Where Did The Week Go…
This past Thursday the NBA draft came and went. Following the five hour player crap-shoot; writers, bloggers, “experts,” and prognosticators began grading the draft. The Portland Trail Blazers seem to have done well as they were graded anywhere from a “B” to an “A+.”
Portland got what they wanted, a point guard in Damian Lillard and a center in Meyers Leonard, but like every team in the league, they won’t truly know how well these picks will pan out for a few years. Every NBA team has their fair share of “my bad” picks, but the Trail Blazers have a long history of making “Wow, could have won a lot of championships with that guy, instead took that guy picks.”
It dates all the way back to 1972 when Portland selected LaRue Martin with the number one pick. Martin would play four seasons in his career (all with Portland) averaging a whopping 5.3 points per game. At the ripe old age of 25, Martin decided to hang it up.
The two players Portland passed up to take Martin: future Hall-of-Famer and scoring machine Bob McAdoo who went second, and ABA/NBA legend and also future Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving who was selected at number 12.
In 1976, Portland again had the opportunity to snatch up not one, but two future Hall-of-Famers and again failed. Instead of taking Adrian Dantley at five, Portland selected some white dude named Wally Walker who would play 75 games over two seasons for Portland. Dantley would play in six All Star games and score more than 23,000 points in his career. Oops!!!
That same draft Portland took two of the three best players in the disbanded ABA Dispersal Draft: Moses Malone and Maurice Lucas. They kept Lucas who would go on to have a solid NBA career with Portland including help lead them to their only NBA title in 1977.
But the better of the two players, Moses Malone, would be dealt to the Buffalo Braves. Malone was a three-time league MVP and twelve-time NBA All Star. Imagine Portland having Malone, Dantley, Lucas and Bill Walton on the same team. Pretty safe to assume they would have won multiple titles with that group.
In 1978 Portland again had the number one pick. (Ah the good old days when you could win a championship and the following year get the top pick in the draft). The Trail Blazers selected Mychal Thompson with their pick. Thompson would go on to have a solid career with Portland averaging around 17 points-per-game and shoot 50%. But when you’re selected first, your career should be better than “solid.” A guy they could have selected that year, someone named Larry Bird. Ouch!!
Now we fast forward to 1984. You knew it was coming. That fateful year the Blazers made not only their worst pick in franchise history, but really the worst draft decision in NBA history. At number two Portland selected Kentucky Center Sam Bowie. With pick number three, Chicago drafted some guy named Michael Jordan.
The excuse for not taking Jordan was that Portland needed a big man. They had already taken Clyde Drexler the year before and didn’t need another scoring guard. You already know Jordan’s resume. Bowie would go on to play five seasons with Portland. The last three years he would play a grand total of 25 games or 10% of Portland’s total games over a three year period. Here’s a thought, don’t draft a walking chandelier who missed two full seasons of college due to injuries.
So up to this point Portland either picked the right guy and traded him (Malone) or picked the wrong guy (Martin, Walker, Thompson, Bowie) and saw the better guy (Dantley, Bird, Jordan) go on to have great careers. In 1986 Portland again picked the right guy, but they didn’t see him for a decade.
Arvydas Sabonis was selected in the first round by Portland. Unable to come over to the states because he was still under contract with the Soviets, Sabonis would lead his Olympic team to the 1988 gold medal at the age of 23. Once Russia fragmented in 1989 and Sabonis was allowed to leave the country, he shockingly signed with Spain instead of joining the Blazers.
Sabonis could do it all: run, jump, shoot from anywhere and pass as well as any big man who has ever played the game. By the time he arrived in Portland in 1995, Sabonis was 31. His knee and foot injuries over the years sapped his quickness. The young spry immortal was replaced by a lumbering caveman who could only lightly jog up and down the court.
Sabonis did play a key role on the 2000 Blazer team that got to the Western Conference Finals, but imagine if he had come over in the late ’80s. Those entertaining, high-scoring Blazer teams featuring Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams made it to the finals in ’90 and ’92 with Kevin Duckworth at center. Replace Duck with one of the greatest centers of that era and those finals outcomes could have gone a little differently.
From ’86 to ’06, Portland had mostly mediocre drafts but it was because they were always making the playoffs and therefore never had a high draft pick. They did get Cliff Robinson in the second round in ’89 but their first round picks consisted of players like James Robinson, Shawn Respert, Chris Anstey and Erick Barkley.
They did draft Jermaine O’Neal right out of high school in ’96. But he sat on the bench for four years and eventually they traded him for veteran Dale Davis. O’Neal went on to make six straight All Star games for the Indiana Pacers.
In 2005, Portland had the third pick in the draft and decided to trade down and obtained the six pick. If they had kept the third pick, they could have taken either Deron Williams or Chris Paul. Instead they took high schooler Martell Webster. In five season with the Blazers, Webster showed flashes of great ability, but he could never consistently put it together. Williams and Paul on the other hand have been arguably the two best point guards in the NBA over that time period.
The ’06 draft was the one year Portland did everything right. They obtained the two best players in that year’s draft (LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy) and they got both of them in draft day trades. Until knee injuries ended his career, Roy was the best player Portland had since Clyde Drexler. Aldridge is currently Portland’s best player and last year made his first All Star game.
The 2007 draft will unfortunately rank up there with the ’84 draft as one of Portland’s worst. Instead of taking three-time scoring champion and recent NBA Finals participant Kevin Durant, the Blazers took Greg Oden. Oden hasn’t stepped foot on an NBA court since December of 2009 and probably won’t again until 2013. He played 82 games in five seasons for Portland. Durant has missed only fourteen games in five years for the Thunder.
So as you can see, Portland has made a few bad decisions in the draft. Of course every NBA team can say the same thing, but Portland’s in particular have been highly noted. With every pick you make, there’s going to be what ifs.
Like in ’84 when they drafted Bowie out of necessity, they did the same this year in filling holes at point guard and center. Right now they look like the right picks. But as history has shown us, wait a couple of years and then decide whether or not this year’s draft grade deserves a high score.