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The Ten Biggest Villains of the Blazer’s Edge Era

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Who drew Blazer fans’ ire more than any other? We count down the list.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors
No, you didn’t win this contest either, Raymond.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As we reflect on the ten years since Blazer’s Edge arrived, we asked you a big question: Over the Blazer’s Edge era, who have been the biggest villains for Portland Trail Blazers fans?

The answers were as varied as the fans themselves. Selections were made from the early days of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, all the way to events continuing into this offseason. Without further ado, here is what grinded Blazer fans’ gears the most in the past 10 years.

Dishonorable mentions:

On to the countdown!

10. LaMarcus Aldridge

The parallels are striking. An elite player from the University of Texas anchors an elite NBA team. But as soon as he reached free agency, he bolted from his small-market team to an already-elite franchise, in a "rich getting richer" scenario. Before Kevin Durant became the NBA’s newest villain, LaMarcus Aldridge paved the way for his decision just one year prior. The anger was palpable across Portland, as LaMarcus declared his independence from the Blazers on the Fourth of July. And yet here he is, barely placing in a list of the 10 biggest villains of the past 10 years.

So what happened? Well, a few things. First, the Blazers recovered from his loss far better than anticipated, using a few fortuitous events to reach the second round of the playoffs. And second, despite producing their best regular season record ever, the Spurs collapsed in the playoffs, bowing out meekly to Oklahoma City only one day after his former team ended their season.

But in the end, his low placement on this list is reflective of a larger truth: For all the points, rebounds, and wins, LaMarcus Aldridge never truly connected with the fans in Portland. The complexities of that topic could cover a whole separate article.

9. Chuck Swirsky

Sometimes long shots pay off. How could a solid radio play-by-play announcer reach the list of Top 10 Blazer villains? Well, for one simple event: At the end of the 2006-07 season, Blazers legend Brandon Roy was a near-unanimous pick for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. In fact, one vote away from being unanimous. You can surely guess who abstained.

Who did Swirsky vote for? Toronto’s underwhelming No. 1 pick, Andrea Bargnani. Once news leaked, Blazer fans immediately launched their venom at Mr. Swirsky, who was surely trying to avoid the venom of his own notoriously rabid Raptors fan base.

In the end, this was the classic example of a tempest in a teacup. In fact, Swirsky was kind enough to discuss his vote with our own Dave Deckard shortly after news leaked. That’s a pretty classy move. After nine years, isn’t it time to forgive and forget?

8. Clay Bennett

At first, this doesn’t make sense: What does Clay Bennett have to do with the Trail Blazers? Turns out, quite a bit. The Oklahoma City businessman infamously purchased the Seattle SuperSonics, after promising to keep them in town. Then the team, after having recently reached the second round of the playoffs, was immediately gutted. The decimated team piled up loss after loss, reducing the attendance from loyal fans who could see what was about to happen. As soon as the city of Seattle declined plans for a new arena, Bennett immediately requested a move to Oklahoma City. And with the exception of Mark Cuban and the Blazers’ Paul Allen, the NBA owners agreed to the move. The underlying message: Every other city should play ball on arena plans, or risk the same fate. Seattle became the cautionary example to the NBA.

This affected Blazer fans in multiple ways. First and foremost, they could identify with Seattle’s situation. Allen had lost ownership of the Rose Garden when the loan creditors took control in bankruptcy. And during this time, they combined to reportedly offer the team and arena for sale as a package. Blazer fans were concerned that the NBA might move a stable franchise with a loyal ownership. And while it all worked out in Portland, those feelings were fresh in their mind as they watched their fears play out 180 miles to the north.

The Sonics and Blazers were long-time rivals, and Blazer fans watched that all vanish seemingly overnight. Much like many brotherly relationships, they may get in regular scuffles, but if a third party gets involved, the brothers will immediately come to each others’ defense. Blazer fans were clearly unhappy about the situation. And when the NBA didn’t realign divisions, the additional travel and time-zone change to a "divisional opponent" was just the icing on the cake.

7. Trevor Ariza

This one led to a little disagreement among the fan base.

Spanish rookie Rudy Fernandez was an instant sensation when he arrived in 2008. His carefree, seemingly-effortless play, sometimes combined with his "Spanish Armada" teammate Sergio Rodriguez, led to some classic highlight-reel moments, and ignited the imagination of the fans as they watched their team rise into playoff contention. However, in a heated game against the Lakers, Trevor Ariza changed everything.

With Rudy in the air, Ariza hit Fernandez in the head, and grabbed his hand enough to possibly change his trajectory. Fernandez landed hard on the court. To Blazer fans, this was the beginning of the end. Fernandez never quite looked the same, as he dealt with back issues, and his light playing style faded. As his star dimmed, he requested to be traded from Portland, and eventually returned to Europe.

