Last week we told the story of a question I was asked about the most influential Trail Blazers players of all time. I asked your opinion and now I'm ready to give my own. Here's my rundown of the Top 12.
#12 Joel Przybilla
Przybilla came to Portland during the dark days of 2004-05, providing one of the few positive acquisitions in an era mostly known for divestment. His blocked shots, rebounding, and hard work defensively gave fans a reason to cheer when the rest of the team was unlikable. Later, reportedly offered deals by championship contenders Detroit and San Antonio as a free agent, Przybilla uttered three words that nobody else was saying at the time: "I choose Portland". That gave him a status beyond his statistical production.
#11 Geoff Petrie
Petrie was the star that started it all. Co-Rookie of the Year in 1970-71, 25 ppg scorer, he gave Blazers fans something to root for in the early years before the win-loss record looked presentable.
#10 Darius Miles
Miles owns the record for giving fans whiplash. He came on board in 2003-04, a part of the original Renaissance after the heights of conference dominance in 2000 turned into a chemistry nightmare. With half a season remaining on his contract the small forward won over fans and management with streaking, flashy dunks. The moment the ink on his new contract was dry the flash disappeared, replaced by lackadaisical play, injury, weight gain, and a propensity for "making it rain" at local strip clubs. His rehab would go south and he'd apply for medical retirement in 2006 only to arise from the near-dead in 2008 to play a few meaningless games for Memphis and Boston...enough meaningless games to void his retirement and put his formerly-extinct salary back on Portland's books. The extra salary hamstrung Portland's planned golden summer of free agency. For a guy brought on board to redeem the franchise, Miles did everything possible to make things worse.
#9 Jermaine O'Neal
O'Neal was a promising young power forward, a high-school draftee in 1996, stuck behind Rasheed Wallace and Brian Grant. After narrowly missing the NBA Finals in 2000 (losing to the Lakers) the Blazers traded away O'Neal's youthful promise to the Indiana Pacers for Shaq-stopper Dale Davis. Problems: Davis was 82 while O'Neal was 22 and Davis couldn't stop Shaq. The Blazers never got out of the first round with Davis on the roster. Meanwhile O'Neal became a pernnial All-Star center for the Pacers. This gave Blazers fans such a case of the heebie-jeebies that to this day they curl into a fetal position at the mention of trading any player under the age of 25.
Click through to read numbers 6-8
#8 Shawn Kemp
If Darius Miles was a headache for the Blazers Shawn Kemp was a nightmare. He came in as part of the same purge-reshuffle summer of 2000 that brought Davis. He already had one strike against him with fans as he was traded for local superhero Brian Grant. Grant was aging quickly due to injuries and would never put up great numbers following the trade. He also wanted either serious cash to stay on Portland's crowded roster or a trade out of town. He had impending free agency to enforce that wish. None of that mattered to Portland fans, whose basic reaction to the trade was, "Grrrrrrr...:" Had they known the eventual outcome the reaction would have changed to garbage pelting the court. Kemp went instantly from 18 ppg to 6 when he joined the Blazers. He lacked playing time and the freedom of being the #1 option. He carried with him approximately 50 extra pounds plus an astounding $11-12 million contract. Without mobility or energy non-scoring contributions were out of the question. Plus he could never control off-court demons which took him out of the league. After dumping him Portland ended up paying him $15 million cap-and-tax-clogging dollars in 2003-04 to play for the Orlando Magic. This was the final, final straw for several things: Bob Whitsitt's tenure as general manager, owner Paul Allen's willingness to spend big money, and whatever goodwill Portland fans had left for the Blazers. The next era of Blazer fandom would start from scratch. And as we just chronicled, that began with the ascension of Darius Miles and our #7 selection...
#7 Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph was an original Portland draft pick. Zach Randolph could score...always, anywhere. That should have made Zach Randolph the feel-good story of the mid-2000's...the cure to the Jailblazer Blues. Instead Randolph alienated himself from everybody on the planet by getting into high-profile scrape after high-profile scrape, many of which included allegations of felony behavior. Even Kemp, Miles, and the wholly-unpopular Bonzi Wells never reach Zach's level of notoriety, though one could argue their behavior was worse. The fact that he played an anti-Portland style of power foward (all scoring and no defense) didn't help Zach's cause. Instead of becoming the next great hope he became the Jailblazer poster child, symbol of perhaps the worst era any sports franchise has ever experienced. Zach's name still elicits shivers of regret among Portland fans.
#6 Brandon Roy
After three of the last four selections had (intentionally or not) torn down the franchise over the course of years it's amazing that Brandon Roy could pick it back up in just one, a single Rookie of the Year campaign in which the aptly-named Roy dazzled and charmed his way into Blazers fans' hearts. Roy was personable, almost normal-seeming. He talked about basketball, the city, his kids. Neighborhood children reportedly knocked on his door to ask if he could come out and play. Meanwhile he burned up the floor with huge scoring, great shooting, tricky moves to the bucket, and a host of clutch shots that inevitably sent home Portland fans cheering and opposing fans gnashing their teeth. With all due respect to LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, and the other players manning those late-2000's teams, there would have been no rebirth without the personality and play of Brandon Roy.
I was going to do this all in one swoop but it's turning out to be a 2000-word endeavor. That's sketchy even in the best of times. In the off-season it amounts to licentious gluttony. The Top 5 will return on Thursday. Stay tuned!