Portland Trail Blazers

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Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers are a National Basketball Association team based in Portland, Oregon.

Founded: 1970
Home Arena: Rose Garden Arena
Uniform colors: Red and black
Logo design: Five parallel red lines slant right and upward from the bottom and curve left to meet five parallel white lines that curve downward and leftward from the top. It is supposed to represent trails being blazed.
NBA Championships: 1977
Owner: Paul Allen
2004-05 Record: 27-55


Early Franchise history

Missing image
Portland Trail Blazers old logo

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.

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).

The Championship Season

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.

The Early-Mid Eighties

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).

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.

In 1985, the team selected point guard Terry Porter in the draft.

After several consecutive seasons of losing in the first round, the Ramsey Era ended in the summer of 1986 when the long-time coach was fired and replaced with Mike Schuler.

The Summer of 1986

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.

The Mike Schuler Era

In his first two campaigns, the Schuler-led Blazers posted records of 49-33 (in 86-87) and 53-29 (in 87-88). Both teams made the playoffs (with home court advantage) but were defeated in the first round (to Houston in '87, and to the Utah Jazz in '88). In both years, the Blazers' reputation was that of an offensive-minded, "soft" team which couldn't play defense--a reputation which was rather accurate. The Blazers were among league leaders in scoring both years, but near the bottom of league rankings in defense and rebounding statistics. Many fans questioned the direction the team was taking.

The Schuler era was marked by several controveries considering who should start. The first such controversy occured when Clyde Drexler won the starting guard spot over veteran Jim Paxson, who subsequently demanded (and got) a trade. In the 87-88 campaign, veteran center Steve Johnson was injured, and was replaced in the lineup by Duckworth--who went on to have an All-Star caliber year (and won the starting job from the foul-prone Johnson). As the team was winning, these controversies were glossed over at first.

At the conclusion of the 87-88 campaign, the team was purchased by (current owner) Paul Allen. There was much hope going into the 88-89 season; as the team had two excellent centers (Johnson and Duckworth), and two good small forwards (Vandeweghe and Kersey), as well as a perennial All-Star in Clyde Drexler. But the team quickly fell apart during the year, as the issue of who should start became paramount. In addition, many veterans were unhappy with Schuler's coaching style; as a result the team limped to a 39-43 record and barely made the playoffs (where it was ousted by the Lakers 3-0 in the first round). Schuler was fired; and a then-unknown assistant named Rick Adelman was given the head coaching job on an interim basis.

That summer, however, several events occurred which vaulted the team back into the Finals. Most notably, Sam Bowie and a draft pick were traded to the New Jersey Nets for veteran forward Buck Williams, instantly transforming Portland into a respectable defensive and rebounding team. Vandeweghe was sent to the New York Knicks for a draft pick, and Steve Johnson was taken by the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft. Petrovic was permitted by the Yugoslav authorities to come to Portland and join the team. And in the second round of the draft, Portland selected a young forward from the University of Connecticut, Clifford Robinson.

The return to the Finals

With the exception of the championship year of '76-'77 (and the following season), the early nineties is generally regarded as the greatest era in team history. In the 89-90 campaign, the team posted a 59-23 record, and defeated the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference playoffs. The team was ultimately defeated by the defending champion Detroit Pistons, led by Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas 4-1; but an air of optimism hung over the city. The team won with gritty defense and rebounding, the aerial highlights of Drexler and Kersey, and the deadly outside shooting of Porter and Petrovic.

That off-season, Petrovic joined the New Jersey Nets, where he would perform at an All-Star level (before his untimely death in an auto accident in 1993). To replace him, the team signed free agent guard Danny Ainge, who had won numerous titles with the Boston Celtics in the 80s. In the 90-91 season, the Blazers posted the greatest record in franchise history, 63-19. They won the Pacific Division (the first team other than the Lakers to do so in ten years) and won home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They easily dispatched their first two opponents in the playoffs; but the season ended in heartbreak when the Lakers defeated the Blazers 4-2 in the Western Conference finals. The Lakers would go on to lose 4-1 to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the finals; an event which was followed by Magic Johnson's stunning announcement that he was HIV-positive and would retire from basketball.

In the 91-92 campaign, the Blazers again won the Pacific Division, and marched through the playoffs toward an epic showdown with the Chicago Bulls in the finals--one that they would lose 4-2, and which cemented the reputations of both Jordan and Drexler (placing the latter firmly in the former's shadow). During the playoffs, the Blazers' reputation as a "dumb" team--one which thrived on athleticism and emotion, rather than sound fundamentals--begin to take hold, especially in game 6 wherein the Blazers gave up a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter after dominating Chicago for most of the game. That off-season, after receiving a lowball offer from the team, guard Danny Ainge left the team for Phoenix. To replace him in the backcourt, the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard Rod Strickland, who was a rather controversial player. In the minds of many, this began the "Jail Blazers" era.