Some believe Ariza didn’t hit him that hard. Others believe the weight of the hit was irrelevant; he was knocked off-balance in mid-air, and it’s nearly impossible to recover in that scenario. Blazer fans made their decision known, booing Ariza mercilessly afterward.

6. The Blazers’ Front Office

While the primary focus of Blazer fans’ ire in voting for this list was current Blazers president Chris McGowan, it’s safe to list the entire front office here. There had been a lot of turnover in Blazers management before finally stabilizing with the current McGowan/Olshey regime. Steve Patterson was the Blazers’ president when Blazer’s Edge was born. He was not particularly beloved, and he left soon after. Things haven’t improved for him since. After a short stint by Seahawks exec Tod Leiweke, former Nike exec Larry Miller grabbed the reigns. While he did bring some good ideas to the franchise, such as focusing on arena sustainability efforts, he is probably most famous for sending "the letter", threatening legal action against other NBA teams if they played Darius Miles with the intent of harming Portland’s salary situation. His agency was not amused, nor was the NBA Players’ Union.

Once Larry Miller moved on, Allen brought McGowan, an experienced import from Los Angeles. One of McGowan’s stated goals was to shore up the financial end of the Blazers. This led to some uncomfortable moves. McGowan instituted three rounds of staff layoffs, and did the once-unthinkable: selling the naming rights to the venerable Rose Garden. Recently, he announced the termination of long-time broadcasting team Mike Barrett and Mike Rice. However, some things have improved under McGowan: The food options at the Moda Center have been revamped (and feedback has been welcomed), he has continued to improve sustainability efforts, and recently hired NBA announcing legend Kevin Calabro. And he has played a key role in making the Blazers one of the more stable organizations in the NBA.

So, it could be worse.

5. Comcast SportsNet Northwest

We’re going to begin this entry with the ceremonial pounding-your-head-into-the-wall from many Blazers TV viewers. In 2007 the Blazers signed a 10-year contract with Comcast, building a new network in the process. There were some positives to this transaction: For the first time, all 82 games would be available via network/cable, for example. And they pledged to improve HD support; in 2009, every game was available in 1080i. However, the cracks in the contract showed quickly. Many providers did not carry the channel, most notoriously Dish Network and DirecTV. The finger-pointing continues to this day, as both sides believe the other is the reason for the lack of availability. In the meantime, Blazer fans who don’t have Comcast as their cable provider may or may not have CSN NW available. And if you want to use a satellite, good luck.

The Blazers finally had a chance to remedy this problem as they renegotiated the contract in June. Root Sports reportedly made a nice offer, and are currently near-ubiquitous across Northwest cable systems. But the Blazers re-signed with Comcast anyway, and included all the games previously televised over the air by KGW. And at the time of the announcement, there was still no deal with satellite providers, just vague "incentives" reportedly included in the contract. Congratulations, Blazer fans.

4. Kobe Bryant

To be honest, this one almost seems perfunctory at this point. By the end, Blazer fans actually seemed to enjoy booing the Laker legend, and he seemed to enjoy it just as much. In his final game in Portland, fans continued their tradition of booing Bryant through most of the night. As he sat on the bench with the minutes winding down, Blazer fans clearly started cheering for Lakers coach Byron Scott to bring Bryant in for one last appearance. Would the Blazer fans finally give him an ovation on his way out? Or would they have booed him heartily, and laughed at conning Scott into allowing it to happen? The world will never know.

3. The Houston Rockets

I could list all the reasons the Houston Rockets are number three on a list of the top Blazer villains, but I really have other things to do before New Years.

In 2009, the Rockets were the worst possible match-up for the Blazers. And thanks to a very weird set of events, that’s exactly who they got. The young Blazers got blasted out of the playoffs in six games.

The Rockets always found ways to annoy Blazer fans. They signed fellow villain Trevor Ariza to a contract. They traded for James Harden, leading to more free throws than any team not employing DeAndre Jordan. And speaking of poor-shooting centers, the Rockets convinced Dwight Howard to join the team. When they needed a low-paid player to round out the team, they brought in the infamous Patrick Beverley, one of the modern NBA "scrappy and borderline dirty" players that every opposing fan loathes seeing.

The Harden/Howard Rockets might have simply been a small irritant. But there’s just something about a six-game playoff series that makes small irritations turn into huge rashes. However, after one of the most harrowing series in Blazer history, Damian Lillard used the ice in his veins to stop the itch.

Damian Lillard puts some ice on the Rockets.

