Please join us in welcoming Marcas Grant as a writer for Chasing 23. Marcas is a freelance writer, cartoon junkie and Golden State Warriors fan (another tortured soul). At any given time, two of those things bring him joy. For the past ten years, his combined love of sports and media have taken him up and down California from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and just about all points in between. He now lives in Los Angeles where the end of basketball season means the start of beach season. You can find Marcas at his second home on Twitter @MarcasG.
It was June 2006 and it was supposed to be the start of a new era in the NBA. Or at least in Portland. The organization had just jettisoned Darius Miles, Ruben Patterson and Sebastian Telfair, hoping to rid itself of the lingering stench left by the “Jail Blazers” of a few years previous. Steve Patterson had just taken over at general manager for the fired John Nash and hoped to take the franchise in a new direction.
After the dust had settled on the 2006 NBA draft, all signs pointed toward the start of something good in the Rose City. Patterson nabbed two of the top talents in a watered down draft class, working a pair of trades to land Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. The duo led the Blazers to a 32-50 record – not spectacular, but an 11-game improvement over the debacle of 2005-06. More importantly, it was a reason for the rest of the NBA to pay attention to Portland. Even more so when they landed the first pick in the ’07 draft with every intention of drafting Ohio State big man Greg Oden.
But nearly five years after that new beginning, the Blazers remain stuck in neutral. Sure, Portland is locked in for its third consecutive trip to the playoffs; yet in the heady, dreamlike days of 2006, landing as a sixth seed would have been considered a disappointment. Nonetheless, here they sit in the league’s netherworld – neither a doormat nor a true contender – with the proverbial window getting smaller all the time.
It’s easy to blame Oden’s fragility for Portland’s failure to vault into the Western Conference stratosphere, but Oden seems to be a symptom of a greater problem. In the past couple of years, Brandon Roy, Joel Przybilla and Jeff Pendergraph have all fallen victim to knee injuries. At some point, it stops being coincidence and starts being a trend.
Beyond the Blazers’ inability to keep key players on the court, it’s become apparent that the franchise has lacked a clear vision from management on which way the team should go – that inadequacy should be laid primarily at the feet of team owner Paul Allen. Despite heading that ’06 draft, Steve Patterson resigned before the season ended, putting a cap on a tumultuous tenure that began when he was hired as team president in 2003. Since then, the Trail Blazers went through two more general managers, before settling on current GM Rich Cho. Meanwhile, the draft returns since ’06 have been poor to say the least. The list of Blazers’ picks since then reads more like a “who’s that” than a “who’s who”.
|2007||1||1||Greg Oden||Ohio State University|
|2007||2||37||Josh McRoberts||Duke University|
|2007||2||42||Derrick Byars||Vanderbilt University|
|2007||2||52||Taurean Green||University of Florida|
|2007||2||53||Demetris Nichols||Syracuse University|
|2008||1||13||Brandon Rush||University of Kansas|
|2008||2||33||Joey Dorsey||University of Memphis|
|2008||2||55||Mike Taylor||Iowa State University|
|2009||2||33||Dante Cunningham||Villanova University|
|2009||2||38||Jon Brockman||University of Washington|
|2009||2||55||Patrick Mills||Saint Mary’s College of California|
|2010||1||22||Elliot Williams||University of Memphis|
|2010||2||44||Jerome Jordan||University of Tulsa|
Can you spot the All-Star in that group? Take your time. If you said there isn’t one, you’re right. Since 2001, the Blazers have had just three All-Stars. All three were named Brandon Roy.
Free agency and trades didn’t go much better. Hitting the open market landed Portland a few contributors like Steve Blake and Andre Miller, but those signings were overwhelmed by the additions of guys like Ime Udoka, Luke Schenscher and Jarron Collins. It’s also difficult to build a franchise around a player that has played 82 games in four seasons. Although Greg Oden‘s injuries have crippled his NBA development, it’s not as though his salary crippled Portland’s ability to get top-tier free agent talent.
But even when things went right, they went wrong. Portland acquired James Jones and Rudy Fernandez in draft day deals only to have Jones bolt for Miami at the first opportunity while Fernandez was so unhappy with his diminished role that he threatened to abandon the Blazers and return to Spain.
And while the Blazers have spent time treading water, their former neighbors to the north in Seattle zoomed past them. After Portland drafted Oden, the Sonics took Kevin Durant with the second pick – a move that haunts Trail Blazer nation to this day. Add one part Russell Westbrook, one part James Harden and a move to Oklahoma City – and it’s the Thunder that have become the Western Conference’s future instead of the Blazers.
So far, the jury remains out on Cho, who was an assistant general manager with the Seattle Supersonics and Oklahoma City Thunder, but was primarily a number cruncher who focused on contracts and salary cap issues. Whether he has the chops to be a strong personnel guy remains to be seen, but the early returns are promising. Cho started by adding a quality shooter in Wesley Matthews. Then he pulled off a steal of a trade, acquiring Charlotte’s Gerald Wallace for a collection of bit players and pair of draft picks – one that came from New Orleans in exchange for the under performing Jerryd Bayless and the other a top-12 protected selection.
It hasn’t taken long for Wallace to fit in with his teammates; Aldridge referred to him as the team’s MVP after last week’s win over the Lakers. He adds an energy and a physicality that the team lacked. It also could be a glimpse into the Blazers’ playoff future. They continue to wait as L.A. and the Dallas Mavericks battle over the second seed in the West, but can point to beating both of those teams since trading for Wallace. With these recent moves, the window may not be closed on the Blazers quite yet, but time is certainly beginning to run out…