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Ten Events That Defined a Decade

As this decade ends, we look back at the events that will always be associated with the Blazers.

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Western Conference Semi-Finals - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve somehow made it to the end of another decade. This one didn’t quite play out as we’d all planned on December 31, 2009, but it’ll always be unforgettable in its own way. Let’s take a look back at the events that will forever define this decade for the Blazers.

[Note: The Blazers lost some key figures from their history during this decade. There is an “in memoriam” section at the bottom.]

#10. Nov. 14, 2019: Seeking a spark, Blazers sign Carmelo Anthony to non-guaranteed deal

Coverage: Report | Press release | Stages of acceptance | Player of the Week

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s a running joke of the Neil Olshey era: If he was interested in acquiring you once, he’s interested forever. In 2019 alone, we saw Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and Mario Hezonja join the team. But it was still a surprise when Olshey finally signed Carmelo Anthony to the red and black.

Anthony’s signing quickly turned into a short-term national sports zeitgest and a classic redemption story, as he won Western Conference Player of the Week shortly after returning. But the underlying story was just as compelling: Just months after a trip to the Conference Finals and a hotly-debated offseason roster rebuild, the Blazers were falling into a hole, and desperately needed a player who might come equipped with a ladder.

#9. Feb. 12, 2017: Blazers Trade Plumlee, Accidentally Acquire Nurk Fever

Coverage: Trade | Scouting Report | No-Brainer

Philadelphia 76ers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Despite high expectations after playoff success a few months prior, the Blazers are cratering, and make a desperation move to hopefully save the season. In 2017, facing a losing season and a contract negotiation for Mason Plumlee with no spare money, Olshey traded him to Denver for Jusuf Nurkic, who had been exiled to the bench during the Rise of Jokic.

Nurkic became a sensation in Portland within weeks, infecting the town with Nurk Fever and reviving the moribund 2016-17 season. How crazy was it? Just six weeks after the trade, he got his own song. He’s been a key member of the rotation ever since.

#8. July 4, 2015: Aldridge’s Departure Leads To A Near-Complete Team Dismantling

Coverage: Batum Trade | Aldridge gone | Matthews Gone | Lopez Gone | Behind the Scenes

Portland Trailblazers v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It was no secret that Aldridge never seemed perfectly happy in Portland. But once the 2014-15 season went downhill (Spoiler: We’ll revisit that later), everything fell apart. Aldridge reportedly took a different plane from the team during the playoffs. And by late June, multiple reporters stated that Aldridge was leaving. Before free agency, the Blazers ominously traded Nicolas Batum. Unsurprisingly, Aldridge went to the Spurs, where both sides hoped he’d lead them back to being a contender. And they were, for a short time. Then they weren’t. Then, after he claimed he went to San Antonio to be close to his family and kids, he promptly told the Spurs he wanted out. And he reportedly called Damian to ask about a Portland return, which has not happened this decade.

Epilogue: Portland eventually reached the same number of Conference Finals as Aldridge: One. The grass isn’t always greener.

#7. Summer of 2012: Blazers Stabilize The Organization With Olshey, Stotts, and Lillard

Coverage: Blazers Hire Olshey | Stotts | Draft Lillard | Analysis | More Analysis

NBA Rookie of the Year Award Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

After two general managers (Geoff Petrie and Bob Whitsitt) ran the team for 13 years, stability became elusive. From 2006 to 2012, the Blazers burned through 6 general managers, many of whom had unexpected problems with upper management, media, or fans. Combined with the fall of late ‘00s team (Spoiler: Also coming soon!), confusion seemed to reign.

Then suddenly, it stopped. Out of seemingly nowhere, the Blazers righted the ship in a two-month stretch of 2012. In June, the Blazers signed Neil Olshey away from the Clippers after he helmed their rise from obscurity. A month later, the team drafted their point guard of the future, Damian Lillard (with a little help from Nets GM Billy King, who had gifted them the pick for the remnants of Gerald Wallace). Then in the dog days of August, the Blazers signed Terry Stotts, after he helped engineer Dallas’ run to an NBA title as an assistant coach.

Seven years later, they’re all still in Portland. In a short stretch, the Blazers brought in the core trio that will forever be associated with this decade.

#6. April 24, 2011: Brandon Roy Destroys (And Inspires) The Mavericks

Coverage: Gameday Thread | Recap | Analysis | Media Row Report

Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Four Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve covered this multiple times over the years, including here, here and here. Watch the video again here. You know the story: Game 4. Dallas had a 23 point lead. A Blazers legend, on the verge of retiring due to injury, found greatness one last time. Lots of cheering, lots of crying.

