The Expectations Game

Darius Soriano —  November 18, 2010

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Expectations can be tricky.

Live up to or exceed them and the bar gets raised to a level where anything less than achieving or surpassing those same heights can taint future accomplishments (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City).  Or, don’t achieve what’s expected of you in the first place and it’s a disappointment that is tough to live down, regardless of what transpires in the future.  Yet still, if expectations are low and the achievements reached are far greater than what anyone originally thought possible, a hero’s celebration is sure to follow (Michael Beasley is inching in that direction right now).  Such is life – and sports – and walking a path where you don’t find yourself on one side of this line is often difficult or even impossible.

We see examples of the expectations game all the time in the NBA.  In 2008 the Lakers were an afterthought to start the year as trade rumors surrounded Kobe Bryant and engulfed the Lakers’ organization.  By the time the all-star break came the Lakers were one of the better teams in the league, had traded for Pau Gasol and went on to crash through their supposed ceiling by reaching the Finals.  That team eclipsed what many originally thought possible and were thus celebrated. (Initially, at least. Then expectations shifted, but that’s another story for another day.)  Today, we see what being on the wrong side of fulfilling expectations is like with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh’s performance under a constant microscope with tags of underachievement being placed on a team (and that specific player) based off what was thought they would be and could achieve this season.

There’s really no way around playing the expectations game.  A player or a team can ignore them the best they can, but in the end others’ beliefs of what you can or should achieve, be, or do in any given situation often take the place of whatever the individual or team has in it’s own plans.

I bring all this up because of the case of two big men.  One of them we’re all quite familiar with – Andrew Bynum.  The other is also a familiar name  – Greg Oden.

Earlier this week, Bynum was asked what his return date would be as he continues to work his way back from off-season surgery of his own.  Rather than go into any details, Bynum said, “I don’t want to change expectations”.  You see, Bynum is quite familiar with how this works.  This is the 4th straight season that he’s missed substantial playing time due to an injury.  Each season a timeline was set for his return and each year that date came and went with Bynum still rehabbing his injury.  Fans (myself included) proceeded to call Andrew a “notoriously slow healer” and now our expectations have been reset and adjusted to the fact that there aren’t any real timelines when it comes to Bynum, only waiting.  We know that one day he will be back and when he is we can go back to placing other expectations on him – to be an all-star, a better passer, or more/less of some other quality that we’d like to see in him or his game.

Fans of the Portland Trailblazers could only hope for the same ability to say that their injured big man will be back.   Because with the latest announcement and the reprecussions of it, it’s not a lock that Oden will ever be a viable player in the NBA again, much less do it with the Blazers (check out this post for a great roundup of Oden articles).  Which, needless to say, is a shame.  Because we’ve all had our own expecations for the Blazers’ big man.  Some called him the best big man prospect since Duncan.  Others said he had the potential to be a defensive game changer in the Alonzo Mourning mold, only with a more refined offensive game.  His size, strength, and natural talent as a player was unquestioned and now with another knee surgery planned and another season missed, questions are all that there are.

However this all turns out, though, I hope nothing but the best  for Greg Oden.  Many are counting him out right now and there’s good reason for that.  While the success rate of players who go though micro-fracture surgery is much better than the days of Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, it’s still a daunting surgery with a long and rigorous rehab.  That said, Oden seems like a player that loves the game and after working as hard as he has to come back from his other injuries maybe he has one more push to come back in him.  I sure hope so.

Just as a I hope for a healthy return of Andrew Bynum and for him to show us all again why all the fuss about his timelines exists in the first place.  While Bynum, like Oden, has endured more than his fair share of injuries, he’s also had enough court time to show us what’s possible with his game; for the expectations to be based off actual, sustained production and not just the potential of it.  So, I can’t wait to see him back on the court.  If only because the expectations for continued improvement are still there – even if it’s not always fair that it’s the case.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to The Expectations Game

  1. “Expectations are the root of all disappointment.”

    -My Dad

  2. You know why these guys matter so much, Darius? Because at the end of the day basketball is still a big man’s game. As much as we all love Kobe Bryant we know this to be true. The Lakers turned the corner when they were able to put two skilled true seven footers on the floor at the same time. It is LA’s trump card.

    Even with all the rule changes the game still belongs to the big men in the paint. That is why I hate to see players like Oden and Bynum suffering so many injuries. Oden has (or had?) the potential to be a defensive marvel in the paint. I was excited about him developing into that. As much as I love watching flashing swingmen, there is nothing like watching a seven foot defensive ace prowling in the paint. I remember watching Hakeem come across the lane just to knock shots out of the air. There’s nothing like it! (I still miss watching him play night in and night out).

