The NBA offseason is all about looking ahead. What’s your favorite team going to do in the draft? Will you land your top target on your agency big board? Is your squad doing anything at all to improve its chances of competing not just immediately, but into the future?
Here at Oregon Sports News…we’re throwing all of that out the window.
With the 2016-17 season officially in the Portland Trail Blazers’ rear view, we’re going to look back. Way back.
OSN’s Casey Mabbott (CM), Jared Wright (JW), Jason Hartzog (JH) and Bryant Knox (BK) took off their analyst hats in favor of oversized Rip City hipster fanboy beanies and compiled the following responses on topics that have previously been limited to water coolers and sports bar debates.
This isn’t a breakdown of what’s to come—it’s a reflection of what has been and what could have been throughout Trail Blazers history.
Enjoy the ride.
- Who are your 5 favorite Trail Blazers of all-time?
CM: Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton, Brandon Roy, Damian Lillard, Buck Williams, in that order.
JW: In no particular order: Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Brandon Roy, Damian Lillard, and Steve Blake.
JH: Favorite Blazers player of all-time is Rasheed Wallace. Damon Stoudamire, Brandon Roy, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews round out my top-5. CJ is moving up the list though.
BK: Favorite of all-time is Brian Grant. After the Rasta Monsta, in no particular order, is Brandon Roy, Rod Strickland, Damon Stoudamire and Arvydas Sabonis. (Damian Lillard is in my top 5 most days.)
- What is your favorite moment you’ve witnessed in Blazers history (in person or otherwise)?
CM: I don’t have a game I have seen in person that makes the list, but the game I watched live on TV that will stick with me is game six against Houston in 2014. I was sure Portland had found a way to lose in the final minute and were going to have to suffer through a Game 7 in Houston. Not only did Portland win, but Damian Lillard’s world-shocking game-winning three-pointer with 0.9 seconds left will live on in Blazer lore forever.
JW: “The Shot” against the Rockets. I saw that happen live on TV. Glorious.
JH: Brandon Roy rising from the dead (well, just the bench, but he had started to look like a shell of himself at this point with all the knee issues) and single handedly bringing the Blazers back from a 23-point deficit to win at home versus the Dallas Mavericks back in 2011. This was the greatest game that I have ever been to. As the third quarter goes on I see miss after miss from the Blazers, and I’m thinking “this thing is over”. The lead gets up to 23 and then suddenly everything changed as Roy felt an extra hop in his step. He assists LaMarcus Aldridge for a layup and then hits a 3 in the final seconds to cut the lead to 18 heading into the fourth quarter. That moment between, the crowd re-energized. These huge inflatable tubes things come ripping from the stands and the music starts pumping. Everyone was on their seats in full cheers. That momentum carried as Brandon Roy scored 18 4th quarter points to bring the Blazers back and win the game. I am proud to say that I saw his last great moment live. Watching the YouTube highlights of that game still gives me chills. If Jason Terry would have hit that final three at the end, it would have been the greatest disappointment ever. So shoutout to Terry for not making that. Thanks.
BK: I’ve had the good fortune to have witnessed numerous big moments in Trail Blazers history in person. Brandon Roy’s career-high 52 points versus the Phoenix Suns. “The Shot” against the Houston Rockets. Greg Ostertag punting a ball into the 200 section (okay, maybe that’s not a big moment…but it was epic). But if I have to pick one, it was the four-overtime thriller back in 1997. The Blazers ultimately fell, 140-139, but there were multiple buzzer-beating shots, including one of the most ridiculous makes you’ll ever see, courtesy of Rex Chapman.
- What moment in Blazers history still gives you nightmares?
CM: Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. That Shaq-Kobe Lakers team was among the best ever, and Portland had them on the ropes going into the fourth quarter of game seven. Seeing the Blazers finish the series by getting outscored 31-13 in the final quarter was one of the toughest moments in the team’s playoff history. The 2000 squad was a championship contender and should have advanced and beat Indiana in the finals. Instead of showing team pride and fighting for a rematch the following season, they began to unravel and were never the same.
JW: That’s tough for me. I cared little about the Jail Blazers, so that heartbreak didn’t hurt as bad for me. I’m too young to have seen the injury-related drama around Bill Walton, or to have processed the Shrug or the Pistons beatdown. I’m going to have to say none.
JH: It has to be Greg Oden going down against the Houston Rockets in 2009. I was at this game. I saw the pain in that man’s eyes while he was laying there. He was seriously hurt. I knew it wasn’t good. I remember hearing the crowd chanting, “Oden-Oden-Oden-Oden”, in hopes that he would get up and walk off the court fine. He never ended up playing another game for Portland. The game before he put up 13 points, 20 rebounds and 4 blocks! He was starting to look like the guy everyone thought he could be. And it all came crashing down with one final injury. Tragic.
