Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Former Players

I was going to save this until later in the summer, but it's coming up a lot lately and even the Salem paper (as quoted by Eric's O-Live Blog) is getting into the act, so we'll bring it up...

There's been a lot of talk about former Blazers and how good/bad we'd be had we kept them. Sometimes you'd think we traded away NBA champions or something. Far from it. I looked at the moves we've made for the last ten years and in most cases, I'd argue we've done a pretty good job.

Let me preface this by saying that I know that Jermaine O'Neal will trump everything, and in some ways rightfully so. It was among the worst moves in franchise history, maybe one of the worst trades ever. Having just seen a championship window close in '94, you can understand why management put all their eggs in the 2000 basket, but understanding doesn't make it the right move. We all know that.

The other example that will come up is Rasheed. But 'Sheed didn't want to play here. If he had wanted to stay and was willing to play all-out for us, there's no doubt in my mind he'd be a Blazer today. You can't very well blame management for trading a guy who was going to walk at the end of the season.

But other than those two famous examples, I don't find a lot of argument for saying the Blazers dumped talent en masse. Look at some of these major names from the last decade:

Brian Grant, J.R. Rider, Greg Anthony, Dale Davis, Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Jeff McInnis, Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, Qyntel Woods, Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdur-Rahim

Whether it was because of injuries, age, attitude, or just not enough talent in the first place, none of them played appreciably better after they were traded than they did in Portland. In other words, we had them at, or near, the peak of their production and got rid of them on the downside.

Then you have a group which includes Antonio Daniels, Dan Dickau, Jim Jackson, Kelvin Cato, Alvin Williams, and Rod Strickland. (Some would argue Bonzi and Shareef belong here. That's fine.) These guys all had one or two good years for somebody else but have not developed into bankable stars in the long haul.

How many of these guys made the all-star team after they were Blazers? How many won championships? Of course a lot of them are going to make the playoffs. More than half the league does. But how many of them are on the truly elite teams...the San Antonios, the Detroits, the Miamis, the Dallas(es?). How many of them are even the key cogs in their respective playoff teams? The list is pretty short. Jermaine and 'Sheed made the all-star team. Sheed has won championships. Van Exel plays some scrub minutes for the Spurs. That's it. (Oh...Rod Strickland got named to the All-NBA second team for his one good year in '97-'98. I guess that counts.) Even Jermaine, whose trade is the Holy Grail for bonehead moves, has never made the NBA Finals, and only made the conference finals once, getting pounded by Detroit. And that's with some pretty good talent around him. (I know, profaning his name is sacrilege, but I'm not saying he's not a great player. He is. I'm just pointing out that it's not like Indiana won rings with him even though they surrounded him with better players than we had.)

So what would we have had we kept all these players? We'd have a great player in Jermaine. 'Sheed we could not have kept, so cross him off the list. Other than that we'd have a team full of guys with middling production, escalating salaries, and diminishing trade value. This would be in addition to the attitude issues we dealt with when many of them were here. At best we'd be in cap hell for a low playoff seed. 21 wins is nobody's idea of fun, but at least our current team might have an upswing in its future.

Not every trade was a gem. That's life in the NBA. But most of the time, with most of these guys, we got out at the right spot.



Anonymous eli said...

Well if your going to quote me I guess I'd better chime in. Something I've been thinking about a lot with regards to the Blazers is the distinction between character and personality. It seems to me that teams almost never do well without at least one strong personality.

I'll use the example of the Clippers this year as compared to last year. The main difference between the 04-05 and 05-06 Clippers is Sam Cassel, one of the stronger personalities in the league. Other than Sam they have a lot of soft spoken, good-character guys like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Very few people (last year in particular) would say that Sam was a character guy, in fact people seemed to think his carreer was done and that he was too much of a loud-mouth to mesh well on any team.