But there is a rarely-discussed ripple effect from this game: It deeply affected the Mavs, who realized they needed to play better, smarter, and harder if they were serious about a title. After that, they buzzsawed through OKC and Miami to win the NBA title in significant upset. Without Roy’s comeback game, you could imagine a world where LeBron three-peated, or the Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio won the 2011 title and the organization kept them together. Speaking of massive ripple effects...

#5. Summer of 2016: The Quarter-Billion-Dollar Offseason

Coverage: $75m to Crabbe | $70m for Turner | $41m to Leonard | $40m to Harkless | $8.4m to Ezeli

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The summer of 2016 has reverberated with every financial decision the Blazers have made since. Fresh off a playoff upset of the Clippers (who lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin during the series), the Blazers had cap space and a good-but-not-great team. Cap space is good! But unfortunately the Blazers scheduled their space during the same summer nearly every NBA team had copious space. So after missing out on Chandler Parsons, Hassan Whiteside, among other players, Olshey made a monster offer for... Evan Turner. Who was so shocked, he called Andre Iguodala to laugh that the Blazers offered the king’s ransom. The rest of the money went to the players already on the team, including matching an outrageous offer for Allen Crabbe. You may not see him much on the court anymore (he’s in Atlanta with Evan!), but you can easily find him in any article about the most overpaid current NBA players.

In a summer of bad decisions, the Blazers placed themselves in a nearly-untenable financial situation that has continued to the end of the decade, just to re-sign an okay team plus Evan Turner. Despite that, the core has found ways to win.

And that’s without even getting into the winding tale of the plane trip, flannel shirt, moonshot signing, sour players-only meeting, and eventual release and medical retirement of Festus Ezeli.

#4. Mar. 5, 2015: Wesley Matthews Tears His Achilles

Coverage: Diagnosis | Recap | Analysis

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

If not for this one event, the second half of the decade may be remembered quite differently.

Fresh off a second-round appearance, the Blazers rocketed up the standings again in 2014. There was no doubt anymore: They were legit. The team meshed after finding the missing starter a year earlier, Robin Lopez. There was no prohibitive favorite for the NBA title that season. The Warriors were clearly good, but untested. Every team had flaws. At midseason, Portland had just picked up Arron Afflalo, who had already started to work well with the team in just one week.

Then Wesley turned, fell to the ground, and didn’t get up. There had been reports of Matthews playing through pain in previous weeks. And here it was, the dreaded “non-contact injury”. Before the diagnosis arrived, everyone knew what was coming. (Rodney Hood fans may be feeling a sense of deja vu in this paragraph)

Arguably the heart and soul of not only the team but also their stout defense, Matthews’ absence caused the team to limp to the finish line, leading to an NBA rule change, ugly first-round exit, and the dismantling of the team as they realized Aldridge was leaving.

While still an NBA-quality player, Matthews has never quite been the same.

#3. Spring 2019: The Decade Culminates In a 2019 Conference Finals Trip

Recaps: Game 82 | OKC Game 5 | 4 OT game | Nuggets Game 7

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers should send former Kings coach Dave Joerger a fruit basket every year. After Portland inexplicably chose to sit their rotation with a playoff seed on the line, Joerger’s (essentially) final act as the Kings head coach was to sit his own rotation after taking a 25-point halftime lead, opening the door for Anfernee Simons and Skal Labissiere to roar back and set up a first round date with Oklahoma City and their quietly-injured star tandem of Paul George and Russell Westbrook, then the upstart Denver Nuggets.

We all know the story from there. A shockingly easy first-round series. A Nurkic appearance followed by a 37-footer. The wave and look. A 4-OT classic. Game 7 thievery.

It didn’t end well afterward, with the Golden State Warriors accidentally injuring yet another star player in a major playoff series, but the run was wild, and will always be part of Blazers lore.

#2. Dec. 9, 2011: Black Friday

Coverage: Roy Retirement | Oden Setback | Aldridge Sidelined | Reflections on Roy

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers, Game 1 Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

This is arguably the number one moment that defined the decade for the Blazers. This decade would unrecognizable had Portland’s Big Three stayed healthy and productive.