2. Raymond Felton

Oh, Raymond. We haven’t seen a Point Guard tank a Blazer season this hard since the Rod Strickland fiasco. Felton, acquired from Denver for Andre Miller, waited out the 2011 lockout. Many felt the season would not be played. However, the sides reached an agreement in time for the season to start in December. And Felton seemingly was caught unaware. He showed up to Blazers training camp overweight and out of shape. And it showed on the court all season. The Blazers fell apart, and Felton was eventually benched. He was reportedly involved in a "mutiny" against coach Nate McMillan, who was fired at the trade deadline. As he departed town with a sour taste in his mouth, he promised to "drop 50" the next time he was in town. At that point, the jokes were writing themselves.

When he returned to Portland as a member of the Knicks, he issued warnings before arriving in town. He probably should have focused on his replacement, Damian Lillard, who torched Felton and the Knicks in a Blazer victory.

It somehow seems fitting that despite all of Raymond Felton’s qualifications, he couldn’t even come out on top of this list.

1. Knees!

"Knees! Knees! Knees in the arena! Knees everywhere! They're fragile and they're breaking like crazy! They're tearing my team apart! Run away, your surgeries are useless against them!" -- "Tommy Boy", if written by Blazer fans.

Memories are both short and unending in sports. Columnists have mourned Oklahoma City’s "lost dynasty" with Kevin Durant’s departure. You know, the team that reached multiple Conference Finals and one NBA Final, but just kept coming up short in the clutch?

They have no idea what a lost dynasty is.

Blazer fans already knew about lost dynasties. Bill Walton’s 1978 injury didn’t prevent him from winning League MVP, but it ended the hopes of a Blazer team who won one championship and looked destined for greatness.

In 2007, hopes of greatness peaked again. Fresh off a bounce-back year with rookies Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers found lottery luck, and won the rights to the No. 1 pick in the "Greg Oden Draft". Oden, the Ohio State phenom, was seen as the can’t-miss pick, the next truly great NBA Center. Comparisons were made to legends like Bill Russell. Blazer fans were a little bit excited.

The fans never had a chance to enjoy their rush of emotions. Before Oden’s first season started, the Blazers announced an exploratory surgery on his knee. As nervous fans waited, the news couldn’t have been worse: The surgery went from exploratory to microfracture. The complicated procedure meant that Oden’s season never even began; he was already shut down for a full year.

While Oden was dealing with his recovery, the Blazers continued to rise, but they were dealing with other knee problems: Brandon Roy was having increasing issues. He was becoming a perennial All-Star and All-NBA player, but his knees, never in the best shape, seemed to be degrading. But he continued to play at a high level, and in the only season where the Blazers’ potential dynasty core played together, they nearly nabbed the No. 2 seed, but fell into the aforementioned first-round matchup with the villainous Houston Rockets.

The Blazers would see the Rockets that fall in a rematch, and it would be the final game for Oden in a Blazer uniform. Oden, who was clearly regaining his form and looking like the No. 1 draft pick, went up for a block against the Rockets’ Aaron Brooks. And when he landed, his kneecap broke in half. The devastated Blazers turned to Joel Przybilla to hold down the fort, and they trudged on.

But late in the 2010 season, it was Roy’s turn for knee problems. He tore his meniscus, and Instead of letting it heal slowly, he chose to quickly clear out the damage surgically. He famously returned to the court in the middle of the 2010 Playoffs to a monster ovation. The Blazers won the game, but lost the series.

Soon after, the Blazers’ hopes and dreams started to fall apart. Brandon Roy’s level of play dropped, and soon reports broke that his knee problems were simply not going away. He could no longer handle the rigors of the NBA game. By the time the 2011 Lockout ended, he had to announce his retirement. The Blazers used their amnesty to clear his contract off the books. Roy attempted one short failed comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but otherwise disappeared from public view.

The Blazers held out hope that Oden would eventually return from his knee injury to be a dominant force again. But he suffered setback after setback. In the fall of 2010, the wheels came off. As the Blazers' season opened, and fans hoped to see Oden back on the court, the Blazers announced that he was heading into microfracture surgery for his other knee. He was back at square one, with another year of recovery. Blazer fans had made peace with the fact that Oden would never be a major force. In 2011, on the same day Roy retired, the Blazers announced that Oden had suffered another recovery setback. Portland worked out an inexpensive one-year deal to keep Oden on the team as his rookie contract was ending. Then in February 2012, as the Blazers were falling apart on the court, the team made the announcement nobody wanted to hear: During surgery to clear out debris in his knee, doctors realized Oden needed his third microfracture surgery.

Oklahoma City will never realize how lucky they really were. And the NBA has already forgotten about one of the true lost dynasties.