Is Portland returning To the Jailblazer days?
There was a time when the Portland Trailblazers were a good team verging on the great. They were good enough to hold a 4th quarter Game 7 double-digit lead.
It is a revisionist lie to say they did not have fans. The Rose Garden still sold out with regularity.
But it is also not a truth to say they were loved.
It was hard to like a lot of these guys. Damon Stoudemire and his famed "aluminum foil to hide my marijuana" escapade. Rasheed Wallace and his technical fouls. Scottie Pippen and his famed public boorishness. Ruben Patterson and his domestic issues. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Great team, top-notch players; unlikable guys.
It was with this in mind the franchise rebuilt. Gone was the gun-toting Sebastian Telfair, the self-absorbed Zach Randolph, and in their place were guys like fresh-faced, laid back Travis Outlaw.
Even as the team climbed from abominable to mediocre to the respectable 41-41 record of just three seasons ago, the idea of who the franchise was readjusted itself.
Back was the pride in the franchise. No longer was being a Blazer fan like being a professional wrestling fan... a dirty secret, a "guilty pleasure".
Once again it was cool to watch the games, wear the gear.
Brandon Roy proved better than expected. LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden were popular players whose talents promised not just a return to greatness, but a return to greatness with the "right" kind of team.
This was a roster full of engaging, likable guys who happened to be able to do things on the basketball floor that mere mortals merely dreamed of.
Fast forward to today.
There was the bizarre open threat to any franchise that played Darius Miles.
There was the trade of Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake in mid-season.
The awkward, unexplained firing of Tom Penn.
The curiosity over what would happen with Kevin Pritchard.
The disgruntled antics of Rudy Fernandez.
The draft day send-off of Martell Webster...
...and the even more bizarre hour-before-the draft firing of Pritchard.
Suddenly, many of the features that led to the Jailblazers era were returning.
Here were the back-stabbing office politics. Here were the other hall-marks... the importing of talented players at the cost of home-grown guys.
Not even I would argue the trade of Outlaw and Blake for Marcus Camby did anything but improve the team.
Arguably, as much as I like Webster, the drop-off from him to Luke Babbitt is not really a difference maker over the course of the season.
The problem is more based in the nature of fandom.
I am mostly a Blazer fan, with the nature of the team taking second place. A few examples seem to fit here.
Back when Jim Paxson was the Blazer "star", the team was, frankly, pretty blah. They played a modestly quick but not exceptional style of ball.
By contrast, the years when Clyde Drexler was the main gun, they were a very fun, run-and-gun, high scoring machine.
The Arvydas Sabonis/Wallace/Pippen ensemble got by with some great passing and team defense.
Styles and players change. Honestly, if my primary rooting interest lay in styles, I would probably be a devoted fan of the Suns, Nuggets, Warriors and Knicks as they play a lot of up-tempo ball that I personally find very aesthetically pleasing.
However, I have proximity to the Blazers, and that impacts my fandom. I am first and foremost a Blazer fan when it comes to the NBA. I make no apology for that.
However... I also want to have a reason to follow the players.
It is one thing to watch a talented but imported ensemble. It is another to watch home-grown guys.
I never turned my back on the Paxson editions. I did, however, turn on the Wallace-Pippen-Patterson embarrassment and spent my sports dollas watching junior league hockey.
When Portland again had players who spent most or all of their career in Portland who were engaging guys, I came back.
And I hoped they would stay together. I wanted to see what type of run Greg Oden, Aldridge, Webster, Outlaw, Roy, Nicolas Batum, Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless could make.
I have openly rejected the idea of enjoying trades some Blazer fans have fantasized about, such as Aldridge/Webster/whatever was needed for Chris Bosh.
Apart from the utter implausibility of such a deal, I would hate it. Not that I have anything against Chris Bosh or improving the team... I don't. I think Bosh is personable, funny, and have enjoyed his YouTube materials.
But he is established. He is well into his career.
I want to see the players Portland acquired on draft day. I want to enjoy thrilling wins and suffer the requisite defeats with the team I have followed from acquisition to the present.
In story-telling terms, these are the characters I have watched develop. I do not want to see cross-overs from another series suddenly become the driving force.
Nor do I want to see a franchise suddenly turning on the people who work for it. I did not care for the massive layoffs of office staff. I do not like the way Penn and Pritchard were given their walking papers.
Even if they deserved it—which is an open question due to how it was handled—it was done the wrong way and left a bad taste in my mouth.
So what we see is a franchise drifting away from the things that restored my enjoyment of Blazers basketball.
The "culture" is changing from the one that saw employees valued. The stability of having players I could watch from beginning to end is on shaky ground.
Hopefully, the player movement is about to end. I would love to see a healthy season from Oden, Aldridge, Batum, Fernandez, and Roy.
What I would hate to see is continued tinkering with the core and the core ideas that brought me back.
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