The Portland Trail Blazers went more than two decades in the NBA as playoff warriors, going to the Western Conference Finals or the league finals in much of the ’70s and ’90s. The aura of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Cliff Robinson rang throughout the streets. Then Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Ruben Patterson, Damon Stoudamire and Qyntel Woods came together to create a knucklehead cast of characters that league observers affectionately titled “the Jail Blazers.” With all of them gone (with the exception of persona non grata/de facto knucklehead Darius Miles), the Trail Blazers can finally move forward into the future with new hope.
With the drafting of No. 1 pick Greg Oden in the 2007 Draft and with the additional assistance and brilliance of versatile swingman Brandon Roy, Portland is aiming for high hopes for the first time since the 2000 NBA Playoffs. But due to the sudden loss of Oden to microfracture knee surgery, it’ll be at least a year before he can carry his own yolk to guide Portland to more definite plateaus.
Much of the team’s future is locked up its youth and talent. The post position seems justifiably secure with new blood near the basket. LaMarcus Aldridge is coming back for his second year, after making a name for himself toward the end of his rookie season-he looks to be a factor at power forward; Channing Frye is a newcomer to the Portland community, after going through a highly-touted rookie year in 2006, and then succumbing to the minutes game in New York in 2007-he looks to build upon his development as a savvy power forward, with ability at center and possibly even at the 3 spot; Portland also struck gold in drafting of once-highly touted Josh McRoberts from Duke and the oft-underused combo forward in Travis Outlaw.
What remains unsettled in Portland is the point guard position. While June’s draft yielded much talent for the Blazers and youth and experience on the championship level, collegiately, who will help run the show is a drama just waiting to be caught on the silver screen. Portland has invested in the likes of former first-round picks Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez, though with issues concerning player growth being a pivotal factor. By way of the NBA Draft, the Blazers were able to secure the services of Finnish point guard Petteri Kopenen and two-time NCAA champion Florida Gator Taurean Green in the first and second rounds, respectively, but experience is the caveat in the discussion. Add to the mix the once-former Trail Blazer Steve Blake, who was a free agent from Denver, and Roy’s abilities looking more and more like that of a Scottie Pippen-like skill set, and the point guard debate starts to blaze its own path through the wilderness. Who will run the show?
Regardless of the questions, the veteran presence of center Joel Przybilla, three-point shooter James Jones, and newly acquired forward/center Raef LaFrentz should help steer the younger brood in the right direction.
Whatever the result in 2008, the Trail Blazers could be setting themselves up for something even the original trailblazers, Lewis & Clark, couldn’t do within a few years: win an NBA championship.