An NBA Fan; Fond memories, Great performances, and Legends Passed

Maurice Lucas had more or less moved on from the Blazers by the time I became what i would call an "aware" fan.

I was too young when the Blazers won their only Championship to fully comprehend what was going on. I knew the names and felt the excitement, but was not yet a basketball fan.

As I grew older and got heavily involved in every aspect of basketball, I grew to know the players and appreciate what a special moment 76-77 had been.

Men like my Dad who were at best casual fans had been swept up in the momentum and would talk about the passing of Bill Walton, the intimidation of Maurice Lucas, the speed of Johnny Davis and so forth.

By the time the tremendous Portland teams of the late 80s and early 90s rolled around, I knew a great deal about the Blazers and, unlike my parents and their friends, was passionate about the game.

Few and far between were the games I got to attend, but in those few, I got to see some spectacular games. I was there the night Larry Bird, bad back and all, closing in on the end of his career, reminded us all why he was Larry legend, dropping 49 on the Blazers including a ridiculous, getting hammered trey to send it into overtime.

I remember buying a family four-pack, going to watch the Suns with my Dad, my best friend, and one of my brothers, Dad leaving to feed the parking meter while the rest of us saw Arvydas Sabonis, Tom Chambers and Rex Chapman hit stupendous shots to extend the game again and again.

There is something about seeing a spectacular performance or moment that makes sports worthwhile.

On the night the Blazers honored the memory of Maurice Lucas, early on it seemed we were in the presence of the makings of such a moment, of a memorable gem of a game.

LaMarcus Aldridge was firing early and often. He scored in the post. He scored on his patented mid-range jumper. He scored on alley-oops.

And then the Blazers forgot he was on the team, almost completely freezing him out for nearly three quarters.

And despite sometimes stifling, always harassing defense, Kevin Durant showed how he will leave millions of NBA fans with some great memories, including one moment when he scored from behind the basket against a triple team.

There was a time that shot and the overtime thriller played between the Trailblazers and their Northwest rivals, the Seattle Supersonics, would have been one of those special moments for many fans.
And, one might argue, even as what is really not a rivalry game between the Oklahoma City
Thunder and the Blazers was taking place, it has the foundations of a rivalry between two franchises that will long be tied together via both the Greg Oden or Kevin Durant draft as well as their status as exciting young, up and coming, hope to soon be contenders teams.
The thing is, great moments are not only had between classic rivals. To the best of my knowledge Portland and Boston have no reason to be part of any sort of rivalry...but that did not take away from my enjoyment of Bird going all Larry Bird on them.
And while Portland and Oklahoma City fans might not argue about which city has more rain or more expensive gourmet coffee, they can argue over who is better, Nicolas Batuum or Thabo Sefolosho....and enjoy the next few years of watching Brandon Roy and Kevin Durant launch some spectacular games at the other team.
Which brings me back to the Lucas thing. It is great that the Blazers will wear his #20 all year. It was a nice moment after the moment of silence when many of us performed the "Lllluuuuuukkkkkeeee" chant without the later prompting from announcer Mark Mason.
But looking around it was also obvious to me that for the majority of the crowd, the memories of Lucas were handed down, not our own. Our memories are of seeing Kevin Duckworth return to the court for game seven, of seeing Buck Williams battle Karl Malone, of Clyde Drexler launching those scud missiles that passed for three point attempts and throwing down dunks.
And for the new generation the special moments are building with things like the Marcus Camby chant from last year, the acrobatic teardrop runners of Armon Johnson, the Roy last-second heroics.
And ultimately, that is what makes being a fan not just worthwhile, but something special. Yes, it would have been great to see Portland hold on and win a game they had in hand for most of the night.
But for Thunder fans, how long will they be talking about some of those tough, heavily contested threes Durant hit to keep their early season from turning into a disaster in a game they desperately needed against a division rival?
It was a special night with some great moments that reminded me why it is cool to be a basketball fan.
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Reason 1,676,475.2 I am glad I am not a Clipper fan

One of the best parts of the first couple of weeks of the NBA season is watching game after game that has something to intrigue me.

It could be comparing the new looks of Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko to see what is worse.

It could be watching the Bulls, Hornets, Nets, and Celtics to see exciting, talented young point guards.

It could even be watching glorified NBDL teams to see high draft the Washington Bullets/Generals...whatever you want to call see John Wall and LA Clippers to see Blake Griffin.

Griffin is indisputably a stud and I wish him a long, healthy career with numerous highlight reel plays because he is quite enjoyable to watch.

But it says a lot about the Clippers that the following exchange, or very close to it, took place between the Clippers television announcers.

"Those shots by Kidd and Cardinal really hurt."

"Yes, take away those two shots and it is only a 10 point game."

This just in...if you are losing by double digits, it really is not all that close of a game. When your goal is to lose by nine or less, or when you bemoan shots that do not even double the deficit...your team is in for a long year.

I happen to work with Chris Kaman's cousin, and now face a serious conundrum. Should I repeat this comment to him at work tomorrow or keep my mouth shut and hope for the seat upgrade next time the Clips come to town?

I think we all know the answer to that one...


Go Away, Rich Cho; on the nature of fandom

Growing up one constant was listening to "the Schonz", Bill Schonely, call Blazer games on the radio.

Players like Jim Paxson were celebrated not for their stunning talent but because they were Blazers, drafted and developed by the team. Anyone who followed Paxson's career know he was a decent but not spectacular guard...but Schonz loved him anyway.

When the Blazers made their big run in the late 80s/early 90s, they had a fount of home-grown players; Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, Cliff Robinson and Kevin Duckworth were not only the bulk of the line-up, they were drafted or acquired extremely early in their careers by the blazers and felt like they had never been in another organization.

Admittedly Buck Williams was a key member of those teams and I am sure Nets fans still think of him as theirs, and rightfully so.

But most of the team was acquired on or around draft day.

That is what used to make the recent talented editions of the Blazers exciting. Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster, Nicolas Batuum, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham were all acquired on draft day, some via draft and others by trade.

Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla made conscious choices to come to Portland for less money and felt like they were part of the organization.

Unfortunately, basketball is a business. Sometimes, it is possible to get lost in fandom and forget that.

Thus Drexler, Porter, Kersey, Robinson moved on and finished their careers elsewhere after the run was over.

And now, the run I was looking forward to watching has taken yet another blow.

It started with the trade of Blake and Outlaw for Marcus Camby. While it filled a need, it started a decline in my interest.

As talented as Andre Miller and Camby are...they are mercenaries. Hired guns. Guys with no ties to the team or my heart.

Yes, all players are really mercenaries. It is doubtful many of them would show up for these games if they were not getting ridiculously overpaid to play a game for a living. bear with me.

Now Webster is gone and Bayless has been sent packing, Fernandez may be on his way out...bit by bit, the little things that make this "my" team are moving on.

