Portland TrailBlazers Information
On February 6, 1970, the NBA board of governors granted the Blazers franchise, after the Blazers paid $3.7 million to join the league. In that year, the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers also joined the league. The team was based around Geoff Petrie, a first round draft choice out of Princeton University, and the 6'10" (2.08 m) tall LeRoy Ellis, whom they picked up in the expansion draft. Their first season the Blazers finished with a 29-53 record, which although generally poor was the best out of the three new teams to the NBA. The next year, the Blazers won only 18 games, but rookie Sidney Wicks was named Rookie of the Year of the NBA. The following year, the team landed the number 1 pick in the NBA draft, but squandered it on LaRue Martin, a player who was a complete bust in the NBA.
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The Blazers did not beat their first season's record until they drafted Bill Walton from UCLA in 1974. In his first two years, under coach Lenny Wilkens, the Blazers were a much improved team; but still did not post a winning record (nor did they make the playoffs). In the 1976 off-season, Wilkens was fired and replaced with Dr. Jack Ramsey. That offseason, the team made several key acquisitions, most notably forward Maurice Lucas who was acquired in the dispersal draft which occured when the American Basketball Association was acquired by the NBA (and several of it's teams folded).
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In the 1976-77 campaign, the Blazers posted their first winning record, going 49-33 under the leadership of Ramsey. The team--Walton at center, Lucas and Lloyd Neal at forward, and Dave Twardzik and Lionel Hollins at guard, made the playoffs for the first time. Not much was expected of the young team, but the Blazers shocked the world by winning the NBA championship in their first time in the playoffs. After defeating the Chicago Bulls (who were a Western conference team at the time) and the Denver Nuggets (a surviving ABA team) in the early rounds; the Blazers stunned the favored Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in four straight games. They then went on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 for the championship. The next season started greatly for the team; who raced off to a 50-10 record. However, at that point a rash of injuries set in (most notably to Walton, who would struggle with injuries his entire professional career), and the team finished the season with a 58-24 record. They failed to make it back to the Finals, losing to Seattle (the eventual Western Conference champion) in the conference semis.
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For the next several years, the team basked in the afterglow of its only championship. Despite the loss of several key players due to injury (and an acrimonious parting-of-the-ways between the team and Walton), the team continued to play competitive basketball. The sellout streak continued, and the Blazers were immensely popular around town. The team continued to make the playoffs every year except for one (1981-1982), and on several occasions advanced past the first round. However, the NBA's Western Conference at that time was dominated by the L.A. Lakers (with a few Finals appearances by the Houston Rockets); at no point were the Blazers ever a contender for the championship. In the 1979 draft, the Blazers (for the third time in their history) landed the #1 pick in the draft; and selected Mychal Thompson, a center originally from the Bahamas. Thompson was as glib and outspoken as Bill Walton was shy and retiring (this was well before Walton transformed into the outspoken play-by-play man he is today). Thompson was a serviceable center who had a productive career with the team, though he never justified his selection as a number 1 pick. (The number 6 pick in that year's draft was Larry Bird). Over the next several years; the team acquired several other players who many thought could form the nucleus of a championship contender--Jim Paxson, T. R. Dunn, Fat Lever, and Wayne Cooper. In 1983, the team selected Clyde Drexler, who would go on to a hall-of-fame career (eventually winning an NBA title with Houston).
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The 1984 offseason was one of controvery. As the result a trade, the owned the second pick in the NBA draft (after losing a coin flip with Houston), and selected Sam Bowie, an oft-injured center from the University of Kentucky. Chicago, picking third, selected Michael Jordan. Other players bypassed by Portland in that draft included Charles Barkley and John Stockton. Bowie--a capable player when healthy--suffered a series of serious leg injuries and was never a factor for the team. The other three players are virtually guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame. One bright spot for the team in the 1984 draft was the selection of forward Jerome Kersey. That year, the team also pulled the trigger on a controversial trade, sending Dunn, Lever, Cooper, and a draft pick to the Denver Nuggets for high-scoring forward Kiki Vandeweghe. While Vandeweghe would have several productive seasons in Portland; the trade was widely disliked. Vandeweghe (now an executive with Denver) was an excellent shooter and passer, but widely regarded as a poor defender and rebounder.
