When the Dwight Howard saga came to a merciful end last Friday after his trade to the Lakers, NBA fans in small markets rolled their collective eyes, and settled in for another big market championship that will almost assuredly take place next June. Blazers fans were in the mix, and it was made more painful that their bitter rivals to the south once again reaped the rewards of an awkwardly out-of-balance trade. For the second time this summer, and third time in the last five years, the Lakers received a hall-of-fame player (Pau Gasol and Steve Nash being the previous) while giving up next to nothing in return.
It’s time for this to stop. It can, and the proof is there. I give you the model franchise for the Blazers to emulate…
The San Antonio Spurs.
Four titles in eight years since the end of the 20th century, and all without the aid of large TV markets or lop-sided trades. Smart management, excellent draft day maneuvers, and a lucky home run in Tim Duncan were all the Spurs needed to overthrow the evil empire that David Stern has created.
The Blazers are in the same boat as the Spurs. A small market, Portland has a niche audience looking over the team. When things are going well, Rip City may provide the best fans in all of sports. Loud, passionate, loyal and realistic, fans of the franchise have waited by idly since 1977, when the franchise provided the state of Oregon with its only major league championship. The team has been close, sure–finals appearances in 1990 and 1992, and a memorable battle with the Lakers in the de facto round championship in 2000–but for the most part, has bowed out of the playoffs early or missed the postseason party all together.
But all hope is not lost.
Since 1987, 25 championships have been crowned in the NBA. Twenty-one of them have been from large TV markets, predominantly from the Midwest and east coast. The other four?
You guessed it.
The Spurs have been the model franchise to follow, and it’s time for the Blazers to open there eyes. The Spurs have been the model of consistency, and it can all be traced back to one, painfully obvious reason: Smart basketball IQ’s were brought in and left alone.
Sound like something that may be missing here in the northwest?
Portland has gone through eight GM’s since 2000, including interims. The consistency concept, needless to say, is almost taboo with the Blazers. But things can change. New GM Neil Olshey seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He can light up a room, and has had success in hard to succeed situations (see: Los Angeles Clippers). They have a potential franchise point guard, an All-Star power forward, and a Frenchman that has all the talent in the world. The pieces are in place for success to occur here. A game plan needs to be set in place, and then followed through with.
Portland may not have a Tim Duncan. Terry Stotts is not Gregg Poppovich. Also, Tony Parkers don’t grow on trees. Spurs-esque success can be accomplished, though. It can be done in cities outside of LA and Chicago. And it can be done without the aid of David Stern.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
The 2000 was not fun. The team that was brought together by absurd spending and trades. Felons, drug users and womanizers ruled the locker room, and was not relatable. The Blazers run to 54 wins and a playoff berth in 2008 … not that. Young, energetic players with nothing to lose took the town by storm and re-introduced Blazermania to the masses. Injuries ultimately befell that squad, but the idea was right. Eleven players on that roster were drafted by Portland. Most of them were under the age of 25. They were OUR players, and that was a special feeling. You don’t cram 15,000 people into Pioneer Square for a rally to celebrate simply making the playoffs without being a bit quirky. That’s what this city is. And we love it.
Let’s bring that feeling back. But please, let’s do it with the leaders that are already in place.