It is interesting that such a minor trade...Bayless for a draft pick...would bother me. His presence or the lack thereof will not make or break the Blazer season from the standpoint of victory totals. He is a nice second line player with potential to be a Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson type who can spark the second unit.

The thing is...if Ido not care about the players I am watching, Portland is NOT the team I would choose to watch.

I vastly prefer 120 to 115 track meets to the 80 possession grind games the Blazers put on the floor. I root for them because of A) proximity and B) likable players.

Compare that to the pseudo-local Seattle Seahawks or Seattle Mariners. They have proximity..but rotate players so quickly that I can name maybe 2 starters on either team. They do not have players I have affinity for and play boring brands of ball. As a result, my entertainment dollars are not exercised in going to their games.

When it comes to basketball, if I were to root for a team based on style it would be teams like the Suns, Warriors, and Knicks I would probably have jerseys for.

Well, not the Knicks...I cannot remember the last time I rooted for anything about New York. Not even a fast-paced style could change that.

The point is, if my reasons for rooting for the local team is more due to affinity for the players than how they play the game, then am I obligated to stop rooting for them when those players move on?

A lot of Blazer fans have an inexplicable, misinformed hatred for LaMarcus Aldridge and are constantly coming up with trades to improve the Blazers that have to do with moving him for "upgrades" with less talent and less productivity. This I do not understand.

It is not as if 17 and 8power forwards are falling out of the sky, nor is it as if the Blazers get more likable by trading a stretch forward who has never worn any other pro uniform along with more players for a head case like A'mare Stoudemire as I often saw suggested last season.

If I had my druthers, there would be no more moves for the Blazers. I despised the Fabricio Oberta signing. Yes, they are thin up front. But bringing him in does two things.

One, it adds a marginally talented import to the roster who again will make no positive impact on number of wins they pull in.

Two, it takes yet another step towards having retreads and thus makes the roster less home grown and more about "follow us because the team name is Blazer, not because you have built any attachment to the players".

I can call to mind great moments from so many of the players who have been sent packing; the Sergio Rodriguez to Fernandez alley-oops, the Outlaw game winning shot against Memphis that started the Blazers on the path to greatness, the record setting assists in a quarter for Blake, Bayless taking over when Roy went down.

While Miller and Camby have had memorable moments...Miller's dunk against Denver, his 52 against...was it Dallas? and Camby getting the "Marc-us Cam-by" chant after coming over from the farm club in Los Angeles...those moments are few and far between.

They are not organic.

All the sending off of familiar players in favor of short-term rentals has me far from excited about the season.

It should be a very good season, with 55+ wins and a run at the Western Conference Championship as the low end of where they should go. It starts Tuesday.

And this is only the second piece I have written about them in four months.

Back before the players I liked started getting sent packing, I would write four part previews of the season. Now I would rather write about teams I am starting to like more than the one I grew up rooting for.

So far Rich Cho has made two moves; signing Oberta and trading Bayless. I hate both moves.

They bring about the question; if he does make a "big move", like the once rumored Batum/Oden/Bayless for Chris Paul...a pipe dream many Blazer fans were sure was going to happen...I would pretty much be done with them.

Let us watch the players we have some history with. If it is just about watching winning teams, we would all be Laker or Heat fans. If it was about style, we would be watching the Suns.

It needs to be about more than that. Enough tinkering. Release Oberta and call it a day. Your slogan is "Rip City United". How about showing some loyalty if you expect us to unite with you?


Apathetic Blazermania

As the various packets that come with being a season ticket holder arrive in staggered increments, there has been a very confusing emotion attached.


This is rather stunning. Usually I am quite juiced about the forthcoming season. I am chatting about prospects, arguing over how many wins, win margin, which players will improve, and reliving past glory moments.

This year...instead I am wondering if I should sell a quarter season, a half season, or the entire package. Not only am I counting down the days until the first pre-season game, I am actually wondering if I want to go to any games.

With a curious reaction like that, I sat down to work through what the problem is.

I still love basketball. I like to play it, watch it, discuss it, think about it, read about it. I spend time at many of the hot-spots...True Hoop, Basketbawful, Bleacher Report, Blazers Edge, Hoop World, and numerous others I could list.

But I do not currently love BLAZER basketball.

It is singularly odd because they are arguably the best team they have been since the late 80s/early 90s glory days of Clyde the Glide Dexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, and Buck Williams.

The optimist in Blazer fan believes Greg Oden will stay healthy, LaMarcus Aldridge will take a step forward, Brandon Roy will be Brandon smurfing Roy, and the wins will pile up in rapid fashion.

I believe anything short of 56 wins or more, a Division Title, and a trip to a minimum of the conference series would be disappointing considering the talent level.

The problem is...I just do not care.

The team I had grown to love has been dismantled slowly but surely.

The first to go was Travis Outlaw. That one hurt.

Yes, I am well aware of the flaws Blazer fans over-emphasize.

I am also aware that he was drafted by Portland, we watched him develop, and he hit arguably the most important shot of the last three years when his buzzer beater against Memphis helped the young team realize they could overcome adversity.

While Steve Blake was not drafted by Portland, he fit the team and culture well and was instrumental to the turnaround. He also took less money to come to Portland because he liked the team.

Bringing in guys like Marcus Camby and Wesley Matthews unarguably make the team better and with Oden and Camby, fan favorite and long-time stalwart Joel Przybilla is admittedly dispensable from a basketball standpoint.

The problem is...the character of the team has changed.

Now, instead of being excited about Blazer draft-day acquisitions and treasured veterans who carried the team through their growing pains, we are looking at "import-heavy" teams.

It changes my interest level.

I am not a blind Blazer fan. The organization holds a certain portion of my loyalty, but so too do the players.

It does bother me how the Rudy Fernandez situation is playing out.

It bothers me that guys like Outlaw, Blake and Przybilla are not merely considered dispensable but are basically run out of town in the eyes of some Blazer fans.

It bothers me all the negativity thrown at LaMarcus Aldridge because he plays the new millennium style of game, with a great mid-range game and developing post game instead of being the new Karl Malone...a player, by the way, I always despised for his substitution of strength and charging without getting called for it in place of skill.

It bothers me that new General Manager Rich Cho is talking about another "major move" which presumably would mean Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless or some rumors even say Oden would depart in favor of another import.

Now, on the one hand, as a Blazer fan, I am happy about seeing the team improve.

On the other hand, they are no longer as compelling a story in my opinion.

Instead of watching a two to three year period of acquiring young, talented players with the expectation of watching them play together for a decade, now we have a mish-mash of some of those players, some guys brought in for just a year or two, and a lack of continuity.

The net result is the more they change the team...the less I like it.

And the end result is that as the season approaches, my customary excitement and thrill-expectation meters are completely gone, only to be replaced by one thing.


If I stay lazy and fail to list the tickets, I will probably go the games. I will almost assuredly even enjoy them.

But it will be the enjoyment of going to a movie that turns out to be a serviceable comedy rather than a memorable laugh-inducer, in box office terms.

