As I watch the Spurs and Grizzlies duke it out in this year’s Western Conference Finals, I can’t help but mourn the Blazers we used to be. Like many of you, I have watched Portland struggle to rebuild year after year, and while I’m hopeful that we will one day succeed, our present-day story ends at the regular season. In fact, even in recent playoff years the Blazers have not advanced past the first round; but you already knew that. Last time the Blazers were in the position of today’s Spurs and Grizzlies was all the way back at the turn of the millennia; the 2000 Western Conference Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers.
A younger David would swear that the game 7 loss was highly suspect (I’ll never forget how Arvydas Sabonis fouled out by brutally attacking Shaquille O’neal’s shoulder with his sternum), but that’s beside the point. The Blazers of old were built to make a deep run. Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Arvydas Sabonis led the squad and were supported by strong role players like Detlef Schrempf, Bonzie Wells, and (my personal favorite) Brian Grant.
The year before, while also a WCF team, the Blazers were somewhat jumbled. Here’s where I see a parallel with present-day Portland. Although we are far from competing for the Western Conference Championship, our current roster is also loaded with “expendables”. We are in need of a big trade to clean house and progress, just like the ’99 team.
On October 2nd, 1999, the Portland Trail Blazers traded Stacey Augmon, Kelvin Cato, Ed Gray, Carlos Rogers, Brian Shaw, and Walt Williams, to the Houston Rockets for Hall of Famer, Scottie Pippen. This move not only helped Portland stay in the championship race, it paved the way for 4 consecutive strong seasons (none lower than .598) until Pippen’s retirement in 2003.
Back to present-day. I would like to see Olshey mirror this move to the best of his ability, given what he has to work with. The Blazers have a strong starting lineup and a weak supporting cast, with virtually no veterans. In essence, I want to take a long look at Freeland, Claver, Maynor, Pavlovic, and Barton (all probable to return next season) and measure their trade value, with a high-level veteran in mind. The Blazers would keep their core, retain their best young players, and fill out the remainder through the draft and free agency.
This is perhaps the most drastic path Portland could take, but sometimes drastic is good. I want to see Portland be a contender again. Bear in mind that the potential deal would likely involve my proposed players, but it would not necessarily be limited to them. It would also require an aging team over the luxury tax to partner with. This is why, in my dreaming, I believe we may have the perfect storm to acquire Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks.
As a whole, New York is older than your grandmother’s hard candy and they are way over the salary cap. Owed $14 million next season, Tyson Chandler is their 3rd biggest contract and happens to fit Portland’s biggest need; a traditional defensive center. If we proposed a Pippen-esque trade involving our first round pick, a handful of youthful backups, and maybe another piece, what would happen? Their current team is unsustainable. It’s possible that we could take advantage.
The Blazers even have space for him. We have $43 million on the books for the 2013-2014 season ($15 million under cap) and would stand to gain more space if we shed some contracts in this hypothetical deal. At this point, we can’t rule anything out. Olshey has declared his intent to make aggressive changes this off-season, and this is my proposal. Extensive youth can only take you so far. At the very least, it’s an idea to consider as the Blazers look to become successful once again. Learn from the past; change the future. Perhaps it will yield a post-season.