You can’t see how far you’ve come without looking back.
So, as the final seconds ticked away on the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers season last week, it was worth keeping the following quote in mind.
“We didn’t inherit a playoff team. We’re trying to build one. If it happens this year, great.”
Blazers GM Neil Olshey said those words Sept. 30.
That was before training camp, when Olshey was still shooting down questions about LaMarcus Aldridge’s future in Portland.
That was before Portland won 24 of its first 29 games, a streak that brought national attention and heightened expectations.
That was before a midseason funk that had a parched fanbase worried that its team’s winning ways had been a mirage.
That was before nine wins in the last 10 regular-season games showed that while the Blazers’ depth and execution can sometimes be questioned, you can’t question their heart.
That was before the shot.
The season ended when Portland got its butt kicked by some Spurs that can tame the baddest beasts in the West.
San Antonio is simply better than Portland in about every facet of the game. There’s no shame in losing to a team like that.
You can only look backward, however, for so long.
The Spurs exploited glaring weaknesses Portland needs to fix, namely the need for defensive consistency and a lack of bench production.
Expect a different mood when the Blazers reconvene in the fall. Olshey’s quotes will likely describe a renewed set of goals that include contending for a Western Conference title.
That will be tough. The West isn’t getting any weaker. Portland won’t be sneaking up on anyone. But at least the questions won’t be about injured draft picks, league-leading playoff droughts or leadership instability.
As the sand in this season’s hourglass ran out, it’s worth taking a second to appreciate something that’s returned to the Blazers.