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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