March 18, 2012 by David Gillaspie
(also seen on oregonsportsnews.com)
Who enjoys seeing the best players on their favorite team play and win…for other teams? Sometimes it happens before they get here, sometimes after they leave.
From players to coaches, it happens too often in Portland.
First, a few of the players in no particular order.
Bill Walton hit the top in Portland, but took his second act to Boston. Big Red joined Big Green for their party. Seeing him stand beside Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge felt like an NBA advertisement for air brushed man-tan. With Dennis Johnson and Robert ‘The Chief’ Parish starting, Walton was the perfect sixth man.
Lucky for Portland, Mychal Thompson paced himself while he played here. He saw the bigger picture. When he landed on the Lakers he had plenty left in the tank for championship runs with Magic and Showtime. For those who thought pacing was strictly for track runners and the lead car beginning the Indy 500, Big Mike added to the list.
Arvydas Sabonis was a great player until he left the Russian team. If he’d been in Portland for the Drexler era, the infamously pooched Jordan draft pick wouldn’t have become the universal standard for bad draft strategy. A young, flying, Sabas would have transferred Phi Slamma Jamma to Portland from the University of Houston.
What about Clyde? Without getting too sour, where did Drexler will a team to a championship? Houston. He wasn’t a Jordan after he left Portland for Washington. When #23 became #45 and hit the court for Washington, did anyone think his fade away jumper was taking them to the top?
Clyde showed the professional way, how to show up and go up. His second act felt like a dagger in Portland, but he was still great to watch.
How did Danny Ainge find his way to the Boston front office instead of back to Oregon roots? He didn’t have the sort of experience Portland needed? After making deals that took the Celtics from worst to first, he was named NBA Executive of the Year for the 2007-2008 season, which matches up well with the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The ‘Ainge-Effect’ is still at work. His son Austin is currently director of player personnel for the Boston Celtics. Quick, find his number. The Blazer GM chair has a piece of tape on it with his name.
Director of player personnel is the key position on Blazer staff. Kevin Pritchard filled that chair before his lit the fuse that took Portland to the land of promise. That’s the job he’s doing for the Pacers. Did he give his guys a special reason to break the Blazers the last time they were in town? Did he deliver a pep talk on how to play basketball like it means something?
Rich Cho was the director of basketball affairs when the Oklahoma Thunder played in Seattle. He moved from being a Boeing engineer to the Supersonics. He worked his way back from Oklahoma when Portland called, except he had to make that stop in Finland first to visit Paul Allen. That’s the normal route to Oregon.
The last two Blazer GM’s are good enough to work for Larry Bird in Indiana and Michael Jordan in Charlotte. For the great success of other former Blazers once they leave town, expect the Bobcats, or Pacers, to meet Portland in the finals if they ever advance out of the west.
As things stand today, Portland has as much chance of advancing out of the Western Conference basement as any other team circling the drain. After Thursday’s flush sent Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Greg Oden out of town, it’s hard not to think of another Wallace who left Portland to win a ring in Detroit.
Unlike the guys mentioned in John Canzano’s Friday column, guys who seemed to challenge Nate McMillan until he was fired for losing the team, Rasheed Wallace stayed true to his words, “Both teams played hard,” and “Ball don’t lie.”
As long as NBA owners continue to cut the check for team killers from Portland, look for former Blazer players and executives on the championship podium. They will celebrate while the rest of us wonder how an interim GM, an interim coach, and interim players entertain a suddenly interim fan base.