The Waste Land of Pre-season Basketball

October is a cruel month. There’s still a little over a week before we actually get to see our team playing some basketball. Too many dreary days with nothing to get a hold of as to what this team is going to be like. One thing that does jump out at me is bad starts, and I’m not sure a backcourt with a rook and Jose Manuel Calderon will ever produce anything different. I understand the need to make Demar’s learning curve fairly steep. If they can have him making solid contributions by the end of the season, then starting him now will be worthwhile. But does that mean Jack should start? Jose could still finish. Have they even given it any thought? Probably not. Here’s hoping that Bosh will yet contribute more defensively, and that with Jose working as hard as he can for the first eight minutes, knowing that he’s got Jack there to allow him to rest, will tilt the balance in their favor.

OK. That seems very hopeful already. I don’t want to be hopeful. I want to have a good sense of how this team is going to approach things. October – it’s a cruel, cruel month. And nothing made me feel the damp draft of the autumn wind more than seeing this team up ten against the Celtics, and then appear to decide that they could just win with offense. Please don’t show me that in November. It’s too easy of a fallback position for a team with offensive-minded players. And it’s poison. There’s Reggie Evans holding crutches on the bench, and nobody on the floor wants to make a ten point lead feel like a gap of twenty already. Once November comes around, we are going to need to see Triano intervening in a hurry, and the leaders on this team making some noise even sooner than that. Evans will need to crack some heads with those crutches. And we have to be hopeful again, and think maybe he will be back and leaving his mark on the floor.

The preseason has shown glimpses of how this team can grab hold of some momentum, but with it being preseason, there hasn’t been much of a sense of how they might build on it yet. It is indeed cruel to see them only competing for short stretches (as will happen in pre-season games), with the memories of how that was the best that could be hoped for every night, still terribly fresh and burning as bright as a pumpkin moon. It is impossible to avoid smashing hopefulness against the curb and leaving it for the squirrels to feed on.

There is no way to not think the worst. I’m honestly trying not to think about what this team is going to show us in the weeks to come, until they actually show us what they’ve got when the time comes. It would be nice if they could all be at the same level with their conditioning, and if they all could be clear on how to make their strengths outweigh their weaknesses, and then just need to go out in a pre-season game and execute with a certain ease at three-quarters speed. But what really needs to be happening right now for this squad, and the thing that is so cruelly impossible to see with certainty right now, is nothing but hard work. They need to start falling in love with the idea of working harder every day. They need to feel an enormous void within themselves on days off. They need to be overheard quoting lines from T.S. Elliot over the All-Star break. It’s all got to be about the work, instead of relying on talent. And then by next October, they will already know enough to make it all seem easy.

That’s where they need to get to. That was never going to be the starting point. There are questions they need to answer by October 28: are they clear on the need for the hard work before they see the results, and will they still see the need for hard work even after seeing results? The answer will determine whether they are within reach of the upper tier teams, or are going to rely on beating the bottom-feeders and catching enough breaks to gain a low-end playoff seeding. So I’ll let the wind blow in my ears for the next little while and wait and see.

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