That makes me sad.

It also makes me can a team with rising expectations bring lowered anticipation?


Is Portland returning to the Jailblazer days?

There was a time when the Portland Trailblazers were a good, verging on great, team. They were good enough to hold a 4th quarter game 7 double digit lead.

It is a revisionist lie to say they did not have fans. The Rose Garden still sold out with regularity.

But it is also not a truth to say they were loved.

It was hard to like a lot of these guys. Damon Stoudemire and his famed "aluminum foil to hide my marijuana" escapade. Rasheed Wallace and his technical fouls. Scottie Pippen and his famed public boorishness. Ruben Patterson and his domestic issues. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Great team, top-notch players, unlikable guys.

It was with this in mind the franchise rebuilt. Gone were gun-toting Sebastian Telfair, self-absorbed Zach Randolph, and in their place were guys like fresh-faced, laid back Travis Outlaw.

Even as the team climbed from abominable to mediocre to the respectable 41-41 record of just three seasons ago, the idea of who the franchise was readjusted itself.

Back was the pride in the franchise. No longer was being a Blazer fan like being a professional wrestling fan...a dirty secret, a "guilty pleasure".

Once again it was cool to watch the games, wear the gear.

Brandon Roy proved better than expected. LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden were popular players whose talents promised not just a return to greatness, but a return to greatness with the "right" kind of team.

This was a roster full of engaging, likable guys who happened to be able to do things on the basketball floor that mere mortals merely dreamed of.

Fast forward to today.

There was the bizarre open threat to any franchise that played Darius Miles.

There was the trade of Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake in mid-season.

The awkward, unexplained firing of Tom Penn.

The curiosity over what would happen with Kevin Pritchard.

The disgruntled antics of Rudy Fernandez.

The draft day send-off of Martell Webster...

...and the even more bizarre hour-before-the draft firing of Pritchard.

Suddenly, many of the features that led to the Jailblazers era were returning.

Here were the back-stabbing office politics. Here were the other hall-mark...the importing of talented players at the cost of home-grown guys.

Not even I would argue the trade of Outlaw and Blake for Marcus Camby did anything but improve the team.

Arguably, as much as I like Webster, the drop-off from him to Luke Babbitt is not really a difference maker over the course of the season.

The problem is more based in the nature of fandom.

I am mostly a Blazer fan, with the nature of the team taking second place. A few examples seem to fit here.

Back when Jim Paxson was the Blazer "star", the team was, frankly, pretty blah. They played a modestly quick but not exceptional style of ball.

By contrast, the years when Clyde Drexler was the main gun, they were a very fun, run-&-gun, high scoring machine.

The Arvydas Sabonis/Wallace/Pippen ensemble got by with some great passing and team defense.

Styles and players change. Honestly, if my primary rooting interest lay in styles, I would probably be a devoted fan of the Suns, Nuggets, Warriors and Knicks as they play a lot of up-tempo ball that I personally find very aesthetically pleasing.

However, I have proximity to the Blazers, and that impacts my fandom. I am first and foremost a Blazer fan when it comes to the NBA. I make no apology for that.

However...I also want to have a reason to follow the players.

It is one thing to watch a talented but imported ensemble. It is another to watch home-grown guys.

I never turned my back on the Paxson editions. I did, however, turn on the Wallace-Pippen-Patterson embarrassment and spent my sports dollas watching junior league hockey.

When Portland again had players who spent most or all of their career in Portland who were engaging guys, I came back.

And hoped they would stay together. I wanted to see what type of run Greg Oden, Aldridge, Webster, Outlaw, Roy, Nicolas Batum, Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless could make.

I have openly rejected the idea of enjoying trades some Blazer fans have fantasized about, such as Aldridge/Webster/whatever was needed for Chris Bosh.

Apart from the utter implausibility of such a deal, I would hate it. Not that I have anything against Chris Bosh or improving the team...I don't. I think Bosh is personable, funny, and have enjoyed his Youtube materials.

But he is established. He is well into his career.

I want to see the players Portland acquired on draft day. I want to enjoy thrilling wins and suffer the requisite defeats with the team I have followed from acquisition to the present.

In story-telling terms, these are the characters I have watched develop. I do not want to see cross-overs from another series suddenly become the driving force.

Nor do I want to see a franchise suddenly turning on the people who work for it. I did not care for the massive layoffs of office staff. I do not like the way Penn and Pritchard were given their walking papers.

Even if they deserved it...which is an open question due to how it was was done the wrong way and left a bad taste in my mouth.

So what we see is a franchise drifting away from the things that restored my enjoyment of Blazers basketball.

The "culture" is changing from the one that saw employees valued. The stability of having players I could watch from beginning to end is on shaky ground.

Hopefully, the player movement is about at an end. I would love to see a healthy season from Oden, Aldridge, Batum, Fernandez, and Roy.

What I would hate to see is continued tinkering with the core and the core ideas that brought me back.

Brandon Roy: The Kevin Duckworth moment of the current Blazers Generation

Preface: For Portland Trailblazer fans like me the 2009-10 season started with tremendous optimism. Every season we were told to lower our expectations, that the team was too young and inexperienced to make much progress. Yet season after season the team added double digit totals to the win column. They made it to the playoffs last year. They even won a couple games in the playoffs.

But then the season got off to a rugged start. Nicolas Batum went down to injury. No problem, Martell Webster is the better offensive player, and his defense has improved so we all thought it was a minor set-back. Greg Oden moved into the starting line-up and Andre Miller arrived.

Soon we had three new starters in the line-up with Oden, Webster and Miller replacing Joel Przybilla, Batum, and Steve Blake. Nobody doubted it was an overall talent upgrade, but all the new faces and roles had the team struggling.

Ugly home losses to teams like the Grizzlies, where the home team got wrecked by a massive 21-0 run, had us wondering how long it would take for this team to gel. Then, just as they started coming around, players started to go down.

Key 4th quarter performer Travis Outlaw went down. Oden went down. Przybilla went down. Rudy Fernandez went down. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy both missed games.

Somehow, the Blazers kept chugging along, winning plenty and losing more than we expected in the preseason. Everyone stepped up from time to time. Eventually, a trade was made to bring Marcus Camby to the Blazers for Outlaw and Blake, both shoring up the center position and lightening what would have been a major playing time crunch.

The Blazers closed the season strong, achieving the 6th seed...lower than it would have been if they were healthy, but six slots higher than it should have been. We as fans were pumped, excited, ready to win a series against a team that many NBA fans still believe is soft and therefore exploitable in the Phoenix Suns.

As an aside...the Suns have changed. Beware, whoever faces them in the second round...these are not your Daddys' Suns.

We were ready for this series to start.

Sure enough, even with Roy out for at least the first round of the playoffs, the Blazers came out in game one and played a classic Blazers game. Tough, inspired defense, bit step-up games from second-line players like Batum and Webster, and a will-not-quit attitude. This was the team that over achieved by over a dozen games.

