The year was 2004. The Portland Trail Blazers. not-so-proud owners of a 41-41 record, had just ended a 21-year streak of making the playoffs. The big consolation prize was a franchise first: entry into the NBA's draft lottery. The random drawing had been instituted in 1985, well within that double-decade window of post-season participation. This would be Portland's first crack at the ping pong frenzy, guaranteed to be their highest draft selection since 1984.
Unfortunately the Blazers didn't move up the draft ladder by luck. But the 13th pick wasn't bad for a .500 team. With a lineup featuring Zach Randolph, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, and Damon Stoudamire even a little help could pay big dividends. Draft night wasn't the biggest anticipation swell in franchise history but the curiosity factor was high.
The buzz intensified when Commissioner David Stern announced Sebastian Telfair as Portland's pick. Telfair was a point guard, a flashy one at that. Damon Stoudamire had proven serviceable at Portland's helm for years but never lived up to his assumed potential. Once a hot rod, by 2004 he had become the equivalent of the family mini-van...suitable for errand running but not something you'd show off. Telfair was the cure for Portland's mid-life crisis: a brand-new, 0-60 in nothing flat, straight-outta-high-school cherry red speed demon. The girls were SOOOO going to look at us now.
It didn't hurt that Telfair came equipped with his very own hype machine. He was a New York City legend already. They made a movie about him. A book was soon to follow, awaiting only his draft selection. College coaches had famously fought over him. Reporters dogged his steps. This guy was Big Time. Blazer fans didn't necessarily buy into the hype, having been burned before by over-anticipating. But hey, this guy was the biggest thing going in New York. Who were Portlanders to argue with that?
Besides, this was the perfect set-up. Sebastian could learn at the knee of the 30-year-old Stoudamire and garner wisdom from Portland's coach, Maurice Cheeks, himself a famed point guard. In a couple years when Damon's contract was up Telfair could slide into a full-time position at the head of a running, gunning, stunning revolution.
A few hitches arose as soon as Telfair started playing, which frankly wasn't as much as fans had expected. The guy could shoot, no doubt. Actually having the ball go through the net was another story. His jumper was like throwing a bowling ball into a pipe organ: tons of clanging, everybody winces afterwards. Opposing defenders would back off six feet, sit down, eat a snack, and wait for him to put up a shot. He was Sebastian Telfair so he had to do it. The Legend couldn't let an insult like that pass. (Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!) Tefair's best offensive night in his first two months consisted of 13 points on 5-14 shooting. That outing also included but one assist, another problem with his game. He was a sweet dribbler to be sure, but all of that was simply a prelude to misery. He didn't see the floor well, he wasn't used to NBA bodies and speed on defense, he was always three seconds late to a two-second play, he made a simple post-entry pass look like differential calculus. The young man just wasn't used to running sets and it showed.
This isn't even counting Telfair's defense, which was a disaster. The Blazers had seen their fair share of poor-defending point guards. Stoudamire was a one-man point leak early in his career. Rod Strickland had been indifferent at best. But Telfair was worse than any of them. You didn't have to be Michael Jordan to score on this guy. Wilhelm Jordan, Jordan Price...heck, Abdullah II, King of Jordan could have dropped 30 on him.
Telfair averaged 7 points and 3 assists in his rookie season on 39% shooting from the field, 25% from the three-point arc. He developed a little better three-pointer in his sophomore year but still only managed 9.5 and 3.5. The defense didn't improve. He was busted with a firearm on the team plane and claimed that he had taken his girlfriend's bag by mistake. Three different coaches (Cheeks, interim Kevin Pritchard, and Nate McMillan) tried to mold him into a more consistent player and none succeeded.
There was little surprise and even less mourning when Telfair was included in the 2006 draft-day deal extravaganza that netted Brandon Roy for the Blazers. Portland fans would forever speculate whether belief in Telfair led to the decision to pass on two Hall-of-Fame-level point guards--Deron Williams and Chris Paul--in the 2005 draft. Even forgoing that torture, one need only look at Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson, and Kevin Martin selected behind Telfair in that 2004 draft to make the claim that Portland could have done a slightly better job with their first lottery pick. For that, Telfair snags the #8 position among the most disappointing Blazers acquisitions of all time.