An Ode to Blake & Outlaw

The trade deadline has and always will be an exciting part of the NBA season. Our country as a whole thrives on rumors and gossip (your TMZs and US Weeklys) and anytime you can combine that kind of speculation in the sporting world you have a home run. Bookmarking websites, checking ESPN, Yahoo, etc. at every available moment. Hoping you don’t miss your Twitter exploding. When a deal goes down there is a state of shock and then revelation as to exactly what has happened. It took me a while for it to sink in that Portland had finally made a deal at the deadline. The trigger had been pulled and the consequences were slowly leaking in. Yes, we gained Marcus Camby and all of his glorious defensive ability. Yes, we got a player who filled our need. There is a certain excitement associated with a deadline deal…well, if you’re on the ‘winning’ side. I doubt too many Wizards or Clippers fans were jumping for joy after those deals.

There is another side to the story. What about the players lost? What about the impact their departure has? With an acquisition comes a loss. And the Portland Trail Blazers lost Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and some of Paul Allen’s cold hard cash in this deal. I sit here, typing these words and I find it strange to say that Travis Outlaw is no longer a Portland Trail Blazer. I have always had a feeling this day would come — it’s been rumored for a couple of years now — and it’s finally here. Outlaw was the longest tenured Blazer on this team, dating all the way back to 2003-04. If you’re a Blazer fan you have to have a certain attachment with Travis Outlaw. For good or bad, you probably felt something toward him.

His rookie year coincided with the beginning of the end for the ‘Jail Blazer’ Era. Not quite in terms of being known for being troublemakers, but the successful, winning, being able to justify supporting a team full of knuckleheads part. It’s amazing to think Outlaw was a rookie the year Rasheed Wallace got traded. My mind spins when I think of the ups and downs I’ve gone through as a fan during those six years. . .and he’s been there during it all. It’s also amazing to think of the progress he has made. If anything, I hope Blazer fans remember his story. From Coup’s post on Outlaw written late last year.

So let’s appreciate what Travis Outlaw has done in six seasons. In 2003 he was drafted to a team that would begin a stretch of three losing seasons bookended by 41 win years and zero playoff appearances. Not to mention he was drafted by a franchise that, at the time, rivaled the Oakland Raiders in terms of dysfunction, discord and overall dismal-everything. They’re only All-Stars were only All-Stars on “All-Mugshot” fantasy basketball teams. We’ve even heard stories about local writers being warned about getting sucker punched in the locker room. So comes along an unheralded, unassuming 19-year old from Starkville, MS (of around 20,000 people) and…how the hell was he supposed to succeed in that environment?

Well, he did. He could have easily fallen in with the wrong players with the wrong habits, he could have easily fallen out of the league. But he found things he could work on and be good at, professional skills. More than anything, he simply survived the worst situation a player drafted out of high school could be in. That took someone with a good deal of integrity, and no matter how the questions around Travis Outlaw get answered, his journey is worth celebrating.

I choose to celebrate the story than debate his fadeaway jumpshots or defensive lapses. He could have been Qyntel Woods. He was a lost puppy surrounding by a terrible atmosphere and on a team that was not winning many games. And he survived that, not only remaining here as the Blazers rose again but becoming a major part of it. He went form a lanky, awkward, “slow”, teenager into one of the top Sixth Men in the league. A self-assured and self-confident player who boldly proclaimed that he wanted to be an All-Star. A player who made himself into something no one thought he could be. And that has to be appreciated.

I’d like to sit here and say it’s tough to see Outlaw go. It’s not. Trades happen. Once I saw Shaq and Allen Iverson get traded like they were a bum du jour, my whole thinking surrounding trades changed. With Outlaw, it’s been in the back of my head since Martell Webster got a long-term extension and Outlaw didn’t that the parting of ways would happen sooner than later. As Webster and Batum emerged, any Blazer fan should have known that all three could not stay. A move would have had to be made. With Webster locked up and Batum untouchable, the writing was splattered in red paint all over the wall.

While we miss Outlaw’s ability to create his own shot at times, it’s been apparent since his injury that the Blazer train can go on without him. And I’m happy to see Outlaw go and will want to see what he can make of himself outside of Portland. You have to wonder if he had hit his ceiling as a player in a Blazer uniform. He was never going to start, solely based on the fact that his skill-set did not match up with what the Blazers needed from a starting 3. Defense, shooting, etc. are not his forte. He had developed into a tremendous weapon off of the bench but there was nowhere else for him to go. His minutes were going to get cut thanks to the aforementioned swingmen and the emergence of solid play from Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph. Both who are actual 4-men. Outlaw’s big advantage was he could play the back-up 4 and get mismatches. However, the other team also had that same mismatch on the other end.

With Steve Blake, in Portland he had found the one thing that had eluded him his entire NBA career: security. It seemed as if he had finally found a home. Other than this year, Blazer fans saw him thrive in the system. He was definitely the rock compared to the silly putty we knew as Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez. A very nice compliment to Brandon Roy with his solid play, lack of turnovers and ability to spread the floor with his outside shot. He didn’t take anything off the table and just ran the show. It was refreshing. However, last year during the playoffs when it became apparent that Portland needed another playmaker to help Roy out, things changed. My mind wonders, how different would Blake’s life had been had Hedo Turkoglu not pulled out at the final hour? The arrival of Andre Miller brought along a ton of headaches and Blake turned into a sort of punching bag for Blazer fans. Nate stuck with his guns and his point guard, but eventually had to make room for Andre Miller. No one knows how much of an effect that Miller and Bayless’ play had on Blake, but it’s clear something was different between the new roster and perhaps some lingering injuries. There were games where I wondered if he was even out there.

We have known that these two and their expiring contracts were ripe for a deal and the deal has come and gone. But for all the complaints Blazer fans have had with Blake and Outlaw during their time here, in the big picture they gave us nor reason for a “good riddance” send off. Nobody can claim either player ever sandbagged it. Neither was a problem in the locker room. Both had more than a few brilliant moments in a Blazers uniform and, because of that, were huge parts in the turnaround of the last few years, as well as for the sustained success through some difficult times after that turnaround.

So whether or not Jerryd Bayless or the remaining small forwards thrive with their increased minutes and reduced mental and literal logjams, don’t say it’s because Blake and Outlaw held them back. By all accounts, both did what they could to perform the tasks asked of them and for that we should be proud to count them among former Blazers.

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Tags: Basketball Blazers NBA General Portland Steve Blake Trade Trades Travis Outlaw

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