But then something happened. The new Suns attitude reared its ugly head. They came out in game two and kicked the Blazers' teeth in, dominating them in every phase of the game. No problem. I actually had predicted it at work (though to be fair, my exact statement was, "Am I the only one who thinks the Suns are going to blow us out by 20?" If I had said 30, it would have been impressive).

That was not a big deal. The Blazers won their one game in Phoenix. Everything was set up perfect. Portland would win a close-fought game three, lose game four, then take games five and six to score the upset.

Except the Suns did not realize that was the plan. What they did to Portland in game three bordered on felonious assault. They not only kicked in the Blazers teeth, they added a few groin shots as the Blazers lay on the ground wondering what hit them. The Suns came into the Rose Garden and showed everyone the late-season road blow-out wins in Utah and Denver were n flukes, that they are a team that can not only win any time, any place, against any team, they can win those games handily.

The atmosphere leading into game four was somber. The series score might be only two games to one, but Blazer fans were wondering not just if they would not win another game, but if they would avoid getting blown out two more times.

1990: Kevin Duckworth, the Blazers' center, broke his hand in the first round against the Mavericks and was unavailable to the Blazers for Game 7 against the Spurs and their amazing David Robinson. Then, with everyone on the floor warming up, the fans were treated to a surprise and one of the greatest moments for fans...the unexpected entry of Duck.

Just thinking of that moment brings chills. It is the Blazers' version of Walt Frazier for the Knicks.

The Pre-game.
My friend and I get to the game about 25 minutes early, settle into our seats. Their is a subdued atmosphere to the place. It is almost as Blazer fans have been completely demoralized by the back to back spankings the Suns laid on us.

13:00 to game time.
The familiar music hits. The Blazers are about to be shown getting ready to leave their locker room for the playing surface. We casually glance at the Jumbotron as it pans over the Blazers...and suddenly the mood, the atmosphere, everything changes. The panning stops on Brandon Roy. And he is not wearing a suit...he is wearing warm ups.

Really? Can it be? Is there any chance he No way...not possible...what the...the scoreboard now shows Fernandez on the bench and Roy starting!

The Garden is maybe a third full when they hit the floor for warm-ups, but suddenly the crowd is on its feet, applauding the players...well, okay, applauding the unbelievable, unforeseen entrance of Roy in playing gear.

Now there is energy in the building. Now we know he might play. And if he plays, then we win. Not might win. Not will keep it close. We win.

It is that feeling that defines why Roy is great. If you look at his numbers for the game, they were anything but phenomenal. 10 points on 10 shots is pedestrian. But his presence, that changed everything. It changed the way the game was played.

In a post-game interview, Aldridge was asked what it changed and you could hear the smile in his voice as he said, "He came in the game and I got the first open shot I have had all series."

A lot of Blazer fans have been down on Aldridge because defense like that pictured above has made his numbers minuscule. Personally, I think a lot of the blame goes to guys like Fernandez who have not made themselves available for his passes and/or have not made their shots. If three guys are guarding one, two guys should be open.

Be that as it may, with Roy back in the line-up, Blazer fans had hope. And when he entered the game for the first time, suddenly you just knew it was going to be a real series.

The Suns are still the favorites. They have two games left at home, the Blazers just one. But this was a moment worthy of memory.

I was not there when Duck made his unexpected return, but the impact that moment had on those great Blazer teams of the late 80s and early 90s went far beyond his modest stat-line against the Admiral.

Roy coming back from surgery in eight days to life the spirits and morale of an entire organization and sports town will have the same effect.

Obviously I hope the Blazer pull off the improbable and replicate the '77 run, though I more reasonably expect them to be done long before the finals. But the heart shown by Roy, the mind-set to come out and play...that will be there when this team is healed and whole and holding up the trophy a few times.

Thank you, Mr. Roy, for giving me my own Duckworth moment.

Can half a team defeat the Suns? Check out the Blazers

The Phoenix Suns are prohibitive favorites to defeat the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the playoffs.

Lets get that off our chest first thing. The players who will be on the floor throughout the series have produced more effectively and more cohesively for the Suns than the Blazers.

In Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Nash they have the two best players who will appear on the court. In Grant Hill and Jason Richardson they have guys who are above average secondary players that can light up a score sheet.

In Channing Frye, Louis Amundsen, Leandro Barbossa and Jared Dudley they have guys who know their roles and take pride in them.

The bottom line is the Suns record is no accident. They got the three seed on the last day of the season, but they put themselves in a position to get that seed by winning tough, important games in tough situations like Utah on the road when both teams were fighting for high seeding.

Any Blazer fan who looks at this series as anything other than a very probably second consecutive first round exit is delusional.

At the same time, any Blazer fan who does not have at least some hope that the upset is likely enough to induce them to purchase tickets for the playoffs and have a fair amount of optimism they will get to see the Blazers in Game 6 has not been paying attention.

The NBA season is a learning experience. It takes time for players, no matter how talented, to learn to play together. This was evidenced early in the season when a Blazer team that was more talented than last seasons' 54 win edition was struggling, giving up bad losses on their home floor.

20 games in, I had this to say:

Yet 20 games into the season Portland has already lost four home games, including a blow-out loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, has trailed for 11 consecutive quarters, and worse yet, looks like they are a team that does not care. What happened?

Part of the answer was they were struggling to adapt to a different playing style, to a different mix of players on the floor.

Entering the playoffs, that is happening again. The addition of Marcus Camby turned Portland into a better team. The loss of Brandon Roy makes them worse...but presents an opportunity.

Lest anyone misunderstand what comes next, let's get this out there. The Trailblazers with Brandon Roy are vastly better than the Blazers without Brandon Roy.

With that said, arguably the best line-up the Blazers currently possess does not necessarily include Roy. Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster and Andre Miller is a team that can give any team in the NBA fits.

Defensively, they are quick, agile, aggressive, and interchangeable. Camby calls sets, has the agility and willingness to cover everything from a post-up center down to brief periods of at least contesting the small, quick guards. Under his tutelage, Aldridge is showing flashes of being a superior defender who plays off the Camby style and has, with the exception of the shot-blocking, the same set of capabilities, though not at the same level.

Batum and Webster both get up on their man, switch with little to no drop-off, and this season have shown a consistent dedication to defense.

This unit is capable of putting out stretches of defensive coverage that can hold even explosive offensive teams to sub-20 quarters or multiple minute stretches of scorelessness. Nor are they hapless offensively.

Blazer fans regularly label Aldridge as soft because he does not post up as often as they would like. I reject that assessment. He knows his strengths, plays to them, and has been working at his post game, showing improvement from season to season, month to month, and at times game to game.

Last year, I would have said trying to run the offense through him against Stoudemire would be a disaster. This season, he has improved to the point where it is something Portland can do. Aldridge has improved to the point where he commands the double team which opens up Webster and Batum to stretch the defense with their very capable outside shooting.