The NBA lockout unexpectedly ended in time for games to start on Christmas Day 2011. Blazer fans were feeling hopeful. Greg Oden was seemingly recovering. LaMarcus Aldridge was ready to make a leap. And perhaps Brandon Roy could find a way to adjust, after injuries zapped most of his previous season. The previous hopes for a Blazers big-three dynasty were fading, but there was still strong reason to believe the team could still be elite.

Within hours of the opening of training camp, in one of the worst days in franchise history, all hope vanished. First, news broke that Roy expected to announce his retirement due to knee issues. Then, president Larry Miller announced that Oden had a “setback” and was “less confident” he’d play that season. And just to complete the day, the Blazers announced that Aldridge had a recurrence of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome and would be sidelined temporarily for a heart procedure.

Aldridge would be back in no time and would reach All-Star form, but he would have one more minor WPW recurrence later in San Antonio. Roy and Oden never played for Portland again, with each having short ill-fated stints in Minnesota and Miami, respectively.

But we just can’t rank it number one. Because, despite how crushing Black Friday was for fans, they were four seasons away from one of the great events in franchise history.

#1. Spring 2014: The Blazers’ Playoff Drought Ends Spectacularly

Coverage: Game 6 GDT | Recap | Analysis | Media Row | NBA Game of the Year
Highlights: Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 4 | Game 6

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Six Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Fourteen years without a second-round appearance. When you’re lumped in with teams like the Knicks, you know things haven’t gone well.

But everyone knew the Blazers had something special as soon as the 2013-14 season opened. They had found their starting lineup, the bench was reasonably productive, and everything came together. But that didn’t stop them from facing the team everyone was talking about: Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Rockets.

What followed was one of the great playoff series in franchise history. Every game was close, including going into overtime. Multiple players became Blazer heroes, including Aldridge for two monster performances to help Portland win the first two games, and Matthews, whose key steal sealed a win. Also, Lillard did something pretty important.

damian lillard chandler parsons buzzer beater

The 2019 playoff run was longer, but the 2014 series ended with a moment of spontaneous catharsis for an entire franchise after 13 years of disappointment. Strangers celebrating and hugging strangers. A “Rip City!” pronouncement on the PA system. And for one summer, the feeling that everything was finally going to be okay.

That’s an event that truly defines a decade.

Honorable mentions

  • The fall of Rudy Fernandez, subsequent trade for Raymond Felton, and keeping it 100.
  • Nurkic and Hood suffering season and/or career-altering leg injuries.
  • The rumble and ejections in Oakland that helped establish the 2013-14 Blazers’ character.
  • Lillard Time” makes its debut in Oklahoma City.
  • Every high-scoring game, including Andre Miller, Lillard, and CJ McCollum.
  • 2018’s 13-game winning streak, which unfortunately meant little by playoff time.
  • The trade for Robin Lopez.
  • Various non-Lillard draft picks, from Armon Johnson to Nassir Little.
  • The Blazers renew their broadcast TV deal with Comcast, and cut ties with KGW.

In Memoriam

Missing from the above events: Those we lost along the way. In the end, death defines us all, so it felt tacky to “rank” it alongside basketball events. How can you really rank the death of the team’s owner against a really good playoff shot? Over the past decade, the Blazers lost a shocking number of people intricately involved in the history of the franchise. Read about them all with the links below.

  • Paul Allen, the Trail Blazers’ long-time owner.
  • Jack Ramsay, head coach of the Blazers’ 1977 NBA Championship team.
  • Jerome Kersey, small forward on the 1990 and 1992 Conference Champions.
  • Maurice Lucas, All-Star power forward for the 1977 championship team
  • Steve ‘Snapper’ Jones, former color commentator in Portland and national broadcasts.
  • Robin Jones, backup big man for the 1977 championship team
  • Jack McKinney, assistant coach to Jack Ramsay in 1977.
  • Dale Schlueter, a member of the first Blazers team, and long-time ambassador.
  • Darrall Imhoff, an alumni of Portland’s second season, and radio color commentator for the 1977 championship season.
  • Ed Manning, a member of the first Blazers team, and father of Danny Manning.
  • Herman Sarkowsky, financier and one of the original owners of the Blazers.
  • Jack McCloskey, Blazers head coach from 1972-74, and General Manager of Portland’s 1990 Finals opponent, the Pistons.
  • Robert Cook. Blazers team physician in the late ‘70s and early ‘90s.
  • The unnamed Blazer fan who sadly collapsed near courtside in 2016 during a national broadcast.