Free agent signee Steve Blake is gearing up for his third stint as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Both of his previous tenures with the team were cut short by trades that sent him elsewhere, but not out of abject neglect or disdain. Now that Portland has him back, it is important to remember exactly why he had to leave in the first (and second) place.
Originally selected 38th overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2003 NBA Draft, Blake found his way to Portland’s doorstep when the Wizards did not renew his rookie contract. They had signed free agent point guard Gilbert Arenas less than two months after drafting Blake, and had little use for a second-rounder in their growing backcourt. Blake proved his value in Portland, becoming a starter in his first season with the team, but it was not to last.
On July 31st, 2006, Blake was traded by the Trail Blazers for the first time. He was paired with Brian Skinner and Ha Seung-Jin in exchange for 2004 NBA All-Star Jamaal Magloire from the Milwaukee Bucks. At the time, it was hoped that Magloire could reclaim his star status and build upon it, so the Trail Blazers were eager to get a piece of the big man. Since he only had one season left on his contract (worth $8.3M) the worst case scenario was that he would underwhelm (which he did) and end up as cap relief (which he did).
The Trail Blazers were not overly concerned with losing their starting point guard at the time, because they wanted to move Jarrett Jack to the point guard position after keeping him as a backup shooting guard during his rookie season. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Blake spent the first half of the 2006-07 season backing up the player he is now coincidentally replacing, Mo Williams. He did so until he was traded by the Bucks to the Denver Nuggets for Earl Boykins, Julius Hodge, and cash.
On July 13th, 2007, he signed with the Trail Blazers again as a free agent. Unlike his first stretch in Portland, Blake’s second go-round was relatively long lasting. He resumed his starting role and experienced a high level of growth with the team; averaging a career-high 11.0 points per game during the 2008-2009 season. Unfortunately, the Trail Blazers were about to be run over by the injury truck, forcing their hand with him.
On February 16th, 2010, Blake was traded again—this time alongside Travis Outlaw to the Los Angeles Clippers for Marcus Camby. The trade was a direct result of the Greg Oden knee injury on December 5th, 2009, and the Joel Przybilla knee injury about two weeks later. Both players were out for the season and the Trail Blazers had only a rookie Jeff Ayres (previously Pendergraph) and a 36 year-old Juwan Howard remaining at center; each of them undersized.
Though Camby was just one year younger than Howard, he was still a strong defender in a 6’11” frame. Since Blake had been intermittently sharing the starting point guard duties with Andre Miller anyway, he once again found himself the odd man out. To be fair, it was for a good cause. The Trail Blazers had a chance to make the playoffs that year (which they did) and Camby was a huge part of why that was possible.
When Blake’s contract expired with the Clippers, he signed with the Lakers and spent three more seasons in Los Angeles before being traded to the Golden State Warriors for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. He gave them a little depth behind Stephen Curry last season before his contract expired there as well, and he signed with the Trail Blazers in free agency for a third time.
Is Blake finally going to be able to stick around? Probably for at least two seasons. He really likes it here, the fans really like him here, and he has a $2.1M player option to exercise one year from now if he wants to stay. Nearing the end of his journey, Blake is 34 years-old. I would not be at all surprised to see him play through 2015-16 and retire in Portland. We cannot know for sure what the future holds, but the circumstances of his past seem avoidable in the present.