The end of the Adelman era

After the 91-92 campaign, the wheels started falling off the wagon a bit. Those who suspected that the Blazers depended too much on athleticism were somewhat vindicated, as a series of injuries and other issues started to plague the team. Kevin Duckworth started struggling with his weight (an issue which affected him his entire career), and his performance dropped off significantly. Drexler, Kersey, and Buck Williams also started showing signs of age; Drexler and Kersey missed a combined 50 games due to injury. Despite this, the team posted a 51-31 record. A bright spot was the continuing emergence of Clifford Robinson; "Uncle Cliffy" astounded the league with his dazzling defense off the bench and was rewarded with the Sixth Man Award.

Unfortunately, the team failed to advance in the playoffs, losing to David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

Two other key events occurred in the team in the '92-93 season. Owner Paul Allen started breaking ground on the Rose Garden Arena; which would replace the aging (and far-too-small) Memorial Coliseum which was the Blazer's home court at the time.

On a far more negative note was the infamous "Blazer Sex Scandal". While on a road trip to Utah, several members of the team attended a party in Salt Lake City, where some of them had sexual intercourse with some local girls who turned out (unbeknownst to the players involved) to be underage. Originally, the identifies of the players involved were not revealed pending an investigation; and speculation was rampant. Eventually, four players, including Jerome Kersey, received suspensions from the team; however no players were charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

In the '93-94 campaign, the decline continued. Terry Porter suffered an injury and was replaced in the starting lineup with Rod Strickland. Duckworth was traded in the off-season to the Washington Bullets for forward Harvey Grant. To replace Duckworth, center Chris Dudley was signed to a one-year contract (a deal which incurred the wrath of NBA commissioner David Stern who viewed it as an attempt to circumvent the league's salary cap--the Blazers prevailed in arbitration over the matter). Portland failed to win 50 games, and was eliminated by the eventual champion Houston in the first round. At the conclusion of the 93-94 season, Adelman was fired and replaced with Seton Hall coach PJ Carlesimo, and a new general manager--Bob Whitsitt was hired.

Trader Bob and PJ

The 1994-95 season was the first in the reign of "Trader" Bob Whitsitt. At the time, Whitsitt was viewed (throughout the NBA) as one of the brightest executives in the league. He was a master of the salary cap (and other details of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and it's players) and was widely viewed as the prime architect of the 92-93 Seattle Supersonics, who posted the league's best record before losing to the Bulls in the finals that year. After a falling-out with Sonics' ownership, Whitsitt was eagerly hired by Paul Allen and set about rebuilding the team.

The 94-95 campaign was the last for two key members of the Blazers' squad of the early 90's; Drexler was traded in the middle of the season to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe and a draft pick (where he, along with center Hakeem Olajuwon would lead the Rockets to a second consecutive NBA title). In addition, forward Buck Williams would retire at the end of the year, after a long career in both New Jersey and Portland. The 94-95 campaign was also the last year in the Memorial Coliseum.

The Blazers that year were an above-average defensive team; but a poor offensive one. They posted a 44-38 record and were swept by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.

The next year (95-96), the team moved into their new home, the Rose Garden. The team was led in scoring by Clifford Robinson; and that year also saw the appearance in a Blazers uniform of Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis--nearly ten years after he was drafted by the team. Sabonis, although a shadow of his former self due to age and injury--was still a dominating force in the middle for the team. However, the season also saw the rise of tensions between Carlesimo and guard Rod Strickland--who disliked the Carlesimo's rather vocal and intense style.

The 95-96 Blazers posted an identical 44-38 record that year, and was defeated by Utah 3-2 in the first round. In game 5 against the Jazz, the Blazers were defeated 102-64; which was at that time a playoff low. (The record has sense been broken).

Whitsitt makes his mark

The '96 offseason was yet another eventful one for the Trail Blazers. Rod Strickland demanded a trade and got one, being sent to Washington (along with Harvey Grant) for controversial forward Rasheed Wallace. A second trade brought even-more-controversial guard Isaiah Rider into Portland from Minnesota; where he had completely worn out his welcome. To replace Strickland; the Blazers signed playground legend Kenny Anderson to a free-agent contract. In the draft that year the team selected a high-school player, Jermaine O'Neal. To some, this represented the influx of young talent the Blazers needed to become competitive once again.

To others, the moves represented a disturbing new trend of placing talent above character. Wallace had a well-established reputation as a hot-head; Anderson was regarded in some circles as a locker-room cancer, and Rider was widely regarded as the worst of the bunch. In addition, the drafting of a high-schooler was a controversial move. However, the moves worked initially, as the Blazers greately improved on their prior record. The playoff results were the same, however--a first round loss, this time at the hand of the Lakers--and Carlesimo was fired and replaced with Mike Dunleavy.

One other long-time fixture with the Blazers left the team as well. Clifford Robinson, widely blamed for recent playoff failures (in part due to a noticeable decline in his performance in the playoffs) was allowed to leave as a free agent during the 97 offseason.

