Michael Jordan

Overlooking This Season, the Blazers Look to Move Forward

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Blazers head coach Terry Stotts (right) and rookie point guard Damian Lillard (left) discuss strategy (Getty Images)

After witnessing the Portland Trail Blazers (33-49) season unravel faster than the ribbon protecting the most gargantuan present under the tree from an impatient child, it’s time to look to the future.

No matter how utterly horrendous your favorite NBA team is, every fan has the luxury of looking forward to the NBA draft and free agency. While some are calling this year’s draft the worst since the year 2000 when Kenyon Martin broke his leg into being selected number one overall, there is always a diamond in the rough (former all star Michael Redd was taken 43rd in that same draft). In the Blazer’s case, free agency might be more beneficial considering their more pressing need for proven commodities than potential.

The Blazers’ starting guards and forward situations are almost certainly set, but the rest of the spots in next year’s rotation are seemingly up for grabs. The formula for the Blazers woes this season was: NO Bench + No Defense + No Rebounding = No Playoffs. The Blazers not only had the worst scoring bench in the NBA by an astounding eight points, but also averaged 15 fewer bench points than their opponents PER GAME!!

Not to mention, the Blazers were the fourth least efficient defensive team in the NBA last season thanks to no shot blocking presence (unless you count Batum on the fast break) or elite defender on the roster. Finally, they ranked 20th in the NBA in team rebounding rate.  Suffice it to say; although the blazers have a talented core, they lack the role players to establish a consistent winner. Thanks to the NBA draft and free agency, these holes can be filled before next season. But can anyone on the current roster quell Portland’s deficiencies?

Meyers Leonard showed a lot of improvement this season, showing not only dunking ability and rebounding potential, but a feathery jumper, which could develop into a serious weapon with a summer spent in the gym. Also, Eric Maynor proved to be a useful acquisition and would be an above average back up point guard if General Manager Neil Olshey opts to keep him. Although Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland were largely ineffective cogs on the worst bench in the NBA this season, they will also have a chance to earn minutes next year. Still, the Blazers seriously need a deeper talent pool in order to establish some semblance of a respectable bench.

Considering the difficulty rookie’s typically face making a significant impact on the defensive end, the Blazers should sign defensive specialists in Free Agency. Lamarcus Aldridge cannot be the biggest player in the Blazers’ starting five for them to succeed defensively. Thus, it would be wise for Olshey to sign a true center. Although no center available is ideal in this free agent class, a few players could strengthen Portland’s frontline.

Samuel Dalmbert (Jeffrey Phelps/ Getty Images)
Samuel Dalmbert
(Jeffrey Phelps/ Getty Images)

Upcoming free agent Samuel Dalembert would compliment Aldridge’s scoring prowess with defense, shot blocking and rebounding. Dalembert didn’t receive as much playing time as he is used to due to the emergence of young bigs Larry Sanders and John Henson, but was able to average 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in under 17 minutes of action a night.

San Antonio Spur, Tiago Splitter could also be a serviceable big for the Blazers. He wouldn’t block a ton of shots, but his adept mobility, rebounding and touch around the basket would be useful. Atlanta Hawks big man Zaza Pachula could provide similar skills as Splitter, although he tore his ACL earlier this month.

If perimeter defense were the sole determinant of skill in the NBA, Memphis wing Tony Allen would be Lebron James. Allen has been the best perimeter defender in the NBA for a few years now. Not only does he shut down opponents individually, but he is also excellent at rotating defensively and causing havoc off the ball. One Grizzlies lineup with Allen at shooting guard ranked the number one defensive lineup in terms of points allowed per possession in the Association. It will be interesting to see how much money it will take to sign him considering perimeter defensive specialists rarely attract big contracts.  If the Blazers can’t get Allen, Denver forward Corey Brewer would also certainly bolster the Blazers’ defense.

In the draft however, they should look for bench scoring.

Although nothing is certain until the Ping Pong balls unscrupulously make their decision in the draft lottery on May 21, the Blazers will most likely pick somewhere between ninth and 12th. I will go into more detail about whom the Blazers should select after the draft lottery, but for now, I will provide some calculated but vague generalities based on pure speculation.

Peter Yang/ESPN The Magazine
Peter Yang/ESPN The Magazine

Big men will likely dominate this section of the draft and the Blazers could use another big considering JJ Hickson’s possible departure. Two of the best scorers in college basketball, Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk could both be available at the time the Blazers are on the clock.  Both would provide scoring off the bench, although both would almost certainly be a liability defensive liability.

Another guard with upside who can score off the bench could be useful as well. If UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad slips to the latter portion of the lottery, he would be a good value pick for the Blazers. Muhammed is a versatile scorer who plays with a lot of tenacity and toughness.   Lehigh guard CJ McCollum missed most of his senior season after injuring his foot in January, but their is a lot to like about the guard.  Look no further than the tape of Lehigh’s upset victory over 2 seed Duke in 2012 to find the evidence.  The guy can shoot the lights out of the gym, not only in spot up opportunities, but he made an impressive 49% of his shots off the dribble.  Still, he is a bit of a tweener who plays like a shooting guard but has the size of a point guard at only 6-3.  He may have trouble stopping NBA shooting guards but he could potentially be a quality scorer at the NBA level.

