Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy showed up to training camp a lesser player, no longer as explosive as he had been in back-to-back-to-back All-Star seasons. After two midseason knee surgeries, he's been even more limited, shifting from his starting two guard spot to a reserve role during the playoff drive and struggling through the least productive month of his NBA career.
During a Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Roy and the rest of Portland's bench struggled badly to produce. Roy saw his minutes cut from 26 in Game 1, in which he played virtually all of the fourth quarter, to just eight in Game 2, where he sat for the entire third quarter and the final 9:42 of the fourth. Roy finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals and one turnover.
After the game, Roy told The Oregonian that he nearly cried during the game because he wasn't getting much run.
“There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking 'You better not cry,''' Roy said. “I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can't be sorry for yourself. I'm a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help.''
Roy was one of the first players to leave the locker room, but when he was stopped in the hallway, the hurt and confusion were still evident.
“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little hurt, or disappointed,'' Roy said. “But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it's tough man. I just …. I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.''Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He's also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes.
There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn't necessarily mean that he's the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn't equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn't mean he's playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn't been the case for months now.
When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he's either kidding himself or he hasn't fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability -- slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out -- for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken.
Is it possible that Roy regains his form in the future? Absolutely. Is McMillan correct to pin Roy to the bench during the playoffs right now? Absolutely.
No one wants Roy to succeed more than McMillan. The two share a bond, having literally turned a franchise around together. Few coaches would have let him play 26 ineffective minutes in Game 1 -- Roy shot 1-7, scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and dished three assists -- before pulling the plug. McMillan arguably gave Roy more power and offensive control than he should have for the better part of three seasons, and he unfailingly backed Roy as the team's best option no matter the results. McMillan wants Roy to be able to play well as much as anyone besides Roy himself and Roy's immediate family members.
Seen in that context, it's clearly no easy decision for McMillan to sit Roy. But it is the right one. Roy, who has been honest to a fault since he entered the NBA, isn't expected to be happy about that. With that said, a level of composure is required, especially during the middle of a playoff series. The last thing the Blazers need -- down 0-2 to a deeper and more talented Dallas team -- is a distraction.
And Roy's comments will surely become exactly that.