The problem is, that line-up cannot play 48 minutes. So what are the Suns weaknesses the Blazers can exploit over the course of the game?

Frye, Amundson, Dragic and Dudley. Please note; I have respect for their games. I am a big Channing Frye guy to the point where I encourage you to check out his blog. I want him to tear it up against every team except Portland.

But they are the weak link for the Suns. They do not have a history of producing in the playoffs. (The cynic might point out Hill has as many second round appearances as this Blazer team, but I have too much respect for his game and do not think that is his fault.)

They are exploitable. Dudley and Amundson are not the type of players who dominate a game so much as fill a role. Those roles can be stifled which creates an opportunity for the Blazers to steal a game here and there. When they are going good, they make the Suns great if not unbeatable, but they are less likely to show greatness game after game after game like Stoudemire, Nash, Richardson, Hill and Barbosa.

Of course, the problem for the Blazers is that all the negatives I just pointed out about the Suns point to some pretty important guys for the Blazers; Batum, Webster, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless...

All of which means the Blazer need several things to break right in order to pull off the upset.

Aldridge needs to have the oft-cited "breakout series" where he dials up 25+ points a night, as does Miller. The second tier guys like Batum, Webster, Bayless and Fernandez need to be the players they are in flashes rather than the players they are that keep them fighting for time and recognition.

Webster, Fernandez and Batum in particular are vital. These are three guys who, when hitting their shots, make the Blazers nearly unbeatable when combined with the stifling defense the Blazer line-up referenced above is capable of playing. When they are engaged in the game, hitting their shots, and involved there is no team in the NBA that they are not capable of beating or even blowing out.

That defines the series. Not necessarily the play of Nash, Stoudemire, Richardson, Hill, Aldridge and Miller...but the play of guys like Frye and Fernandez.

If the second tier players of one team are more consistent than the production seen by the other, that decides the series.

As a Blazer fan, I dearly want the upset. I want to see the Blazer defense slow the Suns, guys like Webster to have those scoring explosions we sporadically see, and the Blazers squeeze into the second round.

They have the talent to do it. they have the will.

At the end of the day, whichever team wins this series is the one I want to see in the NBA Finals. I am fully aware it is a long-shot for the Blazers. I am just grateful that they have a team talented enough that, even if it is unlikely, it is at least a remote, remote, remote possibility.

I hope this series goes seven games in a call-back to the classic battles of the Kevin Johnson/Dan Majerle Suns verse the Clyde Drexler/Terry Porter Blazers. I want to see 7 games decided in the final minute with clutch shots from unlikely players. I want to see the upset.
The recipe for the Blazers is simple. Pound the ball inside to Aldridge and play off the double teams to generate open looks which their role players must convert. Dominate the boards, play stifling defense, and hope Nash, Stoudemire, Richardson and Hill forget that is who they are and play like mortals.

Good luck and good health to both teams.


Defending the Enemy; Don Nelson Was Right

Throughout his long and very successful career Don Nelson has received a lot of criticism from time to time. Much of it has been directed at his unorthodox use of smaller line-ups. Some has been directed at him for never winning a title.

This past Wednesday, Blazer fans directed a lot of criticism at him for wanting to put Devean George back into the game.

In many ways, it was a silly argument.

Portland had long demonstrated that winning this game was of at best tertiary importance...their starting line-up was primarily sick, injured, or playing a modest nine minutes (except Nicolas Batum who got a lot of run.)

At one point Portland had a whopping four years of NBA experience on the floor; Rudy Fernandez with two years and Nicolas Batum with another two. Joining them on the floor were rookies Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, and Patty Mills.

If Portland was not taking the game serious, why should Nelson?

It is to his credit that he did take the game serious. More important, he took the health of his players serious.

When Devean George fouled out, he (rightfully) argued that it was dangerous to the health of his bench players to insert them.

He whined. He begged. He pleaded. He had the veins on his neck popping out as he yelled at the referees.

He ignored the raucous and prolonged booing of the crowd. He ignored the rather sarcastic music selections played by the Rose Garden sound crew. He ignored the insistence of the referees. And he did it all for the right reason.

He was trying to protect his players.

It was no different than Coach McMillan yanking Marcus Camby from the line-up moments before tip-off or playing Andre Miller just nine minutes...enough to maintain his consecutive game streak, no time for injury. No different than him riding players like Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, Patty Mills, and Travis Diener for heavy minutes in a game that was meaningless yet undecided.

Wait...yes, it was different. It was easy to tell that Chris Hunter could barely walk. Ronnie Turiaf looked better...but not much. And any but the most casual fan knows Anthony Morrow is far too talented not to use unless he is legitimately injured.

Nelson was doing what more coaches should do. He was trying to protect the health of his players.

I am going to also somewhat defend the referees in this situation, too. They were bound by rule to do what they did. Fair enough, one could...and perhaps should...that this would have been a fine time to bend the rules and not make the ridiculous three foul sequence take place. But that is neither here nor there.

What the referees did that I appreciated is they did not assess Nelson technical fouls for his arguing. This was not an objection to the officiating or showing them up. This was a man fighting hard not to win a game but to protect his players.

I am not going to lie. Meaningless though the game may have been in the standings, I still wanted to see a Blazers victory.

But not at the cost of a serious injury to another team's player.

So here is hoping the fans give credit where credit is due. Love him or hate him, people should recognize that Don Nelson is a guy who genuinely, legitimately cares about his players. And that is something worthy of a cheer.


There are moments it is great to be a fan

The last couple games have been pretty rough for Portland Trailblazer fans.

First, there was the debacle of the Dallas game where the referees had a huge impact on the game. They did not decide it, but they were a major, major factor with a huge number of blown calls that certainly put the Blazers in a difficult position they could not overcome.

We were aghast when, as we debated whether the call was flagrant one or two and they ruled it was merely out of bounds...or the way we debated which of the fouls committed against Andre Miller was going to be called only to see the Mavericks awarded the ball instead...or how Jason Terry twice elbowed Nicolas Batum in the face and Batum was called for the foul...or the way...well, I could go on for a long time.

Then there was the Laker game where Derek Fisher put a shoulder block on Martell Webster to free up Kobe Bryant for a call, then Andre Miller got HAMMERED, no call, then Bryant charged into a clearly set LaMarcus Aldridge and Aldridge got called for the foul.

It becomes frustrating to be a fan when you feel like not only are you not getting the breaks but that Tim Donaghy was a far better, more accurate official than the jokes you are seeing play the part in important, franchise destiny affecting games.

Tuesday against the Thunder it started much the same. Aldridge was fouled by not one but two Thunder players, no foul was called, and at the other end a far less egregious violation put the Thunder on the free throw line.

It can cause a lack of interest in a sporting events to believe it is being dishonestly officiated. Things are or are not called fouls not based on whether they are a violation but rather based on who would be affected.

An example would be late in the game when Kevin Durant, with four fouls, clearly commits a foul and it is called on Serge Ibaka because he is nearby and they do not want to put it on Durant.

