Once the official NBA calendar is released later this month, we will have about 75 days (or so) to speculate on what the 2019-20 Portland Trail Blazers might do, and if we will see them in the 2020 NBA Finals, a not so short 28 years since their last appearance in 1992. Since we’ll have a lot of spare time to speculate and dream up what the new look Blazers might do, it made us wonder what the best Blazers from all eras would do if they could form one team, and how the members of the Portland Trail Blazers Dream Team get drafted?
In order to assemble the best Portland starting five of all time, we constructed a roster based on each player meeting at least three of these five requirements (all achievements must be based solely on their playing time in Portland):
1. Minimum of two years as a starter
2. Appeared in at least one conference finals or NBA finals
3. Elected to an All-NBA or All-Star roster
4. Won NBA Championship
5. Elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame or had their jersey number retired
Reserves can be any Blazer that manned their position as a starter for at least two years, the other starter-qualifying items are encouraged but not required. If your choice for a reserve does not meet these standards, please indicate why they should be on the all-time roster.
1. Point Guard Nominees – Choose one starter and one reserve from these players
(Bryant Knox – BK) It has to be Damian Lillard. Portland’s franchise face has it all on the court, in the locker room, with the media and in just about every other imaginable category. Terry Porter deserves obvious recognition and Geoff Petrie is always an intriguing “what if” when considering his lack of long-term health and the league’s lack of a three-point line during his time. But Loyal Lillard has made a name for himself in ways maybe no one has before him. I’m riding with the current Trail Blazer in my starting lineup, and I’ll take a shot on the Original Trail Blazer, Petrie, as his backup.
(Casey Mabbott – CM) Starter since his first game, Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, and a legit musician off the court. How do you pick against Damian Lillard? The guy has it all – outstanding passer, great court vision, one of the league’s best shooters from anywhere inside the logo, a great finisher at the rim, and the best of all – the ability to elevate the play of his teammates. No disrespect to some of the other greats to play this game in the Rose City, but Lillard is just a title or MVP award from being the most accomplished Blazer of all time regardless of position. Lillard is my choice for starting point guard, and I’ll ask Terry Porter to play backup. I really like Porter’s game and he meets at least three requirements to be a starter, but Lillard has a presence on and off the court that his teammates and opponents respond to, and I don’t think we saw that from Porter even though he had a very well rounded game.
2. Shooting Guard Nominees – Choose one starter and one reserve from these players
(BK) A Damian Lillard-Clyde Drexler starting backcourt? Yes please. As much as recency bias wants to see Brandon Roy start alongside Dame, The Natural will be a reserve on this roster. Drexler is among the all-time greats and got this franchise to two Finals during the Showtime Lakers era. When evaluating my roster so far, I have guards from 70s, 80s/90s, 2000s and 2010s. It’s tough to say which generation makes most sense to build around, but at least I have options.
(CM) Seven straight all-star games, All-NBA First Team, his jersey number 22 retired by Portland, and an extremely well deserved spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. I really believe Clyde Drexler would have won multiple titles in Portland if he hadn’t had the deck stacked against him with two of the greatest dynasties of all time forming when he was at his peak. Drexler is definitely one of the best 50 NBA players of all time, and top-3 if you’re talking about just Portland. His ahead of his time athletic ability, his willingness to take his game to the next level when he faced another legitimate superstar, and his finishing at the rim made him a fan favorite for more than a decade that included three trips to the conference finals and two trips to the Finals. The Trail Blazers were a struggling franchise before Drexler arrived and put them back on the map as an elite contender. I’ll choose Drexler as my starter and Brandon Roy as his backup. If not for severe knee injuries, we would probably be celebrating Roy as much as Drexler, but I’m willing to give him the spot ahead of some more accomplished players who meet more of the criteria. The little bit of Roy we got, we saw enough of his magic that many fans still proudly wear his jersey around town going on a decade after his six year career ended in basketball tragedy.
3. Small Forward Nominees – Choose one starter and one reserve from these players
(BK) Under the current criteria, Scottie Pippen and Bob Gross become the default options. I have to take Scottie. In February, he said on ESPN that his biggest regret from Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals was not taking over. Paraphrasing, he admitted that their regular-season chemistry and unselfishness translated to postseason confusion when it came to a go-to scorer/creator pecking order. On this roster, this wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, you likely end up in a situation where too many alphas are looking to take over, not the opposite. But that’s why Pippen is a great fit; he doesn’t need to be the No. 1. He may feel to this day he needed to take over back in 2000, but on this squad, he’ll be able to get his own within the flow of the game. Jerome Kersey is my backup all day long.
(CM) Small forward is a tough one, there have been quite a few great players at the position over the years but just a couple that meet the criteria for a starter. Scottie Pippen will have to be my choice, his arrival in 1999 made the post-Drexler Blazers an immediate title contender. While in the twilight of his career, he still made the All-NBA Defensive Team in consecutive years and helped Portland get back to the Conference Finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1991-92. Portland had been in the conference finals in the strike shortened 1998-99 season, but were swept by San Antonio. In the 1999-00 conference finals, Portland took their series with the LA Lakers to seven games before losing in heartbreaking fashion (too soon?). Portland would not return to the conference finals until 2019. Pippen’s all around game and superstar presence were a great fit in Portland despite their off the court issues. Jerome Kersey will be my choice for backup, while he doesn’t meet more than two of the starting criteria, he was a six year starter in Portland and a big reason why they went to three straight conference finals and two NBA Finals in the early 90s and a fan favorite while he was here. He may not have the numbers or the accolades of some other players, but he was great in his own right and will remain in the hearts of many Portland fans for his friendly and approachable presence off the court.