Fastforward to the present and I think the Clippers are a legitimate contender and its personality that has gotten them there, not merely the excellent play of Brand or the solid presence of Kaman. Sam seems to have brought them a unity of purpose and has shown himself to be a potent personailty and a great leader.

And its that kind of personality that the Blazers are currently missing. They've got kids with character, what they need is a leader who will have enough personality to bring a unity of focus to what is an extremely scattered group of young men. I think that's why so many people like the idea of Adam Morrison; say what you will about his game, he has a lot of personality. I'm not sure he should be taken with the first pick if we get it, but with him we'd definitely be getting something we need, a leader.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous eli said...

Errr, that should have been on the previous post, the one about character vs. chemistry. Whoops, I'll repost it there.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

I agree with you on most points. Still, every time i hear something about sheed, i HAVE to put in my two cents. I loved Sheed, loved having him in Portland, and truly believe that HE wanted to play in a blazers uniform for the rest of his career. His problem in Portland started with the media. He was the first big time player we had after Clyde left, so naturally the media demanded he be a leader. But, that is not his personility. Look at how well he excels in his role in detroit...he's not asked to lead, he does his job and does it well. He is a true team player. But, back to the media...they demanded he be the leader, that he be the face of the franchise so they chastised him when he did not accept that role on our beloved team. Then, being a fiery player and getting T'd up as often as he did gave the media even more ammo to throw at him which made him stop talking to them altogether. I said good job Sheed. Now, keep this in mind, he loved the city of Portland so much that he was the ONLY player on those rosters of the late 90's early 2000's that kept an off-season home in Portland. THE ONLY ONE. He was also the player who was the most active in the community(i think Damon should have been, but i guess he was too self-involved). Difference between Sheed in the community and other "stand up" guys? Sheed NEVER asked for attention for what he did. He did everything that he did out of the kindness of his big heart. But, the media having the angst that they did for him, did not bother going out of their way to try to publish/broadcast reports of his good deeds. So, say what you will about Sheed, he should still be a blazer to this day and I'm sure coach Nate would take him over almost EVERY SINGLE PLAYER on our roster now due to his hard work ethic and truly understanding the team concept of the game.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

How the 'Sheed thing started is complex. I've heard a lot of stories from people who watched him, people who covered him, even a couple that knew him a little. They all say different things. I think it's mostly a matter of an unfortunate alignment...wrong player, wrong place, wrong time. I think you're right in that had a Clyde-type player been here still to take the media attention, it would have been much better for Rasheed and he would have been happier. I think you're also right about 'Sheed being better than any player on the current roster. In fact I don't even think it's close. Just behind Bill Walton, I think you could make an argument that he was the second most all-around talented guy we've ever had. (Remember, I said ALL-AROUND talent. I know Clyde blew him out of the water as far as offensive performance and leadership.)

8:49 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

When Sheed wanted to dominate, he dominated. By which I guess I mean that at the end of games as a go-to player he was unstoppable. He was better than Karl Malone. Skill-wiswe perhaps the best power-forward of all time. (Maybe that's going to far. I just remembered Bob McAdoo.)

But it was hard to watch Rasheed sometimes. I had no negative feelings whatsoever and the rally-killing, momentum-killing technicals over what looked to be minor calls were impossible to feel sympathy for.

Look at how Kobe (who's a mean dude) gets nailed. He complains sometimes, sure, but (like Jordan) he's much more interested in making the opponent pay for it by beating them.

I've never seen Kobe make a fool out of himself over some phantom call, the sort of thing that in any case usually evens out over the course of a game. Rasheed was literally painful to watch. He made me embarrassed to root for him.

10:48 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

Back to the original topic. I think to be a dominating player you have to be not only tough, but perhaps even mean. "Mean" We're so bred lately to an Alda Alda-style ironic pacifism as the male ideal (at least to some extent) that the hardcore warrior personality appears anti-social, even frightening to us now.

Think if Michael Jordan had said on TV what he allegedly said to other players out on the court. Or Larry Bird. Or what if Magic Johnson had shared, uncensored what he really thought?

