It was about the turn of the century when things started going wrong for the Blazers. They didn’t win a NBA championship, despite getting into the Western Conference finals again. They were falling apart at the seams in terms of team chemistry. The front office was antsy and wanted to see results. Things weren’t going as planned. So changes were made in coaching and player personnel. Eventually, it reached a point where if someone in the basketball world was in trouble with the law for fights in bars or drugs, you would assume it was someone from the Blazers team, hence the name “Portland Jail Blazers”. For a Blazers fan, it was frustrating.
However, things began to change. It started with changes in the front office. Steve Patterson was no longer there and was replaced by Kevin Pritchard. The focus became mainly one theme: A strong team with strong character and a desire to strengthen the community. The Blazers eventually got the rights to the second and sixth picks in the draft, LaMarcus Aldridge of the University of Texas and Brandon Roy from the University of Washington, both players with a lot of potential and upswing and high character. The 2006-2007 season wore on with little success, but knowing that there were two young guys that were great players but also two that returned back to the community really started to vanquish the Jail Blazers image.
2007 came with huge dividends. They won the 2007 NBA lottery and thus the rights to the number one overall pick of the draft, picking up Greg Oden from Ohio State. He was young, mature, polite, and fit perfectly with the image of what the front office wanted. They also got rid of the remaining members of the Jail Blazers squad, starting with a fresh new roster with high hopes and big goals.
… And it paid off immensely.
What came out of it was a thirteen game winning streak for the team, the longest of the current 2007-2008 season and potential chance of making it into the playoffs with a youthful, inexperienced team. All of this in a matter of a couple years by now general manager Kevin Pritchard. The Blazers story has become a great feel-good story for the NBA, not only because they are doing so well despite the lack of experience and youthfulness of the squad, but also because of character, chemistry, and unity among the players on the team. It isn’t a team of high egos and all with personal agendas. It’s about a group of young men that are seeking the same goal and working together to achieve that goal. Granted, it will take some time to get there, but they realize that and are always willing to learn and improve their game to the next level.
It’s this transition that the team and organization has made that should give other teams that haven’t been doing so well a lot of hope. What’s encouraging to know is that there are a lot of other players in the college arena that have a lot of great potential and character that can really contribute to the teams that they join. It’s a matter of taking the time to scout and researching these players to find them.
Sometimes, it’s just better to be the good guy than it is to be the cool one.