Hakeem

Trade Deadline Scenario: The Ultimate Portland Trail Blazers

It's the NBA trade deadline today, and many local fans are wondering if the Portland Trail Blazers will be making a move, and what those moves or the lack thereof will do to change the current build of the team. The chances of a move being made appear to be 50/50, based on what you may have heard.

50/50 is an interesting probability, especially with regard to the Blazers, and exactly what should be applied to the Blazers' storied past, which has not often had its fair share of glory.

Rather than make educated guesses as to what the Blazers will look like by the end of the day, what if we were able to trade something different? Such as past players, or more specifically, luck as it pertains to the ability to obtain the rights to past players?

What if we could unwind the hands of time, and give the Blazers the team and the titles they deserved? What if 1980 were some unsurpassable barrier, and everything changed must take place afterward? What if Bill Walton leaving town represented the last major string of bad luck the team and its fans had to endure?

What if?

What if former Blazers' President Larry Weinberg had called “heads”, or if the coin had just obeyed his plan to come up tails? This was not your everyday coin toss after all, this was a pivotal coin toss in 1984, the same coin toss that could have and would have awarded Portland the number one selection in the NBA Draft, and by extension, prized University of Houston and future Hall of Fame center Akeem (later changed to Hakeem) Olajuwon.

Wrap your head around that idea. What if, the Portland Trail Blazers had selected Olajuwon, with their first overall selection?

What if?!

In 1984-85, the Blazers would have been a thorn in the sides of Western Conference foes, but not the dagger to their championship hopes that they could have been.

This could have become the greatest team of all, even greater than any of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls teams, and on the level or greater than the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, often considered the greatest team of all time.

By the 1989 season, assuming the same key players are drafted or acquired (save for Buck Williams, he was only brought here via a trade for Sam Bowie, who wouldn't be on the team), the Blazers could have had a roster that even against the likes of the 76ers, Celtics, Lakers, and Pistons would have been virtually unbeatable.

Imagine, if you will, a starting five of point guard Terry Porter, shooting guard Clyde Drexler, small forward Jerome Kersey, power forward Cliff Robinson, and center Hakeem Olajuwon. An extremely deep bench bolstered by Danny Young, Drazen Petrovic, and Kevin Duckworth, would prove the x-factor in playoff series that would be hard fought and won against some of the NBA's greatest dynasties.

While the original 1989-90 Blazers lost the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons, the addition of Olajuwon swings the momentum in their favor, and the Blazers are able to win a hard fought series 4-2. Olajuwon and Robinson fight well against the Pistons' vaunted front court of Bill Lambeer and John Salley, but the all-around defense and high scoring of Olajuwon and Robinson's outside shooting and shot blocking as well as Duckworth coming in fresh off the bench, prove too much for Detroit's big men, and thus leaving extra openings for Drexler, Kersey, and Porter to drive the lane or shoot from the perimeter. Valiant efforts by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars come up short, as the guards are asked to force shots as their big men prove ineffective against the versatile Portland front court players.

Hoisting their first championship trophy since the 1977 season takes the “monkey” off of the Blazers' back, and takes the pressure off of the team in 1990-91, when they went 63-19 with Duckworth at center, where as now they win 70 games, and with Olajuwon leading them past the pesky Lakers in the conference finals, beat the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, who are forced to double team Olajuwon, and leave undermanned or entirely open Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Danny Ainge, or Jerome Kersey, all of whom can score at will. Jordan is a better distributor of the ball at this stage in his career, but with the Blazers sticking Kersey on Jordan and  the defense of Drexler on Scottie Pippen holding him in check, Olajuwon's ability to give the team added bumps in possessions and stops with his rebounding and shot blocking, proves too much for the surprisingly undermanned Bulls. Chicago loses the series 4-2, putting the Blazers in the dynasty discussion with two titles in as many years.

1991-92 would be the Blazers best year, as they held one of the most well-rounded rosters in recent memory. A starting five of Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kevin Duckworth. A bench of sixth man of the year Cliff Robinson, Robert Pack, and Danny Ainge, puts Portland in the driver's seat against any team, and with Olajuwon moving to forward, he can produce more scoring, and Robinson backing up both Kersey and Olajuwon, can spend more time at or near the perimeter, and truly exhaust opposing defenses. Sweeping the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz in succession, the Blazers head to the Finals for a rematch with the Bulls, where a slight lineup change ensues. To combat the stalwart rebounding of Horace Grant and imposing frame of Bulls center Bill Cartwright, the Blazers shift Olajuwon back to center with Duckworth coming off the bench, and split time at power forward between Robinson and Kersey, with Clyde Drexler moving to small forward at times, and Ainge playing more minutes than usual at shooting guard. The moves pay off, and despite a terrific series from Jordan, who averages 40 points a game, the Bulls lose the series 4-3, and Jordan is crowned Finals MVP, the only player other than Jerry West to ever win the award on the losing side.