Flatly stated, that is cheating.

It affects the game's outcome. Ibaka may have a nice career...but Durant can and does win games with his talent.

When you experience an extended series of plays or games where it looks and feels like your favorite team is getting shafted, it can make it more difficult to enjoy the game.

Until that special moment.

With Brandon Roy out with yet another injury, there was quite a debate over who needed to step up. Aldridge, Webster, Rudy Fernandez, Batum were all mentioned. And to some extent, all of them did.

But it was import Marcus Camby who did something I have never personally experienced.

I have seen more impressive statistical games than his 30 point, 13 rebound performance. I have seen games where players have had more impact than their statistics show. But I have seldom seen one alter the course of a season.

There is little doubt the officiating of late has been in the heads of the Blazers. After picking up virtually no technical fouls all season, they combined for six in the last three games. They were barking at the officials, showing frustration, and facing a hole against the Thunder in a key game.

A win here put the Blazers in the driver's seat to finish in sixth place, a loss put them pretty firmly in the eight hole.

A first round date with the Lakers is a recipe for a first round exit. And regardless of reasons...last year's inexperience, this year's injuries, etc., a history of first round exits soon becomes the proverbial 500 pound gorilla.

The Nuggets, Mavericks, or Jazz will not be any cakewalk, either...regardless of who they face the Blazers will be an underdog long shot to win the first round. But they have a better chance against any other possible opponent than they do against the Lakers and they also needed to win a big game on their home floor for confidence reasons.

And Marcus Camby made it happen. He scored early. He scored late. He passed well. He directed the defense. he hit the floor.

It was such an impressive performance that in a late time-out the crowd did something I had not seen in Portland before.

The entire time-out had the Rose Garden rocking with a "Marcus Camby (clap) (clap) (clap) Marcu Camby "chant. It was loud. It was long. It was heart-felt.

It was a show of appreciation for a guy who, on a night Roy was out with injury and Aldridge on the bench with foul trouble, with Fernandez disappearing and Miller not getting any calls despite mass contact every time he penetrated the lane, showed the heart and dedication to winning that make this team, if an underdog, a reasonable one.

This is a team that, if it defends like it can, and shows the heart Camby showed, the scrappiness and dedication, has the potential to get out of the first round.

If players like Webster and Aldridge and Fernandez play with the heart, fire and passion that had the crowd screaming his name, the Camby could be the move that moves Portland from also round "team that nobody wants to play...oh, wait, they bowed out in five" to a team that has at least a chance.

And it also is the type of moment that shows us why we watch the games. His performance and that of Durant across the aisle were a genuine pleasure to watch. They created memories that last long after the near-inevitable bitterness of another early round exit from the playoffs has faded.


Chris Bosh or LaMarcus Aldridge; Not who is better, but who really fits?

In response to a recent post explaining why I elected not to renew my season tickets largely due to the trade of Travis Outlaw, I was asked what I thought of the LaMarcus Aldridge for Chris Bosh trade rumors.

In some respects, it is an intriguing question and one that is difficult for me to be objective about. I freely admit to being a huge LaMarcus Aldridge mark. I am tired of the oft-cited and remarkably inept criticisms that Aldridge is "soft", that his post-up game is not good enough, that he relies too much on his jump shot, that his defense is inadequate and his rebounding borderline incompetent.

I also recognize the skill Bosh brings to the table. There is a lot to compare in their games.

Both players have silky smooth mid-range jumpers. Inside his range, I actually think Bosh is the superior shooter, though that is merely anecdotal evidence. Due to his playing in Toronto, I have only ever seen a handful of his games and as a result I must base most of my opinion on statistics, which often lie.

Based on statistics the team of Tom Chambers, Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis was awesome when in truth, they scored a lot but gave up a lot of points too. Their scoring numbers say nothing about their individual or team defense, their cohesiveness, or those little things teammates do to improve each other.

So I must base my analysis of Bosh on the games I have seen live in Portland for the most part.

Bosh is a genuine pleasure to watch in warm-ups. His jumper is silky smooth and sometimes you wonder if he will ever even hit the rim. Shot after shot brings that delicious snap of the net as the ball comes through on the precise trajectory to demonstrate the purity of a perfect shot.

Step-back, side-shuffle, face-up. Shot after shot after shot goes swish, swish, swish. His movement is crisp, his motions sure and effortless. He is a skilled player indeed, and this does not change when the game starts.

If a defender gives him the slightest space he rises up and two points go up on the board for the Raptors. Crowd him and he puts the ball on the floor and gets inside. I have rarely seen him do back to the basket post-up moves, but that does not say he is not a post player. I actually cannot honestly answer that question due to the paucity of coverage the Raptors get in Portland. I can say I have repeatedly seen him face up his man, get to the rim and finish strong.

On defense, Bosh appears to me to be better than average. He is strong enough to avoid getting run down, quick enough to help out when his guards get beat, and is an excellent rebounder. He has a very well-rounded game and would be an instant upgrade to almost any team that acquired him. You can count on two fingers the number of power forwards who are anywhere near his production and skill level.

Aldridge, meanwhile, has slightly better range than Bosh and, while not as high a percentage shooter, is still very good. He does have a post -game which is oft-maligned, and there is some merit to that. Of course, part of the problem with the criticism is it represents a poor analysis of Aldridge's game.

He is still developing his post play and, while it has shown vast improvement in the last couple of years, it is not yet the strength of his game. There are certain defenders against whom Aldridge simply has not yet been able to develop an effective move against. He recognizes this and, instead of continuing to put himself in a bad match-up, he drifts out to the perimeter where he has the advantage.

Not continuing to force up tough, contested shots in bad situations is an intelligent basketball play. Unfortunately, too many fans give the knee-jerk "Aldridge is soft" answer. I have a suggestion to those fans. Stick a sock in it and watch his game.

Aldridge plays down low against the big guys and, while his rebounding numbers are not huge, take a look at the timing and manner of them. Game after game I watch him come away with key rebounds whenre seven, eight, maybe nine guys are clustered inside the key trying to get the board and somehow Aldridge rips down what I like to call "man-boards".

He is not afraid to match up with players like Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and so forth night after night. He works hard, stays in the team concept, and does his job.

I genuinely believe part of the reason his rebound numbers are quote "low" is due to the guys next to him. Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden and Marcus Camby are all superior rebounders. An example would come from the Portland-Washington game of March 19th, 2010.

There were precisely 100 available non-free throw rebounds available. Camby came away with 19 of those, a staggering number that means nearly one of five times there was a ball caroming off the rim, Camby snagged it.

Assuming teams will garner approximately one half of the available rebounds and each player will contribute, that means the remaining nine players have roughly thirty rebounds to share among themselves. Guards are generally good for two to three apiece and the Blazers run four. Forwards should get roughly four to five apiece in the Portland system, and the Blazers essentially have three forwards other than Aldridge, so there are roughly forty-nine of the rebounds available accounted for. That is without Aldridge.