4. Power Forward Nominees – Choose one starter and one reserve from these players
(BK) How do you not take someone nicknamed The Enforcer? Maurice Lucas was the kind of player every team needs regardless of scheme. He was the guy you loved when he was on your side and loathed when he put a target on your back. At the risk of shrinking my court too drastically, I’m taking Brian Grant behind him. I should probably take LaMarcus Aldridge or Rasheed Wallace to add some versatility to the rotation, but I can’t resist keeping the enforcer theme going with the Rasta Monsta.
(CM) Maurice Lucas is my choice for starter at power forward. Champion, All-Star, All-NBA Defensive First Team, jersey number 20 retired by Portland, and a member of the ABA All-Time Team (not relevant here but a fun accolade all the same). While Bill Walton is currently the most accomplished Blazer of all time, Lucas’ well timed elbow in the 1977 NBA Finals earned him the nickname the “Enforcer” and changed the series to help Portland win their first and only title. A rapid rebounder, an above average scorer and a celebrated defender, Lucas was elected to all-star teams or all-NBA teams or both in all three of his full seasons in Portland. While his time here may have been relatively short compared to other Blazers greats, his stamp on this team and this city will be remembered forever. At backup I chose Buck Williams. Another fan favorite who also more than qualifies as a starter, Williams was a staple in the low post in the early 90s while helping Portland reach heights not seen since Lucas’ playing days. A double-double machine, Williams was one of the best rebounders of his era and a great low post scorer. While he did not get to play in an all-star game while representing Portland, he was elected to three consecutive All-NBA defensive teams during his first three years in Portland, which also saw the Blazers reach three straight conference finals and two NBA Finals.
5. Center Nominees – Choose one starter and one reserve from these players
(BK) Like the first position we hit here, center brings with it a “what if” element in both Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis. Walton’s days with Portland were limited and legendary. He led the franchise to its only title, he put together unquestionably some of the greatest stat line in team history, he was the perfect character on the perfect roster at the perfect time—and then he was gone. If health hadn’t been an issue, and maybe more importantly, if he and the staff had been able to get back on the same page, the Brotherhood With One Banner could’ve become a dynasty. His backup on this team, Sabonis, spent his prime years overseas, also giving fans plenty to wonder in regards to what could’ve been.
(CM) You can’t have an All-Time Blazers team without Bill Walton starting at center. Champion, Finals MVP, League MVP, NBA Blocks Leader, NBA Rebounds Leader, All-NBA First Team, NBA All-Defensive First Team, and All-Star. Between the fall of 1976 and the spring of 1978, there just wasn’t a more dominant player in the NBA. He also had his number 32 retired and is in the basketball hall of fame, this guy meets every starter criteria and then some. Did I mention he did all this and never started more than 65 games in one season? Or that he accomplished so much in just four years in Portland? Or that you can take away his first two years in Portland and he still has all of the accolades listed above? I challenge you to find a player who had a better two years in their career than Walton had from 1976-78 while only appearing in 123 games. At backup I’ll be going with Arvydas Sabonis – another center that probably could have done even more if not for nagging injuries keeping him off the court or slowing him down when he did play. Unlike Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, Walton and Sabonis did enough when they were healthy to win over Blazers fans. A 7’3” 280lb behemoth, Sabas arrived in Portland 10 years after being drafted and well past his prime with bad knees. He still proved to be an extremely effective center and one of the few players who had the size and ability to handle Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal one on one. He also was runner up for NBA Rookie of the Year – at age 31.
Closing argument –
(BK) Looks like Casey and I had similar thoughts throughout this process. And it’s easy to see why. The talent amalgamation alone should excite fans of the franchise, but despite a lack of shooting in the frontcourt—something that won’t be as important when facing off against other all-time rosters—you get a little bit of everything both tangible and intangible. You get both isolation scoring and playmaking at 1-3. Both Clyde and Pip more than make up for any Dame defensive deficiencies, and then you have all the toughness in the world between Grant, Lucas, Kersey and Walton. Wouldn’t you know it, you also get a little bit of that shooting and whole lot of that playmaking back in Sabonis off the pine at the 5. This is the team. This is Rip City.
(CM) A starting five of Damian Lillard, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Maurice Lucas, and Bill Walton with a reserve unit of Terry Porter, Brandon Roy, Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams, and Arvydas Sabonis. Good luck building a better Blazers Dream Team. They may all suffer a career ending knee injury at the same time, but they would be a terror on the court before they limped their way off it. Everyone of these guys was a big hit in Portland whether they won or not, and that’s the real test. Not every player has the luxury of winning on the biggest stage, but when they were on the court in Portland, they had the attention and the love of their fans. When you’re an athlete in your prime, there’s no bigger win than that.