How the Portland Trail Blazers Have Changed Since Game 7 in 2000
June 4, 2000 is a date that won't be forgotten in the history of the Portland Trail Blazers fanbase.
Exactly 13 years later, that fateful day changed the course of the entire franchise. Portland was sent reeling, while the Lakers went on to win five titles over the next 11 years.
Let's take a look at how the Blazers' fortunes have changed since that day.
How the team was constructed
A deep Blazers squad was coming off a terrific 1998-99 season. After reaching the Western Conference Finals, they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs in Tim Duncan's rookie season.
Portland was deep, with seven players averaging at least eight points per game. J.R. Rider was the team's leading scorer at just 13.9 PPG, but the Blazers were short on experience to get to the next level.
The core pieces were in place with Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Arvydas Sabonis and Brian Grant.
Then-general manager Bob Whitsitt overhauled the team, getting rid of eight players that summer.
- The first big move was bringing in All-Star Steve Smith from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rider and Jim Jackson. The 30-year-old Smith was nearing the end of his career, and the Hawks were looking to rid themselves of owing $36 million over the next four seasons to a player with aging knees, as reported by the Associated Press (h/t The Seattle Times).
- Portland then re-signed backup forward Jermaine O'Neal to a three-year deal worth $25 million.
- Whitsitt found a gem in the free-agent market, signing 36-year-old Detlef Schrempf away from Seattle with a two-year deal. According to the Associated Press (h/t CBS News), the Sonics had angered Schrempf by offering the veteran a one-year deal for $1 million.
- Rumors ran rampant with the Blazers targeting Charlotte's sharp shooter Glen Rice. Portland once offered Rider and O'Neal for Rice before the Lakers swooped in with an offer around Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell the year before, as reported by the Los Angeles Daily News. Whitsitt tried to acquire Rice again in the summer of 1999 in a rumored three-way deal with the Lakers and Orlando. As detailed by the AP (h/t SI.com) the Blazers would have sent O'Neal and Greg Anthony to Orlando. All-Star Penny Hardaway would have landed in LA.
- The Blazers went in a different direction, pulling off a seven-player blockbuster deal by acquiring Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen from Houston for Kelvin Cato, Stacey Augmon, Walt Williams, Ed Gray, Brian Shaw and Carlos Rogers.
Leading up to June 4
The Blazers uncharacteristically lost twice in a row at the Rose Garden in Games 3 and 4 and faced a huge 3-1 hole. Only six teams prior had rallied to win a series from a 3-1 deficit, so the odds were stacked against Portland's favor.
Coach Mike Dunleavy dared to have anyone but Shaquille O'Neal beat them, double and triple-teaming him and forcing the Lakers role players to miss shots. That they did, as the Blazers survived Game 5 at the Staples Center.
As reported by the AP (h/t SI.com), Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the Blazers were knocking on "death's door," but Portland again came through with a 103-93 win in Game 6.
"It was a great game," Pippen said. "We knew what we were up against, and we stepped up to the challenge."
Things got chippy late when Rick Fox attempted to bait Pippen into a cheap shot and possible suspension for Game 7.
"We've noticed as the games went on they started to turn away from playing the game and started to do other activities away from the game," Pippen said. "Taking cheap shots at guys to try to start altercations. I'm just telling my guys to stay focused, play hard and try to walk away from it.
"Rick Fox said to me, 'It's going to be on in L.A.' I'm looking forward to it."
Portland had control for most of three quarters, seizing a 13-point lead heading into the fourth. The dream of heading to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992 and making one of the biggest comebacks in league history was one quarter away.
The Blazers even led 75-60 with 10:28 to go when Bonzi Wells nailed two free throws. Wallace was carving up the Lakers inside en route to 30 points, Smith was on fire from the perimeter and the Lakers offense was lifeless.
To sum it up quickly, the Lakers ended the game on a 29-9 run, and the Blazers suffered arguably one of the biggest collapses in NBA playoff history in the 89-84 defeat.
The loss sent the Blazers into a tailspin that offseason. Whitsitt was armed and ready to retool once again.
The next day, Portland traded an unhappy Jermaine O'Neal to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star Dale Davis, adding bulk and experience up front with the sole idea of stopping Shaq inside.
The Blazers added more pieces late in the season, signing point guard Rod Strickland in a highly questionable move when the team had Stoudamire and Anthony. Schrempf was then coerced into returning to the team late in the season after a tentative retirement.
The additions created a huge logjam for minutes. Dunleavy had the impossible task of juggling a roster that didn't fit, finishing the regular season 14-12 after a terrific 45-11 start. The team's chemistry was a mess.
After criticism was thrown Whitsitt's way, he gave his infamous quote to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, "I wasn't a chemistry major in college; I was a sports major."
The Blazers have failed to win a playoff series ever since that Game 7 in Los Angeles. The Jail Blazer era followed as arrests became commonplace. The franchise became a joke in the league as attendance and fan morale crept to an all-time low.
The trade that sent O'Neal to Indiana was regarded as a huge mistake. The Blazers and owner Paul Allen have since been reluctant to deal any young prospect in the wake of that debacle.
Portland suffered another heartbreak when its experiment of a core trio of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge failed due to injuries. The Blazers have reached the playoffs six times since 2000, losing in the first round each time—the longest drought in the NBA today.
Portland hasn't qualified for the postseason the past two seasons but is banking on Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, Aldridge and Nicolas Batum to end that streak next season. It's been a long rebuilding process for the franchise, which all began 13 years ago today. But at least there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
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