Naturally, part of the statistical analysis is average, and on any given night a guy who averages five boards might go without while a guy who averages two might get seven.

Aldridge checks in at a fairly steady seven to eight a night. He seldom has less, but often has more such as the dozen he tallied against the Wizards.

Even more notably, when the Blazers were starting Methuselah... err, Juwan Howard at center, or even rookie Jeff "Li'l Bit" Pendergraph, Aldridge was dialing up double digit boards seemingly every night.

His deflated rebound numbers are partially a product of the players he plays with is the short form of the statement I am making.

As Aldridge's biggest defender, I also think his defense is unfairly maligned. I am not nervous when he gets caught on the perimeter against smaller, quick players because he is quick enough, agile enough, and long enough to contest their shots. Of course, sometimes they score because that is what the Chris Pauls and Tony Parkers of the NBA world do...they score against bad defense, average defense, and good defense.

Aldridge is at his best coming off his man to contest a shot, but he is also a decent man to man defender. He is often accused of lacking intensity, and this is accurate. He also likes to slap at the ball low a bit much for my liking, but he also pokes away a lot of balls.

He is definitely not an All-NBA defender, but he is improving every year.

Off the court, there is little to complain about for either player. In many ways, Bosh has certain advantages in that regard. Chris Bosh has a great sense of humor, though it is flawed...he seems to find Will Ferrell funny despite stuff like Semi-Pro. 3
Bosh is also noted for his work in the community and has a lot going for him as a potential player.
Let me emphasize again that I am a huge Aldridge player and, since everyone else jumped on the Roy bandwagon, he is probably my absolute favorite player.
With that said, I believe Bosh is the superior overall player. Bosh is better defensively and offensively, he seems to get along with his teammates better than Aldridge, who is oft criticized by local media for being standoffish (which may have more to do with media perception than actual truth...I am not privy to the internal workings of the Blazers organization).
He very well could improve the Blazers to the point where a Championship goes from being a realistic but somewhat long shot possibility next season to a favorite if he were traded for some package such as Aldridge, Martell Webster, and whatever spare parts were needed to make the salaries match up.
Of course, there are several problems with the above scenario, and just to save the people who hate my article time, let me present a couple; Bosh may not want to leave Toronto, he may not want to come to Portland, the deal might not make sense from Torontos' standpoint as they may not feel the value in return is sufficient.
I, of course, feel Aldridge and Webster would be far too much to give up. And this has nothing to do with their respective ability.
I love Aldridge's game, I love that he has been a Bloazer since draft day, and I hope that he retires a Blazer. I do not want to see him in a Raptors uniform. In fact, you can replace the word "Raptors" with any team in the league not named "Blazers".
I hate any trade that sends Greg Oden, Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless, or Martell Webster away. Shrewd drafting has given the Blazers a roster that was "born" together, has grown up together, and it is time to watch them roll the League together.
I want to see the home-grown, home-developed players take their shot. Yes, I know about the problems...I know that Batum's development is limiting Webster's role. I know that Fernandez wants more playing time, a bigger role, and more money. I know the criticisms of Bayless as point guard and Oden as injury prone, of Roy as a weak defender and Aldridge as a soft player.
I also know that I love watching these guys play together, I love knowing they started their NBA PLAYING careers as Blazers and they are good enough to take a run at a couple of titles.
No, I am not a complete and total homer. I recognize how much acquiring Marcus Camby has improved the team this year, regardless of how much I hate the cost of losing another personal favorite, Travis Outlaw. I recognize that with all the injuries and the surprisingly poor play before the injuries started, Portland is not as good this season as the Cavaliers, Magic, Nuggets, Celtics, Lakers, and maybe even teams like the Suns, Hawks, Spurs, Jazz and maybe one or two others.
But they will be if and when they get healthy.
The fact that the Blazer teams of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey never won a title never made me love watching them any less. If Portland could have traded Kersey for Pippen in their primes and won multiple titles, I would have loved them less because Pippen would be an import.
Yes, I grew to love the game of Buck Williams, but he was never as cool to me as our home-grown guys.
Yes, I love watching Andre Miller play, and his expanding game...two dunks this season, which I believe is probably a career high, and possibly a career TOTAL, is entertaining. Watching Camby block shot after shot and pull down rebound after rebound is cool. But I still like watching "my" guys more.
And the same would hold true for an Aldridge-Bosh trade. On a basketball level, depending on who they gave up, I think it would be an improvement for Portland. But on a personal level, I hate it.
And that gets to the root of fandom. Am I a fan of the player or the franchise? The real answer is both. I admit I turned on Drexler a bit when he more or less quit on Portland when it became obvious their run at a title was over, only to rejuvenate his career in Houston. I did not want to see him win a title there.
Kersey in a Laker uniform is a crime against humanity I will never get free from. I was sad to see him in Warriors, Spur and Buck gear...but I might have shed a tear when he wore that hated uniform. Porter played with the Timberwolves, Heat and Spurs. that also makes me sad.
Not because I did not want Drexler, Porter, Kersey, Cliff Robinson and so forth to have long, meaningful careers or that I did not want the Blazers to move forward. It was more because my development as a basketball and sports fan coincided with the careers of the players.
One reason I do not particularly follow college basketball is because of the rampant player change. Great college players are typically there for one or two years, good ones for three, and pedestrian players for four. Yes, there are exceptions, but that is pretty common.
That means to follow college basketball and have any real in-depth knowledge of what is going on, I have to learn four, five, six new players and their styles every year.
By contrast, even before this season ends and off-season moves take place, I have a pretty good idea of how the Blazers will play. For that matter, I can tell you what the typical Spurs, Nugget, Clipper or Warrior game will look like next year.
I know their offensive concept and where players should be on any given play. I know who should get the most shots and where those shots should come from. Sure, there will be adjustments. Of Patty Mills, Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, Marcus Camby, Martell Webster, Andre Miller, and Rudy Fernandez there are likely to be anywhere from three to six new names in those places.
But I also expect the opening night Blazer line-up, barring injury, to have Oden, Aldridge, Batum and Roy for sure (and most likely Miller, but who knows?). I expect Aldridge to be posted up on the first two to three possessions, with Oden getting a couple of those and Roy driving at some point in the first five minutes or else taking that gorgeous pull-up jumper foul-line extended.
I would hate to see that broken up too soon even for a player such as Bosh. That is personal preference...but it is a strong one.


Travis Outlaw and Marcus Camby: How a Trade Cost the Blazers a Season Ticket holder

Some of my earliest sports-related memories revolve around the Blazers. Of course there was the seminal moment when I was six years old that saw the Cinderella team knock off the 76ers to win their first (and to this point only) championship.
My Dad, who is at best a casual sports fan, still gushes about the passing of Bill Walton, the speed and unselfish play of Johnny Davis, and so forth three decades later. That leaves an impression on a kid who idolizes his father.

