The Trailblazers were one of the League's best teams of the early 1990s, featuring unselfish offense, highflying athletes, and tough, lock-down defense. But could they have been even better? Trade season 2013 is in full swing, providing a good opportunity to reflect back on one of the most historic Trailblazers' trades that never happened, the trade for Charles Barkley.
After a disappointing end to the 1991 season, the Trail Blazers were soaring in the 1992 season, albeit with some key differences. The easygoing nature of the years past was gone, replaced with pressure to win. Nothing short of a title would be satisfactory. The team's window was closing. Jerome Kersey's knees were starting to fail him, Buck Williams was starting to age, ditto for Danny Ainge, and serious question marks were starting to surface again about Kevin Duckworth. Still, the Blazers were rolling, especially Clyde Drexler, who was registering his best season ever.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Charles Barkley was growing increasingly upset. The talented but moody Forward was fed up with the 76ers organization. While he tried to avoid the rumors, it was true, he had asked for a trade. Many rumors were floating around; the most famous one would send Barkley to (who else?) the Lakers. The trade's main pieces would have sent Barkley to Los Angeles in exchange for Elden Campbell and James Worthy. Worthy then would have been sent on to Charlotte in exchange for guards Kendall Gill and Rex Chapman (read about the trade from the Baltimore Sun here). However, the Blazers made an enquiry about Barkley as well. Philadelphia asked for "two Blazers and two draft picks." The potential deal was good enough for the Sixers that it was up to Portland to say no, "The ball . . . [was] in Portland's court. (From the Philadelphia Inquirer)" In the book, Against the World, Dwight Jaynes and Kerry Eggers state that the two players Portland would have been giving up were Cliff Robinson and Duckworth,* two key cogs on this Blazers' team. A team that had made it to an NBA finals and set a franchise record for wins in the last two years, respectively. So, was it worth it?
Portland management decided that the trade was not worth it. The Blazers had great chemistry. But they might have been wrong. Had they pulled the trigger on the deal, it would have pushed Williams to center, a role he was used to playing since often Duckworth would find himself of the bench late in games. Despite his big body, Duckworth was not much of a rim protector, so the Blazers would not have lost much in that regard, and Williams was more than capable of guarding other teams' big men. Adding Barkley would have given Portland a legitimate 1-2 punch. At the time, Portland was such a streaky team. A lot of Portland's success was determined by Duckworth and Kersey's ability to hit shots on a given night. Portland also lacked a legitimate inside offensive presence, as Duckworth was mostly a jump shooter and Williams did not have a great offensive arsenal. The Blazers could compensate for these issues by being elite at driving and cutting to the hoop, but when playing against equally elite perimeter defenders, the likes of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, they could get slowed down. Barkley would have solved these problems, as evidenced by his dismantling of the Bulls in the '93 finals. Also, Drexler became fed up with the Blazers only a couple of seasons after the '92 finals run. He may have been more inclined to stay if he had more help in the form of Barkley.
So what say you? In hindsight, would this trade have been worth it? Would it have made Drexler stay? And, most importantly, would it have brought a second championship to Portland? Or would it have messed too much with a good thing, brought too big of an ego the locker room?
*This is from memory. I cannot remember if these were the exact two players mentioned, but I am pretty sure. I no longer have the book, so if I need to be corrected please let me know, and I will make the proper edits.