Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another Trade

Todd wrote a couple of days ago:

>>I wonder what your retrospective take is on the [Denver/Portland] Kiki Vandeweghe trade...

Todd (not registered for blogger so I cannot use the comments at this point).<<

Briefly addressing the second part first: I chose this site because it was really easy for a novice blogger like me to get things up and running. I don't control the comment registration and I understand why some might not want to sign up for it. I believe it's possible to comment anonymously without registering, and if folks just want to do that and attach their name to the post, that's fine by me. Or the personal e-mail option that Todd took (blazersub@yahoo.com) works just great. I respond to nearly every e-mail or comment I get because I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to read. Your responses really make my day. Thank you SO much.

On to Todd's trade... I suppose my biggest impression of the Vandeweghe trade is that it's as close to a true blockbuster as we've ever come. The Pippen and Stoudamire trades involved as many people, but we haven't seen another trade that was so spectacular on both sides of the ledger.

In the waning years of the Jack Ramsay era Jim Paxson was the clear-cut all-star carrying the squad. The frontcourt, featuring Mychal Thompson and Calvin Natt, contributed decent scoring and good rebounding, but by 1984 Ramsay was hungry for another perimeter scorer to complement Paxson and take advantage of the 3-point line. (While instituted in the NBA in '79-'80, it took several years for the 3-point shot to become a viable offensive option for most teams. The Blazers attempted only 129 threes as a team in 1983-84, making only 25 of them.) So in the summer of '84 the Blazers sent Calvin Natt, Fat Lever, Wayne Cooper, and a two draft picks (later to become Blair Rasmussen and some guy named Willie White) to Denver for Kiki Vandeweghe.

People who look at this trade in retrospect often ask, "Why so much?" And employing hindsight, we did trade a lot of multi-faceted players for a guy whose game was mostly scoring. But this doesn't take into account Kiki's underrated-superstar status at the time. In his final season with Denver he averaged 29.4 points per game on 55.8% shooting. Granted part of that came from Denver's free-wheeling offensive style (they were Phoenix before being Phoenix was cool) but those numbers are still eye-popping. Imagine combining Kobe/Iverson level scoring with Shaq's field goal percentage. (Yikes!) Also, if you look at Portland's roster at the time, they had Thompson and Kenny Carr to cover Natt's position, Darnell Valentine (whom Ramsay loved, likely because of his legendary conditioning) already outplaying Lever, and newly-minted draft pick Sam Bowie to take Cooper's center spot. So even with the mass exodus, the cupboard was hardly bare. Technically speaking Natt was the only Blazer involved who was the #1 option at his position. In an era where single superstars were beginning to have a disproportionate influence on the game, that kind of deal seemed to make sense.

The most enduring memory of the deal was watching Fat Lever blossom into a perpetual all-star for the Nuggets. By 1986-87 he was averaging 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. Valentine, on the other hand, had taken up permanent residence in Ramsay's doghouse and was unceremoniously dumped to the Clippers in '85-'86. Obviously the Blazers should have offered Darnell instead of Fat. (On the other hand, Terry Porter arrived on the scene that exact year. Would he have blossomed with Lever still in Portland?) Calvin Natt made the all-star team in '85 but really had only two productive seasons for the Nuggets before his career fizzled due to injuries and personal problems. Cooper played five years in Denver before Portland reacquired him just in time for the finals run of '89-'90.

Vandeweghe averaged 20+ points per game for each of his four full seasons in Portland, peaking in '86-'87 with 26.9. He suffered a back injury in 1988 and was traded to the Knicks in '89 for a draft pick which became Byron Irvin. By that season Portland was up to 645 3-point attempts per year and "Kiki for three!" had become a familiar and beloved cry in the Memorial Coliseum.

In the end it's safe to say that both teams got what they wanted from the deal, at least in the short term. Denver got a new starting lineup and Portland its popular perimeter-shooting star. Though Kiki never took us all the way, he opened the door to the offensive transformation which Clyde and Terry would ably continue to great success. If you were to ask Clyde who influenced his offensive game in those developmental years, it's a sure bet that Kiki's name would be in there somewhere. For that alone it was probably worth it.

Random Notes on the Periphery of this Story:

--The best yarn about Kiki I ever heard came from a ref. I can't remember whether I read it or heard it on TV/radio, nor do I remember the ref, though I suspect it might have been Earl Strom because he talked a lot. (Perhaps someone can help me with these things.) The gist of it was this: It was well-known around the league that Kiki possessed but a thimbleful of athletic ability compared to most players, and though he utilized it well, he was reluctant to mix it up with larger, quicker players. This meant he took his fair share of shoving, getting elbowed off picks, etc. Apparently one night he had enough, so he started throwing his body around everywhere, smashing into people, tossing elbows himself, you name it...all in his scrawny, slightly spastic way The opposing team waited for the whistles, but they never came. When the coach and players complained (rightly) about what he was getting away with, the ref turned to them and shrugged, saying, "What do you want me to do? It's Kiki Vandeweghe."

--I remember the day Kiki was traded away to the Knicks. I was in my college's "community choir" at the time, and that evening I was rehearsing with about 70 people from the surrounding area...everyone from college kids like me on up to 60-70 year olds. The news broke late in the afternoon, and I remember walking into the room and it was on everybody's lips. People were speculating why it happened, what would come of it, whether it was a good move...across ages, across genders, at a totally unrelated event. And remember, this was during a relatively mediocre stretch for the team. That's the kind of thing I wish we could get back to. Maybe someday.

--On a wholly personal note, I actually won two tickets to a game vs. Sacramento in '91-'92 because of this trade. I don't know if they still do this, but back in the day they used to give away tickets with a trivia question on each Courtside Monday Night. Pat Lafferty, though he looked mousy, was a sadistic S.O.B. when it came to trivia. Unless you had a Blazers media guide, Jack Ramsay's diary, and access to the secret Vatican vaults, your chances of getting tickets with any of your first seven guesses were virtually nil when he and Steve Jones hosted. But every once in a while local media guy Scott Lynn would fill in, and his questions were easier than the Pulaski twins on a tequila bender. So one night when I heard Scott was hosting I put the contest number on speed dial. I pressed the button as soon as he started the trivia introduction, before I even knew the question. Guess who was Caller #1 that night? And sure enough, the question was "Who was the only current [1991-92] Blazer on the team in 1982?" That was what passed for a trick question from Scott, because of the intervening Denver trade. One "Wayne Cooper" later and I had third row seats underneath the basket. Good times. Goooood times.

Thanks for the question Todd!

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