From "Where Insanity Happens," from pointing fingers across the aisle, from its brief hiatus, the NBA has returned.
Training camps are set to open Dec. 9 with a 66-game schedule on the horizon, bringing a sense of relief for players, coaches and the fans who don't have to dread opening the newspaper like a paranoid schizophrenic prepping for a bomb wired to go off when he starts his car.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, the season couldn't have come at better time or any later.
Hopes are high for the Trail Blazers, who fell to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs last year.
If that weren't enough to generate buzz in the Rose City, the scheduled return of Greg Oden in January was. The debut of Elliot Williams was. The announcement that Portland would not use the amnesty clause to release Brandon Roy was.
What's more is knowing the Trail Blazers will escape the first round of the playoffs.
It sounds like a stretch. It hasn't happened since 2000. It seems that whenever Portland finds a groove, a key player goes down. Not this year.
Portland's schedule includes 48 games against Western Conference opponents and 14 against the Northwest Division. Considering the talent lost by the Denver Nuggets to the Chinese Basketball Association and Portland's success against the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, it's conceivable the Trail Blazers hold a 10-4 record, atop the division and a postseason seeding no worse than fourth when all is said and done.
It sounds like a stretch. Then again, a revitalized LaMarcus Aldridge returns for Portland. A more comfortable Gerald Wallace, a healthier Wesley Matthews and a much-improved Nicolas Batum return.
This resilient group's impact is immeasurable. Think about last year's scenario.
The Trail Blazers' leading scorer and face of the franchise went down. Their No. 1 overall pick went under the knife, as did their top prospect. Uncertainity surround the health of Portland's front line and the abilities of its supporting cast.
Starting on Dec. 15 against Dallas, Aldridge emerged from the woodwork and became one of the most dominant power forwards in the Western Conference, averaging 23.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game on 52.1 percent shooting through season's end. He became the third player in Portland history to win Western Conference Player of the Month and was one of only three athletes in the league to finish the season ranked in the top 15 of points (21.8) and boards (8.8).
Now, after an extended offseason, Aldridge returns to Rip City with five extra pounds of muscle and his body fat decreased by four percent, his ballhandling improved and his shooting range increased.
"I just have to do what I did last year," Aldridge said at Portland's practice facility last week. "I think when adversity struck, I tried to grow physically on the court, mentally, as a leader and being more vocal. Last year was a good starting point for me. This year, I should be better at it."
Matthews was the team's second leading scorer last year and Wallace a versatile forward who can't be slowed by a freight train when on the hardwood.
Batum put together a career year last season after putting up 12.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as a reserve. He brought needed energy off the bench and became one of the better defenders in the league (just ask Kevin Durant).
The Trail Blazers added Raymond Felton to the mix, a much-improved point guard who comes off his best year as a pro. Not only that, but Portland's front office has anywhere between $3 million and $5 million available for free agency, depending on whether they stick to their word of retaining Roy.
When grouped together, Portland could have one of the most cohesive, up-tempo and aggressive offenses in the Western Conference, improving its 96.3 points per game last year to somewhere around 101, that is, if the Trail Blazers can keep turnovers to a minimum and find consistency from three-point range.
The finalization of the new collective bargaining agreement calls for either more wins or more changes. Fortunately, Portland's in a situation to satisfy the majority.
This lockout serves as the DeLorean, bringing the Trail Blazers back to the playoff success of the 1990s. Portland was in a postseason rut, unable to get out of the opening round. Doc Stern changed all that.