    I wish both Oden and Bynum well on the injury front. It is great to have a stock a excellent point guards in the game. But I would love to see retro-style centers make a comeback (and stay healthy).

  3. Staying on the expectations theme, I wonder what is the realistic expectations for number of games played for big men such as Bynum?

    Intuitively you’d think that larger framed guys like Bynum, Oden Yao, etc will just take more pounding. That’s a lot of weight to be carrying. Seems like the more durable big men are usually built more like Jabbar. More slender and wiry.

    Without actual data, I’d make a wild guess that if you looked at the last 5 years and games played for large framed big men, it would be nowhere near the full 82 games. They probably all miss at least a dozen or so games.

    Joints and muscles can only get so strong regardless of their size.

  4. On a completely unrelated note, Kobe is being criticized because of the Call of Duty commercial he made recently. Skip Bayless (I HATE THAT GUY!) is killing him and even suggested for Kobe to get suspended. ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!!! OMG!

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Kobe-Bryant-s-catching-flak-for-that-Call-of-Du?urn=nba-287113

  5. There’s not enough care and attention given to centers, especially as other basketball players get faster and bigger. I think it takes a while for centers to grow into their body, and when they get pushed too quickly, they run the risk of really damaging their bodies – like the knees. If you look at the size of players compared to the 70-80’s when Jabbar played, there wasn’t such a great difference. If you look at Oden and Bynum, their bodies don’t seem proportionate. Oden has a huge torso and tiny legs. No wonder his knees blew out. Bynum has filled out, but I think going from high school (and not a lot of playing time) to the pros left open the possibility of serious injuries.

  6. One issue Oden has is that one leg is one inch shorter than the other. While this may not seem like a big deal for folks like me who are under 6 feet, on the body of a seven footer carrying close to 300 lbs, this is a huge deal in terms of wear and tear on the knees and other leg joints. Sadly, the outlook is not good. I just hope I’m wrong as he seems like a genuinely good person.

  7. With regards to so many fragile centers today, you must start to wonder what it is that really changed from the past and if we are missing something.

    Not that there aren’t durable centers today – Dwight comes to mind – but has the game changed to such an extent so that it is no longer ‘normal’ to find centers playing 70+ games a season, for a reasonable amount of years?

    Maybe it’s their diet, maybe it’s exposure to the pro game before they have filled out properly, maybe it’s the kind of exercise that’s different (less weights perhaps?), but something probably is amiss.

    As for Kobe’s Call of Duty commercial, I can see Skip’s point and really, I was taken aback because it just didn’t seem right to me. Him being on Guitar Hero is cool, as it softens his image, and I can see how Kobe thought this commercial would lend more credence to his Black Mamba thing or perhaps thought it was along the lines of supporting the troops, but it was a bad move because he is polarizing as is and does not need any more bruhaha to increase his visibility.

  8. I remember couple years ago the Blazers fans were sure their team was up and coming and perfectly built to match up with us… how much can change in a short time. Both Oden and Roy were huge injury risks coming into the draft and the Blazers took a flyer on both… same thing with DeJuan Blair in San Antonio

  9. I feel really bad for Oden.
    I couldn’t even begin to imagine the excruciating pain of a Portland fans when they think about “what could have been” game if they take Durant as #1 pick.

    I really hope Oden will be back.

    Speaking about expectation, after reading this article from Kevin Ding, would it be normal if i started hoping Drew could shoot from mid range like Gasol? http://is.gd/hnhlV

    I guess we’ll never pass the expectation game.

  10. Expectations lead to pressure. Pressure leads to pain. Pain leads to suffering. And such is the work of the Dark side.

    – Yodalehohu

    Kidding aside, expectations can deal you a very nasty blow if you don’t atleast live up to it. Its the “annointing” of the Heat as champs that has made credible guys like Hollinger chumps? Is the “no-brainer” combination of Lebron, Wade and Bosh going to take the league by storm? Is the the inevitable “growth” and development of the OKC Thunder that makes them the West’s #1 contender to the Lakers?

    Its a dangerous game we play, but don’t forget the Lakers are “expected” to win a 3-peat and anything else is a disappointment. At this stage, our pressure to do so will only increase.

    On the lighter side of things, I feel bad for Oden. Seems to me like he just got Walton’s curse (maybe Bowie too?) and the Blazers are just flat out bowing out of contention with this news (not that they had Oden last year too) but because BRANDON ROY is rumoured to be shopped.