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The summer of '86 was a monumental one, both for the team and for the league. In addition to the firing of Ramsey, the team made several draft selections which were both controversial, and which would foreshadow several changes that would come to the NBA. In the first round of the draft, the Blazers (who had 2 picks) selected forward Walter Berry out of St. Johns university, and center Arvydas Sabonis out of the Soviet Union. Later in the draft, the team reached behind the Iron Curtain again, and chose guard Drazen Petrovic. The drafting of two "communists" was highly controversial--the Cold War was still going on; and many doubted that either player would be permitted to come play in the NBA. (The selection of Sabonis would become further controversial in 1988, when the Lithuanian center was allowed to come to Portland to train, and then proceeded to lead the Soviet Union to the gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.) The selection of Berry was a foreshadowing event in another way. Unlike the two Eastern European players, he was available and reported to the team--whereupon it became evident that he was a locker-room cancer. After only a few months with the team, Berry was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for another controversial rookie, center Kevin Duckworth.
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The 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 seasons saw a return to the Western Conference finals. In 98-99 (a strike-shortened season), the team was a dominant force in the Western Conference posted a 35-15 record. The Blazers eliminated Phoenix and Utah in the playoffs before being swept by the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs. However, Bob Whitsitt wasn't satisfied, and made two major moves in the 1999 offseason. First, Rider (who, despite above-average play, had worn out his welcome in Portland) was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for sharpshooting guard Steve Smith. Second, the Blazers traded a collection of bench players to Houston for future Hall-of-famer Scottie Pippen. It was widely believed that these players would lead Portland to a return to glory. It almost worked. The lineup of Stoudamire, Smith, Pippen, Wallace, and Sabonis--with Grant coming off the bench--again returned to the Western Conference finals, where they played a memorable series against an old nemesis--the LA Lakers. The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and coached by Phil Jackson and the Blazers split the first two games in Los Angeles; the Lakers then took two straight from the Blazers in Portland. Many wrote off the Blazers; but the Blazers then came back to win games 5 and 6. The Blazers were leading in game 7 in Los Angeles, before the Lakers came back and won the series in a 4th-quarter rally reminiscent of Game 6 against the Bulls almost ten years ago. The Lakers went on to win the first of three consecutive NBA titles with Shaq, Kobe, and Jackson at the helm.
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Despite the heartbreaking loss to Los Angeles, many believed that the Blazers remained a championship contender. In the 2000 offseason; Whitsitt set about making the moves needed to push the team "over the hump". Unfortunately, just about every move backfired. To start off, Brian Grant was a free agent that summer; and wasn't happy about his role off the bench. As a result, he was traded to the Miami Heat in a 3-team deal that brought Shawn Kemp from the Milwaukee Bucks. Kemp was a shadow of his former self; due to injuries and a weight problem. It soon was revealed that he also had drug problems; Kemp never made any contributions to the team. A second problem that was perceived was the need to have more "big bodies" to defend against Shaquille O'Neal; as a result, little-used forward/center Jermaine O'Neal was traded to the Indiana Pacers for Dale Davis. This trade is widely regarded as a disaster for the Blazers, as O'Neal has since become an All-Star; Davis had several serviceable years in Portland but at nowhere near an All-Star level. Third, Steve Smith, upset about losing playing time to promising youngster Bonzi Wells, requested--and got--a trade to San Antonio for guard Derek Anderson. Finally, the Blazers signed free agent forward Ruben Patterson--a convicted sex offender who was intentionally not signed by Seattle after pleading no contest to a sex abuse charge relating to his household nanny.
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Not long after the 2003-2004 season started, Bonzi Wells (who had grown more sullen and disruptive over the past several seasons) launched a tirade at Cheeks during practice; for which he was suspended. Wells was soon traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Wesley Person and a first-round pick. Soon after that, Rasheed Wallace (normally one who is distrustful of reporters) gave an extended interview in which he claimed that the NBA "exploited" African-American players. This interview was widely denounced by the team, the media, and the league, but no official punishment resulted. During the season, two other "character" trades occurred. Point guard Jeff McInnis was sent to Cleveland for forward Darius Miles, and Wallace was sent to the Atlanta Hawks, along with Person, for forward Sharif Abdur-Rahim and center Theo Ratliff. Many of these trades were welcomed by the fan base, but they were disruptive to team chemistry. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, ending an NBA record streak of 21 straight appearances. That off-season, the team embraced a bit more controversy when it selected Sebastian Telfair, a high-school player from New York, with it's first draft pick. Telfair had been widely viewed by many NBA observers as overrated; and not ready for a professional career. The team also selected two European players, Viktor Khrypha and Sergei Monya with later picks (one acquired in the Wells trade, one purchased from the New Jersey nets for cash). Based on their stellar performance the previous season, three players--Miles, Ratliff, and Zach Randolph were given large contract extensions in the summer of 2004