BK: I never thought that the haunting memories of Shaq catching a lob from Kobe Bryant in the middle of an epic fourth-quarter collapse during the 2000 WCF could be defeated in this subject. And then Greg Oden went down against the Rockets. That injury, following all the others, sealed his fate as an injury-prone draft bust.
- If you could re-write history for 1 injury-prone Trail Blazer, who would it be?
CM: The popular answer here might be Brandon Roy or Bill Walton, but even if you re-write Roy’s history you can’t change the fate of Greg Oden, and vice versa. And Walton would have been finishing up his career before I was old enough to appreciate his game, so I will selfishly re-write the history of Sam Bowie, and give Clyde Drexler the dominant big man he deserved. With a healthy Bowie, the Blazers probably had a better chance to beat Detroit in 1990 or Chicago in 1992. Swapping a healthy Bowie in for Kevin Duckworth doesn’t automatically give Portland a title, but I think it gives them better odds.
JW: One William Theodore Walton III. If he stays healthy through most of his time here, the Blazers at least win the 1978 championship; Portland was obliterating everyone in the NBA before Walton’s feet disintegrated.
JH: I see the Bill Walton trend going on here, and you know what? I’m hopping on this train. I was honestly thinking Roy or Oden because it would have been great to see that type of championship caliber team in my lifetime. But you give this early Trail Blazers franchise a healthy Walton and they would have absolutely won multiple titles. Therefore establishing themselves and this city as a championship contender. You rewrite the history for the franchise as a whole. Instead of the last 40 years of no rings, this would be one of those franchises where greatness is expected and championships would have been chased year after year.
BK: This has to be Bill Walton. Eliminating “injury prone” from Greg Oden means you also eliminate “bust” and therefore establish one of the NBA’s best Big 3s of that time. But if you change history to keep Walton healthy, you also likely keep him in Portland and that team goes on to win multiple championship, whereas the modern-day trio would have still struggled to get one.
- If you could have dinner with any Trail Blazer (past, present, dead or alive), who would it be?
CM: Maurice Lucas. So much is made about Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Damian Lillard that Lucas is often the odd man out in Blazers lore. Without his becoming the enforcer in the 1977 NBA Finals, who knows if we’d even have one title to our name? I would like to get a steak dinner and discuss his influence on the franchise, both past and present.
JW: Hmmmm. Walton is too wordy for me, and Drexler and Roy and most other obvious choices are either too unintelligent or too boring to be interesting dinner companions. One man I would like to have dinner with would be Bill Schonely, purely for the stories and that golden voice. If I have to pick a player, Kersey.
JH: CJ McCollum. As I have stated, CJ is climbing up my ladder of all-time favorites. However, it’s not just his offensive skill set that makes this such an intriguing man date. It is his educational background in journalism that makes me want to pick his brain a little. Where I am at in life with striving to become a known sports writer. This is the man I want to have dinner with. Just to talk about life. Share my goals in life and how I can get there. He is someone that I look up to, not just on the court to get my beloved Blazers a win, but with the things he does off the court. Oh and there would be some basketball talk in there as well. I love the game and he knows it well.
BK: Ready for the surprise answer of the roundtable? Make me a reservation at Mortons, and put down “Jim Jackson” as the name. Props to Jared Wright for picking the actual best answer to this question in Schonley, and anyone who names some of the franchise’s all-time greats deserves credit as well. But Jackson, who spent just one year in Portland (and wasn’t all that productive, to be honest), is the definition of a journeyman. He played for 12 teams (Phoenix twice) in 14 years, meaning he has to have a ton of stories about the league as a whole and how Rip City relates.
- Create an All-Time Trail Blazers starting 5, using peak years in Portland.
CM: Damian Lillard, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Maurice Lucas, Bill Walton.
JW: This one is fun. Present-day Lillard, 1992 Drexler (MVP runner-up), 1990 Kersey (peak of his athletic prime), 2000 Rasheed Wallace (Sheed at heart was a guy that wanted to fill in the blanks, and that’s perfect for a team like this), and 1978 Walton, pre-injury. Good luck playing against this team.
JH: Current Damian Lillard, 2008-09 Brandon Roy, late 80’s-early 90’s Clyde Drexler, 2000 Rasheed and pre-injury Bill Walton.
BK: Damian Lillard, Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Maurice Lucas, Bill Walton. Yep, that’s a two-point-guard lineup plus an oversized shooting guard at the 3. Don’t @ me.
- You have a time machine. You can go back and witness Portland’s lone championship in person, but in doing so you seal the fate that this franchise will never win another title. Do you do it?
CM: No. As much as I would love to see that in person, I would not want to ruin the chances of any future team by doing so.
JW: No. Mostly because I don’t think time travel is ever a good idea, but that’s another talk.
JH: No. I got you Dame. I know you want to bring a championship to Portland. I’m not going to be the man to stop you.
