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?

1 comment:

brazilian blazer said...

What you think about the Aldridge-Bosh trade? rumors