETTING, exciting thing: The 2015/2016 Portland Trail Blazers season is right around the corner. It's exciting for the obvious reasons—basketball is fun, Mike Rice is losing his mind in a fun Wizard of Oz kind of way and not a sad Still Alice kind of way, and the food options at the Moda Center are bonkers as all get-out.
It's upsetting for obvious reasons, too. The Blazers will return to the court as an almost unrecognizable apparition of last year's playoff team. LaMarcus Aldridge plays for the San Antonio Spurs now. Wesley Matthews is a Dallas Maverick. Nic Batum plays for the Charlotte Hornets, and your boy Robin Lopez is a New York Knick. Damian Lillard, the scowling bad seed in the Trail Blazer boy band, is all that remains. Well, him and Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe and a bunch of other bit players who are rad, but upon whom one cannot reasonably lay expectation.
The Trail Blazers are going to be bad at winning basketball games this year is what I'm saying. We'll have to base our superiority over other cities on different provincial qualities this year. Fuck you, Salt Lake City, you guys didn't invent The Simpsons.
Don't tune out, though, once you get over the sudden shock of the Blazers impending mediocrity, there's still a lot to like about this team... or at least a lot to interest yourself with... or at least quirks. The team, at least, has quirks this year. Here are some things to keep an eye on this season.
• Damian Lillard, capitalist. In years past the Blazers had multiple scoring threats. Lillard was but a cog in a larger machine. This year, he's still a cog, but he's THE cog. Will he average 30 points a game? Will his increased offensive burden cause him to play even LESS defense somehow? Will he scowl at someone so hard that the tips of his mouth somehow touch? All questions will soon be answered.
• Will a hero emerge? Most of the familiar faces are gone, but in last year's first round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, two men represented hope for the future—Leonard and McCollum. Leonard is seven-feet tall and he can shoot the lights out. He's also maybe a doofus on the court, or maybe he's just young—this year we'll see. McCollum was hailed as the second coming of Lillard. He's a shooting guard from a small school with a chip on his shoulder. Odds are, neither player will be good enough to make THAT BIG of a difference, but sports is all about hope, and we've got some.
• Erosion and fortitude. Coach Terry Stotts is a great coach. Lillard is an all-star. The roster, though new and spotty, is full of ultra-competitive athletes. This team should lose a lot of games, based both on the reality of their talent and the best interests of the team going forward (the worse the team, the better the draft pick). But it's always fun to watch pride fight against reality, and this year, at worst, we get 82 games of that. Go Blazers.