The Blazers enter the 1992-93 season having won three championships in a row, and in search of cementing their status as one of the best teams of all. Olajuwon, Robinson, and Drexler all enjoyed All-Star seasons. Porter and new addition Rod Strickland each found chemistry running the offense, and the front court of Kersey, Robinson, Olajuwon, and Duckworth, puts the Blazers as one of the best all-around defensive teams, and with Olajuwon and Drexler still able to score in bunches, the team rolls through the regular season, winning 65 games and beating the Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton led Seattle Supersonics in the Western Conference Finals, and once again being matched up with Jordan and the Bulls for the third time in the Finals. Jordan would finally get his revenge, helping the Bulls win the series with a Finals-record 50 points a game average in a 4-1 defeat of the Blazers.

In a rare twist of fate, Jordan, the leader of the Blazers' only real roadblock, would be secretly suspended following the 1993 season, and asked to take a year off by NBA Commissioner David Stern in part due to gambling discrepancies. With Jordan out of the picture, the Blazers and new addition Harvey Grant storm through the regular season, winning 70 games for the second time in franchise history, and stage an extremely hard-fought series with the Utah Jazz, led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, with the Blazers narrowly escaping in game seven on a last second shot by Olajuwon courtesy of the “Dream Shake”. A seven game series with the New York Knicks ensues, and while both teams fight hard, the Blazers walk away with the Championship, their fourth in five years. Olajuwon wins the Finals MVP by outplaying rival Knicks center Patrick Ewing, and announces his retirement following the trophy celebration.

Drexler, nursing injuries over the last few years and with nothing left to prove, also retires. The city of Portland enjoys a bittersweet moment as the men from Houston that brought so much glory and pride to the team and its town, are honored in a ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Their jerseys and numbers are retired during the first game of the 1994-95 season, and the team, left without its main two players, struggles to compete. The pieces of their championship rosters are broken off bit by bit, and before long, the team is chalk full of young, albeit recognizable talent.

The Blazers limp through the remainder of the 1990's, and their fortunes do not improve in the early 2000's, as they fail to make the playoffs from 1999-2003, and enter 2004 with a roster in disarray. After a disastrous season that ends with the Blazers winning just 22 games and their coach being fired midway through the season, they are entered in the 2005 NBA draft with the third overall selection. Despite grand offers to trade the pick and a high need for a cornerstone player to build around, the Blazers select Chris Paul over the highly touted Deron Williams. The following year, Portland would acquire the draft rights to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, forming an outstanding trio to build around. Roy's knees are a concern, but with Paul's ability to score and pass, Roy is able to split time with Paul at both guard positions, adding years to both player's careers.

Despite quality play from their cornerstone players, the Blazers won the draft lottery in 2007, and while Ohio State University center Greg Oden reminded many of former Blazers great Hakeem Olajuwon, after individual workouts with Olajuwon's former personal trainers, Oden is revealed to have limited mobility as well as pain in his knees, and the team passes on him, selecting small forward Kevin Durant out of Texas.

The trio of Paul, Durant, and Aldridge prove to be formidable for years, and while the team lacks a dominant center, the acquisition of veteran big man Marcus Camby more than fills the gap, and the team embarks on a title run in 2010, beating the Boston Celtics in six games. His knees worsening and playing time hard to come by with Durant and Paul seeing the lion's share of minutes and shot opportunities, Roy requests to be traded. Boston accepts a trade offer of Roy and a first round pick in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen. Perkins, coming off of a major knee injury seems like a fair swap and Allen, while beyond aging, is worth a first round pick if he helps the team win a title, which he does.

A lineup of Chris Paul, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kendrick Perkins, and a bench of Nicolas Batum, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Matthews, and Marcus Camby proves too much for the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, as the Blazers defeat LeBron James and the Lebronettes four games to one, as Paul collects the Finals MVP.

With two titles in the last three years, six over the last 14 years, and seven overall, it is a very bright past and an exceedingly bright future for this team. With such a talented roster and a front office that can seemingly do no wrong, in a very a short amount of time, the Blazers will rival the Celtics and Lakers for most championships all time,

50/50. What a difference a coin makes.

What if? 

About Arran Gimba

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