Then there were the years of listening to the Schonz on the radio as I played along on my Fischer-Price hoop with the tennis-ball sized “basketballs” as guys like Kermit Washington, Calvin Natt, and Fat Lever fueled my imagination. Phrases such as "lickety-brindle, straight up the middle" became part of my vocabulary along with "you've GOT to make your free throws" and the still ubiquitous "rip city!"

As I began playing basketball more and more seriously myself, I modeled myself after “Mercy, Mercy” Jerome Kersey, even going so far as to adopt his jersey number.
During the Finals appearances by the Clyde Drexler/Terry Porter/Kevin Duckworth/Jerome Kersey years, for many of my friends and myself it was our pride and joy that, except for trade acquisition Buck Williams, the players had all effectively started their careers with the Blazers.

There is a reason the “Jailblazer” teams of Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Scottie Pippen and Steve Smith were never quite as popular as the other versions. Revisionist history would have us believe they were unpopular, but they were selling out the Rose Garden. They were still popular…but the energy that carried the whole city was lessened. There was less of a casual following.
These were not the players Blazer fans listened to as they developed from seldom-used rookies into a cohesive unit that coupld play with anyone in the NBA. Instead, they were a motley assortment of other team's cast-offs, fading veterans looking for one last chance, malcontents other teams traded off cheaply, and players with talent that was exceeded by their contracts.
No doubt they were still good or borderline great...and possibly even good enough to win a Championship had they not choked in Los Angeles...but there was just something missing. The connection was not there. They were popular and enjoyed, but not on the level the Drexler-Porter teams were.

The organization did the right thing, though. They went out, acquired on draft day good, solid citizens who also happened to be good, solid players. Instead of guys like Ruben Patterson, Damon Stoudemire, Darius Miles, Scottie Pippen and Zach Randolph we got guys like Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum.

I have been there for their rise and part of the enjoyment I have derived from following them has been the “grow with us” nature. The projected starting line-up of Greg Oden, Aldridge, Batum, Roy and Steve Blake with key reserves Joel Przybilla, Outlaw, Fernandez and Bayless featured seven of nine players who had never played an NBA game in any other uniform.

Of course, bringing in Andre Miller fundamentally altered this. And make no mistake…Miller is a significant upgrade from Sergio Rodriguez. He is a talent upgrade and brings several valuable assets to the team which are valuable and he is enjoyable to watch.
He is still a hired gun, though…Pryzbilla and Blake had been around so long they seemed like part of the family. Miller might be remembered as a Cavalier, Clipper, Nugget or 76er. His career is not and will not be defined by his time in Portland. This is nothing against Miller...he is a fine player and goes about his job in an admiral manner. I even have a certain affection for him.
Just not as much as I have for Jerryd Bayless, for example. Miller is, at this point, the superior player in every facet of the game that matters. But Bayless has been a Blazer since day one. I cannot stress enough how much that matters to me personally.

At this point, I think my bias has been clearly demonstrated. I like good players developed by the franchise much more than I do guys brought in from outside. Pippen, to me, will always be a Bull, just like Drexler will always be a Blazer, not a Rocket. (Yes, I realize Pippen won multiple Championships with the Bulls whereas Drexler won his outside Portland. Thanks for rubbing salt in the wound :-))

My own personal preference would be to watch these guys mature together, play together, and take their run at a title or two. I would rather see them try and miss than see a bunch of guys brought in via trade and free agency win it all.

It was one reason I absolutely despised the trade that sent Outlaw, Blake and cash to the Clippers for Marcus Camby. This is nothing against Camby. He is an obvious and immediate upgrade over Juwan Howard, Jeff Pendergraph, and Dante Cunningham at the center. He makes the team better this year.
In fact, I love what he brings to the team. He puts up prodigious rebounding numbers, his interior defense might be even better than that of Przybilla and Oden, and his passing with Aldridge is becoming a thing of beauty.

Nor is it a complaint about unloading Steve Blake. Blazer fans never warmed to him, he took a huge step backward in quality of play this year, he had been supplanted in the starting line-up by Andre Miller and was seeing his other minutes taken by Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, and Webster.

It is really about Outlaw. Here is a homegrown guy who provided some things the Blazers needed. He could create his own shot, he is a willing shooter in the fourth quarter and at crunch-time, and he is a genuinely likable guy.

Many Blazer fans looked past what he provided and saw only his limitations. He is oft criticized for his basketball IQ, his hit-or-miss commitment on defense and rebounding, and his pedestrian passing skills. What they overlook is the way Coach McMillan used his strengths while hiding his weaknesses…and that he was homegrown.

You can count on one hand the number of players who do not have huge holes in their game. Focusing on the negative at the expense of the positive would have Aldridge, Roy, Oden…the entire Blazer roster, in fact…exiting town rather quickly.

But the point is, the Blazers sent a guy out of town I loved in favor of a short-term rental. Sure, many people felt Outlaw would not be resigned…but to me, that was never a certainty. He brings things to the table McMillan loves, and GM Kevin Pritchard has repeatedly shown he is on the same page as McMillan. So maybe Outlaw would be gone, maybe not…but now he definitely is.

And with him went my heart. Not that he was such a favorite player…Roy and Aldridge still have that shared distinction, and have since they were brought in on draft day. It is more what he symbolized to me. The Blazer team that I have grown to love every component of is starting to disintegrate.

Fernandez is rumored to be unhappy about playing time. Webster played all of five minutes the other night. The starting line-up has Miller and Camby in it. Rumors have floated that Aldridge might be shipped out in a sign and trade for Chris Bosh (in the unlikely event Bosh agreed to this...maybe). The pre-season pursuit of Hedo Turkoglu demonstrated the Blazers are not averse to unloading Batum or Webster...or both.

This is still an exceptional team that, if it avoids further injury and manages to make reasonable and natural improvements in the players they have will be a threat to win the title in any given season for a decade to come.

And I will still be enjoying the ride. I just will not be doing it at the game. I will watch when they are on TNT, ESPN, or the local NBC affiliate. But I chose not to renew my season tickets.

It was not because they are not trying to win. The acquisition of Camby is demonstrable evidence to the contrary. It is not because I do not enjoy the games.

It is strictly because the exchange of Outlaw for Camby signifies a shift in thinking from “lets let our core develop together” to “let’s ship out a guy who has been a core player and key contributor out for a short-term fix”.

My interest in watching imported “veterans” is not high enough to justify paying rising ticket prices, outrageous concession prices, invest time, energy and fuel to see a team I am markedly less involved in emotionally. That, in a nutshell, is why seeing the Blazers improve led me to decide not to renew my season tickets.
I should emphasize that I hope I am a minority. I hope the Blazers sell out every game for decades to come, that their string of Championships spans past the Roy/Aldride/batum glory years into the years my children play on the team.
But every fan has to enjoy a team in their own way. For me, part of that way involves watching players that are homegrown. What is it for you?