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Battling With High Expectations

from guest columnist Joe Newell:

For me, it’s the pit in the stomach, and a scowl on the face. My wife knows the signs, she’s seen those many times; she just goes quiet and gives me some space.

It’s hard to be a Sonic fan sometimes. Not the casual fan who only supports the team when it’s a winner; no I mean the kind of fan who has invested time and energy, hopes and dreams, and some kind of unrealistic self value in the success of the team.

Last season was really the beginning of the recent tough times. Coming off a 52 win season, and a good run in the playoffs, it seemed like the Ray and Rashard pairing (along with some other young complimentary players) had finally arrived. That we had something to really build on that could be special for years to come. That happiness didn’t last. First, we lost our coach. Then we lost our veteran combo guard (who actually played defense) and we took 3 players into last year on those “Qualifying Offer” one-year deals. By training camp, the feel good mojo from the previous year was long gone. Then the games started…

I don’t see the value in rehashing the ups and downs of last season; most of us are fully aware. It’s the last 1/3 of the season that is really causing the discontent for me. Most of us know that for that final portion of the season we went 14-11 (or something close to that if my memory serves), and actually competed. It gave me hope. Hope that the trade deadline reshuffle of players around Ray and Rashard would once again result in a good team; one that competed, played a semblance of defense, and actually looked like a bonafide NBA team.

It’s the hope that is the problem. Actually it’s more than the hope; it’s the hope paired with a certain level of expectation. Just like the ’04-’05 season raised my level of expectation for the following season, so too those last 25 games of last season fueled a higher expectation for this season. I had a hope and an expectation that this team would pick up where it left off last season, and be in a better place than it finds itself now.

I’ve been able to see every game so far this season with the exception of the Warriors on Saturday, and I have to say that even though we have five wins, and several close losses, the Sonics really haven’t been dominant with the exception of the second Lakers game. That was a complete domination. We imposed our will on the other team in just about every facet of the game. To a lesser extent, we played some good basketball in the Nets game, but it seemed a fairly evenly matched game that we won. In Charlotte, we weren’t dominant, or in Atlanta either. In the Portland game, we looked great in stretches, but pathetic in others. In the Utah game, the Jazz were clearly the better team.

I could accept that we are just not really a playoff caliber team if I hadn’t seen essentially the same group of guys (minus one big redhead) play at a higher level. My hopes and expectations have been raised by this team’s performance at the end of last year.

Earlier I stated that it’s hard to be a Sonic fan right now. It’s hard because I know this team is capable of better things. Sports are a performance business, and you can’t go far on moral victories. I like Bob Hill and nearly everything I’ve seen of him so far. I like what I know of most of the guys on the roster. But in the Sonics’ self titled “most important season”, this team is causing me to worry.

Maybe I should lower my expectations and just admit that perhaps this team is just not very good; that those last 25 games were just a hot streak; and that the team was really just overachieving. It causes less scowling, and less of a pit in the stomach after a tough loss when my expectations are lower.

My hope for this team just can’t seem to allow me to do it.