It's time for an iconic edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag, covering your questions about the Portland Trail Blazers.
I'm dealing with the "restructuring" and thinking of Blazers teams I liked in the past. Kind of piggybacking on one of your other recent questions here but how many players do you think we'll remember from this current era 20 years down the road? I'm talking about the Aldridge teams and the team right now. Will there be any Drexlers or even Brian Grant in this bunch? Who will I be telling my grandkids about someday?
It's odd because I was just thinking about this question tonght! Recently my son re-opened his box of Portland Trail Blazers trading cards that had been hiding in the closet for a while. He decided to make daddy happy by decorating our glass dining-room table with them, like so...
I must admit, I got a lump in my throat, not just from the sentiment, but from reading those names and remembering what they meant to the team and to my fandom. I realized that seeing the cards of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews were bringing similar feelings now that they're gone. But I fully admit that this is because of proximity. I would have felt that way about many departed Blazers at one time or another, but a decade or two separates the true icons from the also-rans.
And "icons" is really what we're talking about here. I'd define the term as, "A player who contributed so distinctly that his name has become near-legendary and easily evokes stories regardless of the amount of time that has passed since he played." Icons aren't necessarily the best players of their era, rather the most distinctive and memorable...the most associated with the franchise. I interpret your question as, "How many icons will emerge out of the Aldridge-Lillard Era Blazers?"
For perspective, here are the players I'd name franchise icons so far:
Pre-Championship Era-- Geoff Petrie
Championship Era-- Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas
Post-Championship Era-- Jim Paxson, Billy Ray Bates
Finals Era-- Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth
Reconstruction Era-- Aryvdas Sabonis, Cliff Robinson
Whitsitt Era-- Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant
2006 Renaissance-- Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge
No doubt people will argue for more names, especially from the Championship team. This can be debated in the comment section. Also I've left off negative icons like Raymond Felton, Bonzi Wells, and ultimately Greg Oden.
Whatever you think of the list, the question now becomes, who from 2010 and beyond will join it?
LaMarcus Aldridge is a shoo-in. He's already there for being part of the 2006 crew, but his team leadership and talent merit it as well. He played some of the most interesting, and in many ways prettiest, basketball the team has seen in a decade. Even if his personality and cultural impact don't live up to some of the stars of yore, he'll be remembered as the face of this era.
Damian Lillard will also end up an icon. "The Shot" pretty much guaranteed that, even without factoring in his great personality and endorsements. The team will push the heck out of him, cementing him as this decade's banner-carrier. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Lillard will be remembered as a gifted offensive player who couldn't lead his team to sustained success--as Jim Paxson from the 80's--or whether he'll become a "can't mention the franchise without remembering him" superstar like Drexler and Walton.
After that, the next guy in line from the current era is probably Wesley Matthews. Wes could get in the same way Brian Grant did, with hard work and a never-say-die attitude. The odds are long against him though. His fan-favorite status came late in his tenure. His highlight reel won't be as sustained or memorable as most of his iconic peers. He'll more likely be a guy whose name comes up when his era is mentioned than a guy who evokes memories of that era himself.
(This is another great definition of icon. Most players you remember when recalling the era in which they played. You recall the icon first and remember his era because of him.)
Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez were good players and the city was, for the most part, fond of them but I don't see any way they transcend their era.
We don't know enough yet to talk about the new batch of players. From what I've seen, Meyers Leonard has a chance to become iconic, if not because of talent at least because of his skill set and affability. You can't count out CJ McCollum. His offense and personality could be an iconic combo. But pickings are slim right now and chances are Lillard will garner most of the publicity until the team actually becomes good again. That probably won't happen with all the current players on board.
The icons list reveals multiple paths to memorability, however. Blazers fans don't go for scoring alone. They admired Billy Ray's athleticism, Buck Williams' tenacity, and Arvydas Sabonis' size and skill set. You never know where the next icon will come from. For all we know it could be Mason Plumlee or Al-Farouq Aminu. We'll have to watch the team develop and see.
Go ahead and send your Mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. As always we'll have the next edition of the Blazer's Edge Podcast coming for you this afternoon. And be sure to share any icons you'd add to this list or remove from it, as well as your speculation about which current-era players will join the ranks of All-Timers.