If somehow the unthinkable happens and the Blazers land a top three selection, they would go for the two most likely players in the draft to reach an All Star game, shooting guard Ben Mclemore and center Nerlens Noel. Luckily, both players play the top two weakest positions in the Blazers’ starting lineup.  Mclemore was not only a human highlight reel, but also a three-point marksman for the Kansas Jayhawks. Noel may not have lived up to his predecessor Anthony Davis offensively, but before he tore his ACL, he averaged more than four blocks per game. Once he is healthy, he will immediately make penetrators think twice before going at the rim.  Still, he will miss part of his rookie season rehabbing his torn ACL.

The Blazers also possess two second round picks. It is almost impossible to predict which second rounders will make an impact in the NBA, but I have a few I like. I think former UNC wing Reggie Bullock could be a solid knockdown shooter and tough perimeter defender in the NBA.  UCLA forward Kyle Anderson could be a rich mans Luke Walton who does a little bit of everything relatively well and North Texas forward Tony Mitchell could be a good defender and rebounder at the NBA level.

So many variables are in play that consequently, I have no idea what is going to happen this summer.  Let’s hope this off-season turns out to be more like the years we drafted Clyde Drexler or Terry Porter and completely opposite to the years we traded Moses Malone, drafted Martell Webster instead of Chris Paul or drafted the two centers who must not be named ahead of Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.  But first, the draft lottery awaits.

Where Did The Week Go…

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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.”

You’re clapping now. Let’s wait a couple of years to see if you still have that same level of enthusiasm.

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.

Two centers with bones made of glass.

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.

I wish we had gotten the center on the left.

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.

Another star Blazer who couldn’t stay healthy.

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.

 

Seattle Can Only Sit and Wonder

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Oh how perturbed the city of Seattle’s basketball fans probably feel.  At the same time, the birth in this year’s NBA Finals and the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a former franchise in Seattle may not have even happened had the team stayed in the Emerald city.

An important aspect to the reality of the Thunder, as a team, is that the fan base and always-talked-about energy and crowd involvement within Oklahoma City. The Chesapeake Energy Arena, in particular, is a far cry from the environment in the city of Seattle, and at the KeyArena.

Kevin Durant is arguably one of the top-3 players and the feature player of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Before going to OKC, Durrant won the Rookie of the Year award as a Sonic.

Who’s to say that the SuperSonics would be in the same position of going to the NBA Finals as the Thunder is now?

With all due respect to Seattle, the environment provided by the whole state of Oklahoma is much different than that of the atmosphere in the Emerald City.

“This means the world to our state,” Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin said. “This has touched every corner of our state.”

But the harsh reality for all involved in this basketball soap opera is that this team was and is the former Seattle SuperSonics.  Kevin Durant won Rookie of the Year as a member of the SuperSonics.  Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collision were all drafted by Seattle, not Oklahoma City.

The likelihood of this young Thunder team being in the Finals as the former Seattle team is undeniable. Most Seattle SuperSonics fans probably feel the Thunder would be in the Finals this year had they stayed in the North West.

“The first thing you do is to try not to be a hater,” former Seattle SuperSonics guard Slick Watts told USA Today. “You understand in life that things have to have a perfect setting, and right now, Oklahoma is going through a perfect setting.”

One of the worst parts about the whole fiasco, for Seattle is, that in these particular Finals, the biggest stars of this generation in Durant and Westbrook are competing against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who play for the new-age, drama-induced, Miami Heat.

A matchup like this, in terms of views and revenue, will be comparable to, and has the appeal of, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp battling Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. This is the NBA Finals we all wanted to see. For Seattle, this has turned out to be a nightmare of a divorce.

Maybe the Sacramento Kings and the Maloof brothers should try and make a move to Seattle in the near future, since they can’t seem to get a new arena any time soon. A Seattle Kings team seems to have all the makings of what could be a perfect marriage for the franchise and Emerald City.

The Kings making a move south in California to Anaheim, which is in the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles isn’t feasible economically.  Also, a move to a city like Las Vegas seems even less desirable and doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of a real basketball city in need.

Where else would a Kings’ marriage be plausible?

Seattle has an echoed emptiness without basketball and seems overdue for professional games on the hardwood. A decision to move to the North West wouldn’t be a gamble for the Maloofs, but who knows?

An admirable part of this for the city of Seattle is that truly, on the surface, the city seems glad to see head coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder’s success.

Oklahoma City has one of the biggest home court advantages in the NBA.

On the inside there may be a hint of simmering envy and who’s to argue?  The Thunder really were and are the SuperSonics.

We should be celebrating with them right here in Seattle is the rightful attitude.

“This team was built on the backs of Sonics fans,” said Adam Brown a Seattle based producer of the documentary of the franchise and city parting ways entitled “Sonicsgate”. Brown believes Seattle deserves, and will receive, an NBA franchise sooner rather than later. “They (the NBA) ripped it away, and it’s one of the biggest (sports) scandals of our time.”