Mighty Mouse

In addition to Dunleavy, the 97-98 campaign saw two other important new faces; forward Brian Grant who was signed in the off-season, and--most importantly--guard Damon Stoudamire who was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Toronto Raptors. The trade for Stoudamire was regarded at the time as the most significant deal the team had made in years. In his first NBA seasons with Toronto, the Portland native won Rookie of the Year and posted All-Star quality numbers for the Raptors, and reminded many of a young Isiah Thomas. Many expected that "Mighty Mouse" would become the franchise player the team had lacked since Clyde Drexler left. Although the team suffered yet another playoff exit at the hands of the Lakers, there was optimism all around.

And yet there were early signs of trouble. J.R. Rider had numerous brushes with the law, mostly regarding marijuana offenses. Rasheed Wallace racked up technical fouls at an unprecedented rate. But again, these issues were glossed over while the team performed well.

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.

The bloom falls off the rose

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.

Things started out well for the team, who won 42 of their first 60 games. But the Blazers soon hit the skids in the final weeks of the season; and stumbled into the playoffs. A season-ending injury to Bonzi Wells (who had an excellent season that year) dashed any hope the team had of being competitive in the playoffs. The team was swept in 3 games by the Lakers; the series was notable only for the "towel incident", where Rasheed Wallace threw a towel in the face of Arvydas Sabonis during a game.

At the conclusion of the season, another coaching change was made--Dunleavy was fired and replaced with Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach (and Hall Of Fame point guard) Maurice Cheeks. Possibly as a result of the towel incident, Sabonis announced his retirement from the team.

The Cheeks Era

When Maurice Cheeks was hired at the start of the 2001-2002 season, many thought that he might turn the team around. It was believed that his reputation as a "players coach" (he was successful working with Allen Iverson, a player who was viewed as difficult to coach) would enable Cheeks to better relate to players such as Stoudamire, Wallace, and Wells.

A few other key additions to the team were made in 2001. In the draft, the team selected Zach Randolph, who would later start at forward (though not in the 2001-2002 season). The team also signed free-agent guard Jeff McInnis to a contract.

However, the Cheeks era didn't go as well as planned. Several key Blazers players got in well-publicized scrapes with the law, and with league officials. Rasheed Wallace continued earning technical fouls; several players (including Wallace) were arrested on a variety of marijuana offenses. (Marijuana is decriminalized in the state of Oregon). Cheeks had numerous run-ins with Stoudamire; the latter had a reputation for shooting first and passing second--a trait that Cheeks (one of the all-time greats at the position) found undesirable in a point guard. The end result of the season was the same as the previous season--a three-game sweep at the hands of the Lakers.

For the 2002-2003 season, Arvydas Sabonis returned to the team. However, the relationship between Cheeks and Stoudamire worsened; to the point where Cheeks benched his Stoudamire; instead starting Scottie Pippen at "point forward" (alongside Wells). It soon became apparent that Stoudamire had a marijuana habit; he and Wallace were arrested for possession of the drug when a Humvee they were riding in was pulled over for speeding. In addition, Rasheed Wallace further angered many in both the community and in the NBA when he received a 7-game suspension for threatening an NBA referee after a game. The team struggled to make the playoffs; and drew the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. The Blazers quickly dropped a 3-0 lead to the Mavericks, and in the process suffered several key injuries. Many believed a sweep was inevitable; but the Blazers won the next 3 to force game 7, which they ended up losing. That playoff series was also remembered for the "national anthem" incident, in which a young girl who was to sing the Star Spangled Banner before one of the games forgot the words; she was "assisted" in the singing of the anthem by Cheeks. This move cemented Cheeks' reputation in the community; and many feel saved his job.

At the end of the season, Pippen and Sabonis departed the team as free-agents. More importantly for the Blazers, Bob Whitsitt resigned his position with the Blazers on May 7, 2003, stating that he was retiring to focus his attention on the Seattle Seahawks NFL team, also owned by Paul Allen. However, he had been the subject of continuous criticism from the team's fans and both the local and national press for team performance on the court, as well as player legal troubles off the court, causing the team to earn moniker, the 'Jail Blazers'. He remained in his role as GM of the Seahawks until he was fired by Allen in 2005.

To replace Whitsitt, the team hired Steve Patterson as team president June 18, 2003 and announced that John Nash would become general manager on July 15.

The Patterson/Nash era

Patterson and Nash immediately began a campaign to clean up the team's image. A "25 point pledge" was announced and published, describing a standard of conduct that all Blazer personnel would be required to live up to. The Blazers' draft choice that year, Travis Outlaw, was the son of a police officer and had a spotless record.

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.

Head Coach Maurice Cheeks was fired from his position on March 2, 2005. Kevin Prichard will be taking his place as an interim coach until someone else can be hired.

In the 2005 NBA Lottery, the Portland overcame long odds and gained the number three pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.

Players of note

Basketball Hall of Famers

Not to be forgotten

Retired numbers

Current Roster

As of June 20, 2005:

Coaches and others

Basketball Hall of Famers

External links

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