In 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers drafted Sam Bowie out of Kentucky with the second overall pick. It was a good pick for Portland, Bowie was a seven-footer and could dominate the post; the center of the future.
Nearly 30 years later, Bowie is remembered by most as a bust in the NBA. He spent a lot of time on the bench with injuries and retired after 10 seasons with averages of 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds.
In the same draft, the Chicago Bulls selected North Carolina's Michael Jordan with the third overall pick. MJ enjoyed a Hall of fame career, and is regarded by many as the best basketball player of all time. He won the league scoring title for the first time in 1986-87, his third year as a pro, and went on to win it a total of 10 times, more than anyone in NBA history.
With Bowie, Portland enjoyed a string of five straight playoff appearances, all but one ending in opening round losses.
With Jordan, Chicago made it to the playoffs every season, capped off by three straight NBA titles, the second of which came at the hands of the Sam Bowie-less Portland Trail Blazers.
Fast forward to 2007.
The Blazers have the first overall pick in the draft for the first time since 1978, and two superstar-caliber players are available in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Oden, a seven-foot center who could dominate games and be the center of the future, was the clear No. 1 pick over Durant, a lights out shooter and excellent scorer.
Portland went with Oden, and the then-Seattle Supersonics were stuck with Durant.
Five years later, Oden has played in just 82 games due to injury. The Blazers have made the playoffs three straight years but have never made it out of the first round.
The Supersonics moved to the Midwest and now make their home in Oklahoma City, calling themselves the Thunder. They've made the playoffs the past two seasons, losing to the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals last year.
Kevin Durant is now recognized as a premier player in the league, and won his first scoring title following the 2009-10 season, his third year in the league, and at 22 was the youngest player ever to accomplish the feat. Durant won the scoring title again last season, and his Thunder are considered one of the top teams in the West.
This is why the Portland Trail Blazers are the most dangerous team in the Western Conference.
The extraordinary parallels that can be drawn between Bowie and Oden, and Jordan and Durant are one reason. Portland is tired of listening to the media and even their own fans regretting the Oden selection, and want to prove they're worth a look.
Home court advantage
This season, the Blazers have been outstanding at home (11-2) with wins over Philadelphia, both L.A.s and Denver twice. If they can propel themselves to at least the fourth seed, they'll have home court advantage for at least one round and could get rolling and be a scary team.
They'll get over their road woes soon enough and be a force to be reckon with out west, instead of a team that started hot and has since fizzled out.
Portland is one of the deepest teams in the league. Seven players could easily be starters for the Blazers, and six of them are averaging more than 10 points per game.
The balanced scoring attack lets them have multiple scorers on the floor at one time, and any one of them could be the go-to guy if they get hot.
With a healthy team, Portland is fast and can take advantage of opposing teams on fast breaks.
Questions have circulated about Raymond Felton and if he is the right fit at point guard for Portland. If he isn't, Marcus Camby could make a serviceable replacement.
That's right, Marcus Camby.
Camby has perfected the back door lob pass to LaMarcus Aldridge at the rim, and it's close to unstoppable against any team. The teammates have the right chemistry to make the play work flawlessly on a consistent basis, and it will be deadly for the rest of the season and playoffs.
Gerald Wallace, Batum, Felton and Camby will all become free agents at the end of the season if deals aren't worked out to re-sign them. Players always seem to play very well during the final year of their contract, and the four Blazers want to prove they're worth the big bucks, whether it be to Portland or another team.
The Blazers are 5-4 against Western Conference teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. While that record isn't great, it's above .500, which is all you need to be in the postseason. I expect Portland to get out of their slump and continue their winning ways against winning teams, and carry that success over into the playoffs.
A deep, quick, balanced and determined team like the Blazers are so dangerous because when they're at their best, they can beat any team in the league. Not to mention, they are extremely well-coached by Nate McMillan, and he knows how to rally his troops and win a ball game.
They'll surely climb out of their current seventh position in the West and be on everyone's radar as a legit playoff threat, come season's end.
Not to look forward too far ahead, but next season could be Greg Oden's first with a different team, six years after he was drafted. Sam Bowie's sixth year following being drafted was also his first with a new team. That year, the Trail Blazers went to the NBA Finals.
While there are still 41 games remaining this season, a Western Conference Finals match-up of the Blazers and Thunder isn't that unlikely.
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