From 2006 until 2011 the Portland Trail Blazers were seen as one of the “it” teams in the NBA. People around the media and fans alike could see they had assembled a very solid and talented roster. Spectators observed this collection of talent and assumed it would help the team meet the requisite steps to reach the promised land. Each year the Blazers would be labeled as talented and deep, and each year they would make only a modest improvement in the win column. The team, though envied by others around the league seemed to be lack the ability to cross over into greatness to reach the ultimate goal.
To illustrate this point more clearly, reviewing a few of the players the Blazers were able to acquire during these years proves to be an interesting case study.
Jerryd Bayless – Crazy fast point guard who could score at will. Never seemed to fit the style of play the Blazers were going for at the time. Struggled to find playing time behind veteran point guards and was ultimately traded to the Raptors, where he is still sharing time.
Rudy Fernandez – When the Blazers drafted Fernandez it was deemed a smart move. Over time fans began to count on his arrival as having some magical powers to unlock the tempo of Nate McMillan’s offense or do something more dramatic. His impact was felt in Rip City before he even arrived. Each year the expectations grew. This became paramount in the 2008 Olympics where we saw Rudy hold his own with the NBA’s best stars. Like Bayless, over time he seemed like he didn’t fit with the style of play. It is still too early to see how he will do for the Nuggets.
Greg Oden – Poor Greg. So much talent and his body has betrayed him. Injury after injury. I remember watching him dominate in the NCAA finals prior to his leaving for the pros and it was remarkable. He was on a different level. He had it all. In the league, however, he was not able to stay on the court to show is he was a once in a generation big man.
Brandon Roy – His story is well documented. Crafty player from the University of Washington who helped lead the charge of the youth movement in Portland. His talent and knack of hitting crucial shots in crunch time have been noted. He really embodied the culture and persona of the Blazers during this period. With his knees telling him to stop, he was forced to retire.
Martell Webster – He was touted as an athletic wing with deadly accuracy from deep range. His up and down play made it hard for fans to get behind him. In the end he was traded away to Minnesota where he now fights for playing time with the collection of forwards.
Travis Outlaw – Outlaw used to be known in the Rose City for his highlights. His athletic plays were something to behold. Over time he molded himself into a shooter with range. He was the embodiment of the talent that Portland had collected. He had talent and was improving. He was traded and most recently was cut by the Nets to save some money just one year after signing a large contract with them.
The point of all of this review of Blazer players? Simple, talent alone is not enough. It does not equal nor guarantee success. The Blazers gained the reputation for drafting well and building up their team through the draft. They were making steps towards reaching the playoffs and becoming an elite team each time they drafted a prospect. However, after looking at a list of some of their selections most of them have been average players in the league. Oden still has potential he has often not been on the court and Roy had to hang it up early due to health issues while were left to wonder what might have been. Obviously, the have done pretty well with LaMarcus Aldridge. He was really developed into a top flight power forward.
For every prospect that comes into the game that ends up as a Kevin Durant there will be a dozen who end up like Tyrus Thomas. Players who have great skills, but for one reason or another are not able to take their game to that next level. More importantly for the Blazers, even though they were able to improve and enter into the playoffs on a consistent basis, they have not been able to achieve the success that was expected of them. A quick look at the Blazers roster today gives you an indication that they have changed directions. Many of their key rotation players are free agents (Mathews, Felton, Crawford) or were traded for (Camby, Wallace). This is a drastic shift from how they used to operate.
The team was labeled as deep and talented, and they were just that. Deep and talented. They were not able to cross the threshold of being a team of good players into a team with great players. Labels are not enough to make a team or player great.