Right now, in 2006, it would be another hypocritical faux-scandal.

(This, by the way, is certainly why Clyde Drexler's interviews were so stupefyingly boring. He could not have openly expressed himself or we would have been "shocked." It's partly but by no means entirely a black-white thing. Larry Bird had a mouth and an attitude that matched any black guy from the inner-city. This is where Adam Morrison may in fact become rather intriguing. Is he that tough? How would he respond if playing against, say Dennis Rodman or Charles Barkley? Could he -- metaphorically -- kick their ass?)

11:28 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

I'll get off this in a second. But just look at the statement: "He hated to lose."

You can see it pretty plainly in some. Is Roger Clemens a nice guy?

What if you were in a bar and Michael Jordan said, "You lookin' at me?" (Any answer you give is wrong. "No." "You callin' me a liar?")

Today's "up close and personal" media coverage was inaugurated by ABC in order to get women to watch the Olympics. Most athletes these days have learned how to play the game. But what if we were now confronted with Babe Ruth as he really was? (Or Ty Cobb?)

I'm not saying you necessarily have to be an a**hle to be a great athlete. But... hmm... this might be worth contemplating. There might be a reason why the greatest players seldom successfully coach.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Ah yes...this should all be on the post below this one, but we're out of control now, so what the heck...

I think what you're saying ignacio chimes right in with what Eli has said about a forceful personality bending the team, and maybe the game, to his will. And no, not all of those guys are what you'd call "character" people. And you need some of that nastiness on your team if you're going to win. But you still better hope that either that guy has winning as his main goal and not self-gratification or that at least he is surrounded by a bunch of guys who can absorb and redirect the stuff he dishes out. Otherwise that same will that has the potential to alter the game so much will pretty much rip apart your team. I think Ron Artest became and example of such in Indy. However, Dennis Rodman was buffered enough in Chicago that his craziness and tenacity really helped. It works both ways. Good stuff guys!


12:34 AM  
Blogger ignacio said...

Dave: Agreed. I was thinking hard about force of will... but the players who are borderline sociopaths become a huge problem, get coaches fired, etc. They want EVERYONE to bend to their will rather than keeping this power within the confines of winning the game.

Ron Artest... in baseball Albert Belle. Terrell Owens.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

I agree with your take on Sheed, Ignacio. I never really looked at too many of his "T's" as drive killers or anything, but i also don't get to watch more than maybe 20 games a year either(in a great year) since i live in San Diego. The games i saw and the T's i saw him take i never really felt altered things too much. Watching him in Detroit I am seeing the same style of play, whining about bad calls, etc. but his teammates there don't let it get out of control. Not sure what point i'm tryin to make right now, but i just wanted to say i could agree with your point and objective point of view.

Maybe if we had stronger personalities on those teamas with Sheed, he'd not have had so many T's, or they would have been overlooked because of all the wins(would not have happened with the chub the media had for him).

8:11 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

You guys bring up a great point. Bad things happen when a guy who is not really a leader becomes the centerpiece of a team, even if the guy is otherwise really talented. This is exactly what I fear happening with Zach. He's just not the leader type, and the team will suffer as long as he's thrust into that role. From what we've heard, at least personality-wise, Sebastian, Martell, or even Mr. Jack would be more suited eventually to take over that position than Zach is, but it'll never happen as long as he's here and top dog.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

Great point Dave. I don't think Zach is anywhere near being a leader on the floor, in the locker room, or anywhere else. He is a "sheep" so to speak. I would be all too thrilled if Nate gave the reigns over to Telfair and Webster next year just for the sheer fact that they have incredible maturity in comparison to their youth. The story i read in the O-live blog today about Martell going to his old school and hanging out when there was absolutely nothing to gain as far as public attention goes just speaks volumes. What a stand up guy and I hope he stays in a Blazers uniform for the next 20 years.

8:02 PM  
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