    Sad.

  11. 4 – I can believe that, actually. I’m not really interested into getting into a political debate. But nowadays gun culture is glorified the same way smoking was glorified in ad campaigns 50 years ago. People have managed to get their heads on straight and deglorify the sexy mystique surrounding cigarettes. Many are trying to do the same with our gun culture, and one of the world’s largest superstars might have hindered that cause.

    I’m not saying I agree with it, but I’m not at all surprised it’s an issue. It’s a sensitive topic and Kobe must have known (or should have) that he’d face backlash by taking part in the ad.

  12. 7′ big men, starting with George Mikan, have had physical problems. This is not a new issue. Yes, Kareem was extremely durable, but he was also 1) genetically gifted with a long, limber body and 2) a fanatic about his conditioning well before most of the rest of the basketball players.

    That is one reason I tout Wilt Chamberlain so much. He was a very big, very athletic body that wasn’t injured very much. This is very unusual for people around 300lbs and over 7′ tall.

    We fans just don’t maintain much, in the way of memories.

  13. i wonder if the 7 footers that are injury prone used HGH to get tall, and that’s why they aren’t built to last.

  14. @13. I would bet that a significant factor in Oden’s problems was the injury he suffered that forced him to have hip surgery at age 12, resulting in one of his legs being 1.5″ shorter than the other.

  15. @ #1 – No disrespect to your father but I have always felt that expectations are usually a great indicator of how your peers perceive you. High expectations for the Lakers – we know everybody is gunning for them but they also respect and fear them. Low expectations for Hornets – So what. They’re not really this good. Let them fly under the radar.

    The Oklahoma City crew should use their high expectations to their advantage and show some swagger.

    Regarding the Call of Duty commercial – It’s a bummer about Americans that, in our society, the line between a video game and real life cannot be more clear. A commercial with a pro athlete holding up a 7-11 wouldn’t be appropriate but seeing the Kobster shooting a grenade launcher cracked me up.

  16. Bynum’s pelvis is wider than normal for someone his size, and he is knock-kneed, so he is structurally injury prone.

  17. Did Skip Bayless object when Wilt Chamberlain wielded a giant ax and destroyed his enemies in Conan the Barbarian? Or did he have problems when Ray Allen appeared to be having multiple sexual encounters in He Got Game? How about Shaq and Penny in Blue Chips when they got paid by boosters? How about former football player Carl Weathers in Predator? Man, wasn’t he violent?

    Oh yeah, these were just FICTIONAL movies. Back of Skip. Kobe didn’t endorse the firing of grenades at people much less than Wilt endorsed the chopping off of heads.

  18. Yeah, and Howie Long in that movie with John Travolta about the nuclear bombs?

    Well, hardly anyone saw that, so that one doesn’t really matter.

  19. Before the Oden/Durant draft, Simmons (yes, he is worth reading for laughs) had a draft diary where he stated that he’d take Durant over Oden any day.. because Oden was a 19 year old who walked like a 65 year old, while Durant had the makings of the most dangerous scorer ever. Simmons was dead on with those predictions.

    Re: Kobe & Bayless – Skip is just doing his job. His stance is ridiculous, but that’s what writers are paid to do – get people to react to their articles.

  20. Sorry, it wasn’t a draft diary – it was Simmons’ piece for ESPN Mag.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3683493

    Either way.. I feel bad for Oden. Seems like a nice but fragile kid. I don’t feel bad for Portland fans though. I hope Oden has a great career in Seattle, whenever they get a team back there.

  21. 18. Ex., great call on Howie Long. He was one bad mother in that movie.

    My expectations from now is this following: Bynum will play 65 (max) games a year. I will just assume that as his ceiling. Anything beyond that is free money.

    Wonder if a team like Miami will try to gamble next year and offer their MLE (if it exists) to Oden.

  22. maybe the Ls should do that! between Bynum and Odem they might could get a year’s worth of serviceable C.
    /sarcasm

  23. 21. DY, maybe Oden should go to Phoenix, they seem to have the fountain of youth down there.

    Nash is 150 years old, still going strong. Amar’e is back strong from microfracture surgeries. Should I even mention Grant Hill?

  24. Between Roy and Oden, maybe fingers should start being pointed to the training staff.

  25. Thanks for the info Dude. I did not know about Oden’s surgery.

  26. it is very unfortunate what happened to Oden..you cannot control Injury…I feel for him

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