Friday, May 26, 2006

Best Trade Ever (For Us Anyway)

With all the talk about trades and free agency, and with Jason Quick running his three-part retrospective of the last seven years of the franchise, it seemed a good time to look back even farther in franchise history to a time when WE were the solid team filling in our last pieces...remembering the best trade this franchise has ever made.

Both Portland and New Jersey were dead-ended coming off the 1989 season. The Nets, following years of abject futility, had managed only a 26-56 record. They were led by such luminaries as Joe Barry Carroll, Roy Hinson, and Chris Morris. (I told you what happens to teams that stockpile B-level stars, didn't I?) The Blazers had a promising young core of players, but lacked the glue to bring the hodgepodge together. Having fired recent coach of the year Mike Schuler midway through the season and shipped popular volume scorer Kiki Vandeweghe off to New York for spare parts, they struggled to find an identity and finished the year with a 39-43 record, barely making the playoffs before being summarily dismissed by the Lakers. Among Portland's main problems was its cadre of big men, which included hobbling veterans Steve Johnson and Caldwell Jones, slightly disappointing rookie Mark Bryant, and "Great White Hope" Richard Anderson (remember him?) all manning the power forward position. The recent emergence of project-center Kevin Duckworth, fruits of an earlier Mychal Thompson trade to San Antonio, made Portland's other seven-footer, Sam Bowie, expendable. And so on June 24th, 1989, the Blazers sent Bowie and their first-round draft pick (later to be used on Mookie Blaylock) to New Jersey for power forward Charles Linwood "Buck" Williams.

Buck had several qualities the Blazers were looking for. He played defense. He was one of the best rebounders in the league. He could also man the low post, while Duckworth preferred to face the basket. Finally, he brought a grit and toughness that was lacking from recent Blazer teams. He was a gentleman off the court, but nobody messed with him between the lines.

One of the dirty little secrets of those late-80's Blazer teams, largely forgotten now because of their subsequent success, was that Clyde and Terry were actually considered sub-par defenders. The book on the Blazers in '87 and '88 was that the backcourt would drop a ton on you, but they'd give most of it right back, and nobody in the frontcourt was going to help (Jerome Kersey being more of a turnover guy than a stopper and Duckworth eating space but not much more.) Buck Williams changed that overnight. Having a capable defender at their backs allowed the all-star guards to gamble more, playing up tighter knowing somebody had their back if they got beat. The Blazers gave up over five fewer points per game the minute Buck put on the red and black. And they improved that each year throughout the deep playoff seasons. Buck's rebounding presence also unleashed the most feared aspect of the early-'90's Blazer attack: the fast break. Knowing Buck had the ball off the rim allowed Drexler and Kersey to run out, and nobody was going to stop either one once they had a head of steam.

The backcourt gets more credit and press for the team's early-'90's success to this day, but Buck was the right guy in the right spot for the right team and he made a huge difference. Without that trade we don't see those playoff runs. His rebounding, toughness, and contagious defense turned those squads from a nice collection of talent into contenders. To this point, it's the best trade we've ever made.

--Dave (


Blogger jojack said...

hey dave, dig your stuff. i don't know if you checked it out, but espn's fantasy "all-time team playoffs" roster for the blazers omitted buck williams. i couldn't frickin believe it. they put rasheed on, but left off buck (though they did give us mo lucas). anyway, i just posted my first blog ever. it's called blazer minute. check it out, let me know what you think.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Cool! I will!

I noticed Buck's omission on the all-time team. Not great for the 10th-leading rebounder in league history. I don't mind 'Sheed being in, but Sindney Wicks' career was so short and controversial with the team that I would have put Buck on instead of him easily.


6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... Jason Quick running his three-part retrospective of the last seven years ...

You mean his "best hits". So regrettable to have to review JQ's sizemorizing of the Blazers stars and ownership instead of in-depth stories about our newest players. Portland's quality of life would improve greatly if The O put someone in there who would write about the present and re-assigned JQ to the city corruption beat - that story's got legs.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

It was kind of a well-worn take on Quick's part. (Didn't that "What if?" scenario come up in the media a couple of years ago in regards to 'Sheed's career here?) But it's the offseason, so I'm sure he's having trouble coming up with fresh stuff. Actually I find myself disagreeing with Quick's takes on the present and future of this team much more than on its past. But then maybe I'm too old school, thinking that a beat writer should report and columnists should editorialize. There's no doubt that the O's coverage leans a little, but that's all media nowadays. (Look at Fox News Channel and Rather at CBS.) They're out to sell product.

The thing I do worry about is that fans who have dropped away might think the team is still like that. It isn't...things have improved in that vein. But then again Brian Meehan's overgeneralization the other day that "now we have good guys who can't play" doesn't help either. Nor do inflammatory phrases like "fire sale". I don't like a lot of shortcuts that media people take on a regular basis.

I guess what I'm saying is that the substance of Quick's piece is accurate. We can't object on those grounds. Nor do I think the Oregonian should be a cheerleader for the team. But at the point where the truth and what sells become divergent (as it's beginning to) I hope they remember the difference.


2:39 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

Right on Dave. you always seem to get the "amen" from me after reading your stuff, even though i don't always reply(it generally is my intention to, but i get lazy!)...Anyhow, the buck for Bowie trade was the best. Whenever i get to argue about why the blazers took bowie over Jordan i just simply point out that if we did take Jordan, we NEVER would have had Buck Williams there to get us as far as he did. With Drex and MJ on the same team, one of them was sure to leave, and it probably would have ended up being Jordan anyhow since Portland is such a "small" market. So, in the long run, i believe the Bowie trade worked out best for us in the long run(although i'm sure i'm in the minority on that one).

6:16 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'll tell you what, let's just make that the official line anyway. It'll make us feel better.


1:52 AM  

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