Portland Trail Blazers All-Time Most Disappointing Acquisitions #9: Damon Stoudamire

Today's selection for Portland's All-Time Most Disappointing Acquisitions Team is going to be controversial as Damon Stoudamire was a hometown product, beloved in many ways for his tenure with the Blazers and Wilson High.  To understand why he's here I need to give you three names:

Bill Walton, Greg Oden, Damon Stoudamire

In all the history of forever (or at least the history of the Portland franchise) no three players have been as anticipated, hyped, and drooled over before becoming Blazers as these three were.  Walton and Oden were obvious, in some ways tragic, cases.  But Stoudamire's long and only semi-illustrious career with the Blazers obscured the memory of days when he was considered a franchise-transformer.  A comparison: prior to him becoming a Blazer the talk was every bit the equal of what people say about (and wish for with) Chris Paul today.  Except in this case, after a solid half-season of rumors and salivation, the dream really came true.  The Blazers got their man.  He wasn't injured.  He wasn't old.  Portland got 100% of the guy they coveted.  For once something went totally, completely right.

There was plenty about Stoudamire to covet too, even setting aside his Portland roots.  He won the Rookie of the Year trophy in Toronto in 1995-96, scoring 19 per game with 9 assists.  He upped that to 20 and 9 in his second season.  He was hovering near that mark in his third when he was traded to the Blazers.

When the news broke that Stoudamire was coming to Portland for a package that included only one of the Blazers' top rotation players--that being Kenny Anderson, the point guard Stoudamire was replacing--the town went crazy.   Imagine adding a 20-9 guy to Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, Arvydas Sabonis, and J.R. Rider.  O Happy Day!  Who was going to stop this team?  Even better, if the guy was putting up these numbers in his third season, what would he look like in his prime?  And he was going to be Portland's to keep.  Playing in the Rose City was his childhood dream.  He'd actually stay with the club!  ($80,000,000 worth of guaranteed contract didn't hurt those chances either...)

Blazer fans found out a few things about Damon right away.  He was personable.  He was quick.  He was also short.  He was really short, even for a point guard.  The immediate liability was defense.  No matter who he guarded, they didn't care.  Early in his career he was flat-out bad defensively.  With experience he became quite a good positional defender but even so opponents simply smirked and rose for an uncontested jumper over him.  

But at least his offense was unassailable, right?  Not so much.

As it turned out, Portland was quite a different team than Toronto.  As a Raptor Stoudamire had carte blanche  in the offense.  He was the offense, really.  His specialty move was a quick slither down the lane followed by a nifty layup or sweet pass to a perimeter player for a jumper.  With Grant, Sabonis, Wallace, and Rider haunting the floor--each one favoring the interior and Rider definitely needing the ball in his own hands to prosper--both possessions and lane space were at a premium.  Opposing defenders had little to fear from Damon.  They'd play three feet off of him, shading for the drive.  If he rose for a jumper their height would compensate for the distance between them.  If he drove they'd shadow him, knowing that he'd have to choose between laying up against a seven-footer or making an awkward pass to a player who wasn't going to drain an immediate jumper. 

This was a problem.  Stoudamire's field goal percentage dropped from 42.5% to 36.5% when he transitioned to the Blazers.  His three-point percentage went from 32% to 26%.  He lost 7 points per game from his scoring average, 4.5 from his per-36-minute scoring rate.  Ensuing seasons would find his shooting percentages rising again but his scoring average never returned to Toronto levels.  In fact he never averaged above 13.5 per game for the Blazers until his final season when he basically said, "Screw it" and started putting up all kinds of shots.  That netted him 16 a night...far too little, far too late.

Stoudamire's deficiencies got exposed in grand fashion during Portland's 2000 playoff run, particularly against the Lakers in the infamous Western Conference Championship series.  L.A. fearlessly promoted whichever guard he was watching.  Having to worry about Shaq in the middle prevented any of the larger players from offering consistent help.  Stoudamire had one great game out of seven, a 19 point performance in Game 3.  He had four games of five points or fewer.  He never notched more than five assists in a game.  His contribution in the fateful Game 7:  2 for 6 shooting, 5 points, 3 assists, 1 steal in 20 minutes.  He was the guy the Blazers pulled from the game when they wanted to make a run against L.A.  

Following that series complaints rose to an all-time high.  Suddenly the idea of Stoudamire being Portland's forever didn't seem so exciting.  Public run-ins with the law over marijuana issues didn't help his reputation.  He became something of an elder statesman in his waning years in the city, redeeming his image considerably.  Plenty of folks were torn when the Blazers didn't retain him in 2005, letting him sign with the Memphis Grizzlies without a serious counter-offer.  But familiarity created that fondness more than talent.

Plenty of players fell steeper than Damon Stoudamire.  Plenty of players tarnished their image more.  Plenty drooped below his level of production and contribution to the franchise.  But if you measure purely by distance between hopes and results, between expectation and production, few other players can boast such a wide gulf.  Stoudamire might have been good for the Blazers in the end but that goodness didn't even come close to reaching the all-world promise he bore upon his arrival.  For that, Stoudamire earns the #9 spot on our All-Disappointing list.

Too high?  Too low?  Shouldn't be on the list at all?  Have at it below.  

Here's our list so far:  #10 Derek Anderson #11 Walter Davis  #12 Rudy Fernandez #13 James Robinson, #14 Scottie Pippen, and #15 Walter Berry.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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