BK: Unpopular answer: Yep. Call me a pessimist, but I’m not sure I witness a Trail Blazers championship in my lifetime. Of course the landscape of the league is going to shift numerous times before I perish, but since 1984 only 10 teams have won a Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s 10 franchises in 37 years. Parity exists in the NBA—it just exists among ⅓ of the league.
- Portland wins the NBA Draft coin flip in 1984. Do you take Michael Jordan at No. 1, or do you select Hakeem Olajuwon to pair alongside Clyde Drexler?
CM: I would take Hakeem at number one. We know from both NCAA and NBA film that Clyde and Hakeem could co-exist on the court and be very successful, but we don’t know that of Drexler and Jordan. There is as much chance that Jordan would have made Drexler expendable as he would have helped them be a great duo on the court.
JW: Hot take: I go for Olajuwon. He was teammates with Drexler at the University of Houston, and the reason the Houston Rockets have never been raked over the coals like the Blazers have for the ’84 Draft is that Hakeem was a borderline top-10 player ALL-TIME in his own right. With Drexler’s frail psyche, Jordan would have destroyed his confidence within a year. No chance of being a Scottie Pippen.
JH: Knowing what we know now, I go Michael Jordan. The GOAT. He didn’t need a center to win a championship. Hell, he didn’t even need a point guard. All he needed was a great rebounder, and a sidekick. Throw some role players around that and we have a multi-championship team. Who knows? Maybe we draft Dennis Rodman in 1986 when we drafted… wait, Arvydas was drafted in 1986, but didn’t come over until 1995? Fuuuuck. Imagine that guys paired with these two.
BK: This is tough. On one hand, putting Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon together that early in their careers probably expedites their championship run they had in 1995. On the other hand, adding the GOAT probably does the same. Ultimately, I believe that Drexler, being both a great slasher and isolation player could have easily played the 3. Give me MJ, and give me multiple titles.
- You can amend one No. 1 pick. Do you swap out Greg Oden for Kevin Durant (No. 2)? Mychal Thompson for Larry Bird (No. 6)? Or LaRue Martin for Dr. J (No. 12) or Bob McAdoo (No. 2)
CM: Assuming it doesn’t ruin the chance to have any of the current stars on the team, I would swap Oden for Durant. The idea of a Lillard, McCollum, Durant, Aldridge and Nurkic starting five is too good to pass up (assuming LA stays put because of the talent level here). If any of those guys is not in Portland because of the ripple effect, I would still do it—but it wouldn’t be as exciting.
JW: Another interesting one. Dr. J is one of the best to ever live, but he was past his prime when he came to the NBA. McAdoo was nothing more than a volume scorer that whined about money, so no go there. Durant likely would have left Portland just like he left Oklahoma City. I go for Bird. Thompson was a good center, but Bird is the sixth-best player of all-time.
JH: Larry Legend. Bring him in. Sign us up! In 1979 instead of trading Maurice Lucas and 2 first round picks for Calvin Natt, the Blazers could have had a better player than Natt by selecting Bird in 1978. Keep Lucas who remained a great player for the next 6 seasons. Bird and Lucas would have been a great duo.
BK: If I have an opportunity to get Larry Bird in a Trail Blazers uniform, I’m doing it without hesitation. The Magic-Bird rivalry was one of the greatest this league has ever seen, and the fact that they faced off in championships adds to the intensity. But imagine the two facing off up to eight times a season and residing just one state away from each other. If that doesn’t get you excited, you don’t like basketball.
- Bonus Question: You can bring Arvydas Sabonis over in his prime but you can’t make any of the aforementioned draft swaps. Do you do it?
CM: Yes. We know Sabonis was one of the better centers in the league even at an older age in the mid-late 90s, but I would love to see what he could have done in the late 80’s/early 90’s with a younger body and two healthy knees. An in-his-prime Sabas starting at center as part of an incredible Blazers lineup featuring Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, and Buck Williams, with sixth man Cliff Robinson? That lineup is simply too good to miss. It’s a shame if they all stay healthy and don’t win at least one title.
JW: Bryant (who will answer this question last) knows my feelings about Sabas, and the Russians screwing the Blazers over in the early 90s by detaining him in the USSR. That said, I still take Olajuwon. The only center back then that was superior to Sabonis was the Dream.
JH: Yep.Mostly because I want to see the legacy of a career that could have been. If Arvydas could or would have joined the team right away after the 1986 NBA Draft, this team would have beat Detroit in 1990 and probably Chicago in 1992. And maybe even a few titles in between the years that he missed (1986-94) by playing overseas and not in the NBA. Arvydas in his prime is a dream that never happened. He was the Porzingis of today, but back when little to no big men were very athletic and none could shoot. He was a True Unicorn of his time.
BK: Man…if you can get Sabonis in his prime, you have to consider it despite losing out on one of the amended picks. The guy was the ultimate playmaker who could also score and throw down on just about anybody at 7’3”. But as I already mentioned, if I have a chance to get Bird, I’m not hesitating.