“Sonicsgate” is a detailed underscoring documentary of politics and finance which ultimately caused the SuperSonics demise in Seattle.

Financially speaking, you have to spend money to make money and renovations to KeyArena would surely be reaping the financial benefits from the anticipated NBA Finals matchup of Durant and LeBron.

The cries for professional basketball returning to Seattle aren’t just money driven, though.

With assistance of former head coach George Karl and teammates Payton and Kemp in the filming of “Sonicsgate,” a want for a basketball return to the city seems to be heartfelt.

In 2010, at the Webby Awards Gala for films, SuperSonics career-leader in games played, Payton accepted the award for “Sonicsgate” as the Best Sports Film.  Payton was a special surprise guest for the producers and with his trademark charisma, didn’t disappoint.

As in Webby Awards tradition, acceptance speeches for winners are limited to five words or less and Payton chose his words carefully.

“Bring back our Seattle Supersonics!”

For Seattle, in the coming seasons, hopes are high for the possibility of the return of the NBA and the possibility is truly there.

For now, there is wonderment as to what could’ve been as the former SuperSonics start their push for what could be their first NBA championship in only their fourth year of existence as the Thunder.

With a Thunder win in the Finals, for the city of Seattle, this would’ve been the cities second championship with the first and only celebration being nearly 32 years ago.

Go Thunder.

Hoping For A Little More ‘Resolve’ In 2012…

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By Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

You hear the word ‘resolve’ a lot in the world of sports.  It’s mostly said by coaches hoping that their team will rebound after a tough game.  I suppose you could argue that some other words could be used instead, but maybe it is a good time for me to suggest some quick resolutions for some folks in the realm I cover.

First of all, I have a resolution for Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo.  After years of bravado, maybe it’s time for this signal caller to put up or shut up.  How do you keep Romo away from your festivites?  Tell him he’ll have to play a big game there.

Tony Romo had better start living up to his hype. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Seriously, I’m tired of hearing that this guy could be the next Brett Favre. (Though he does have the off-field drama queen role down pat).  Either he shows what he can do in a pressure situation (this weekend against the Giants is a great opportunity) or it is time to turn off the hype machine.

Next up, LeBron James.  We know what this so-called “King” can do in the NBA regular season. However, we’ve been told that LeBron just needed a better cast of characters around him before he could win the title.

That excuse floated out the window when he left Cleveland for Miami last year, and he started talking about the multiple championships that the Heat would acquire.  Funny thing is, in  the 2011 NBA Finals, the best player on the court was Dallas’ Dirk Nowitski (who let his game do the talking for him).

Therefore, until the Miami Heat win the big one, maybe it’s time all of us have this joint resolution:  We saw Michael Jordan play.  Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time.  LeBron James, you’re no Michael Jordan.

LeBron James should never be compared to Michael Jordan until he delivers in a big game. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Now for a more local resolution.  For the Oregon football team, it’s pretty simple. The Ducks have had three marvelous seasons under head coach Chip Kelly.  Going to two Rose Bowls in the past three years (and playing in the BCS championship in the one between) is nothing to sneeze at.

But in early 2012, they need to do something to solidify their 2011 campaign as a step in an even higher direction.  They’re playing Wisconsin in Pasadena this Monday, and should probably borrow the mantra from the late Al Davis. Yep, they need to “just win, baby.”

You’ll find a an article written by myself an Mr. Don Smalley on what the Ducks (and Badgers) need to do to come out ahead on Monday.  What that article DOESN’T tell you is what will happen.

As I see it, it comes down to one factor I didn’t list: De’Anthony Thomas. The freshman phenom can do it all from lining up in the backfield, running a pass route, even returning kicks. Some have said Oregon hasn’t seen an offense like Wisconsin’s yet. (That’s bunk! They were called the Stanford Cardinal).

De'Anthony Thomas could be the difference in the Rose Bowl for the Ducks. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The truth is, I don’t think the Badgers (or any other Big-10 school) has seen an athlete quite like DAT this year.  I’m looking for him to have a big day in front of his Southern California relatives, and that’ll be a big reason why the Ducks will finally get that elusive Rose Bowl win.  Here’s my prediction:  Oregon 42, Wisconsin 31.

Let’s get to one or two of my resolutions before I wrap this one up.  First, I intend to keep my long standing resolution not to every play leap frog with a unicorn. (I’ve heard that can be painful). I’m also planning to try and be a little nicer…but we’ll see how that goes. It may take a little more ‘resolve’ on my part.

Triple H had better watch out for Sam Finley when the WWE comes to Eugene. (Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Seriously, 2011 had it’s ups and downs for me. But this was a good year, and my resolution is to take the EDN sports section and continue to mold it into something worthy of your constant attention.  We’ve had some great articles in our first year, but we want to take what is good and make it even better.

We’re going to be starting some weekly reviews for both college and prep basketball that I know you’ll want to read.  You’ll also find even more profiles than ever before.  For that matter, you’ll probably find EDN in some places you didn’t necessarily think we’d go.  Here’s a perfect example:  The WWE is coming to Matt Knight Arena in February, and I intend to be there. (Look out Triple H, here I come). So check back here and watch the evolution happen.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.