"Basketball Never Stops." This slogan comes courtesy of Nike, and during the lockout summer of 2011 it served the purpose of showing fans of the NBA that basketball could exist without its highest professional league.
Emblazoned on shirts worn by barnstorming professionals that summer, some of whom made a brief visit to the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus for a decently attended charity basketball game hosted by LaMarcus Aldridge, it was the height of situational irony that Nike would use that slogan the one time when basketball had, in fact, stopped.
Now two summers removed from that work stoppage, as the implications from the new collective bargaining agreement begin to make themselves known through shorter contracts, higher parity in talent and across the board penny-pinching, the NBA has once again reached the point where basketball is stopping.
Not stopping like it did in 2011 or in 1998-99, but stopping like it does every year in late July. Stopping because, believe it or not, everybody needs a break.
There is a new day dawning in Portland. More precisely, the Blazers are entering the second act of what could be a three or four act play. Turning around from a season of missed opportunities couched in overachievement to a season of renewed expectations and, hopefully, a shot at the post season. But that will all have to wait.
Each season, NBA rookies, journeymen and wannabes make their trip to the various professional summer leagues. Last season, Damian Lillard burst onto the scene down in Las Vegas, crushing the competition and earning MVP honors.
Though some were hesitant to hail Lillard the newest savior of the Blazers—after all Jerryd Bayless had once been crowed MVP of summer league while wearing a Blazer jersey—others ceded the Rookie of the Year trophy to Lillard in July. That Damian would go on to be the only the fourth player to win Rookie of the Year honors unanimously could be seen as a vote of confidence for carryover from summer league.
The importance of summer league stats and honors, however, is done at one's own discretion. There is no more important time to remember that than this year. The Blazers' summer league squad, helmed by incoming lottery-pick C.J. McCollum, and stocked with Portland's bastion of young talent, stumbled their way to an early exit in the inaugural Las Vegas summer league tournament.
The Blazers finished their run in Vegas a disappointing 1-5, their lone victory coming at the hands of a Will Barton game winner in overtime. Summer league should leave Blazer fans with a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, it's summer league. Of the Blazers' starting five for their final summer league tilt, only Allen Crabbe will make the roster. At summer league, wins and losses are meaningless.
On the other hand though, the likes of Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and the aforementioned Barton and McCollum are going to be called upon frequently to contribute once the games that really matter start. That the group could muster only a single win in five attempts probably gave night terrors to a few diehard fans.
But all that is over now. Summer league has come and gone. Damian Lillard, exempt from playing in summer league because he had better things to do, completed his run with the A-list group of young NBA studs brought to Vegas to compete for spots on the next iteration of Team USA. Robin Lopez has yet to throw on the red and black and get down to business.
There will be plenty of time in the fall, between the start of training camp and the end the preseason, to hem and haw over questions such as: When is it too soon to give up on Meyers Leonard? Where would LaMarcus Aldridge rather be, and how can management keep him from going there? Will Damian Lillard's meteoric rise to stardom be bad for C.J. McCollum's short-term growth?
Until then, between binge-watching Orange Is The New Black and catching up on A Song of Ice and Fire, Blazer fans can take solace in knowing there will be no new coach or GM to break in for the 2013-14 season, that, for now, Portland's best player is staying in town, and that regardless of how other teams have shaped their rosters in the offseason, the Blazers today are better than they were a year ago or even three months ago.
The summer is for resting; it's for relaxing. Take a deep breath Blazer fans: Basketball has stopped. For now.