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Blazers Top 100: A Hired Gun Brings Excitement

A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 73 | Nick Van Exel

Games Played with Blazers: 53 Regular Season, 0 Postseason

*PTS: 11.1 | AST: 4.3 | FG%: 38.1 | 3PT%: 38.9

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: July 2004, acquired from the Golden State Warriors for Dale Davis and Dan Dickau

Departed Club: August 2005, departed in free agency

Place in History: There was nothing to like about the Portland Trail Blazers in 2004-05. Nothing.

Zach Randolph wasn’t averaging 20. Sebastian Telfair wasn’t living up to his draft selection. The bloom was long off the rose for veterans Damon Stoudamire and Derek Anderson. The Blazers were making headlines, but not on the sports page.

There was nothing to like about the Portland Trail Blazers in 2004-05.

Well, except maybe one thing.

That summer, the team had moved Dale Davis to the Golden State Warriors for 32-year-old guard Nick Van Exel. At that age “Nick the Quick” wasn’t entirely living up to his nickname, but he still knew how to play and he sure knew how to score with flair. His 39% shooting clip from the field was nothing to write home about, but electricity radiated from his fingers every time he touched the ball. He was everything Telfair was supposed to become, ripened to maturity and aged like wine.

The Blazers labored to a miserable 27 wins that season, but dang did Van Exel put on some performances. He scored 30 against the Sacramento Kings on January 18th of 2005. Oh, did we mention he scored 28 the very next night against the Cavaliers after having done it a week before against the 76ers? He played 53 games for the Blazers that year. He scored 19 or more in 11 of them, filling a starting role in the process.

Every once in a while a franchise will develop a culture that they have a hard time shaking. It doesn’t even have to be as dramatic as the Jail Blazers can be as simple as moving in certain ways on the floor, reacting to being down (or up) in a predictable manner, or always giving it to the same players in the same situations. The Blazers had plenty of those habits in ‘04-05. Van Exel came in for a brief, shining moment and said, “You know the rest of the world doesn’t really operate like this, right?” Caldwell Jones and James Edwards served some of that role a decade before Van Exel; Juwan Howard would do it half a decade after. But nobody did it with such style and obvious unconcern for whatever constraints the team or situation would put on him.

His contributions may not have made an impact on wins and losses, nor ultimately on much of anything, but if you were choosing teams to run the court today, you couldn’t ignore Nick completely. He’d probably suit up and drop 25 on you for impertinence.

For the scoring and the fun in an otherwise regrettable, forgettable year—and for being the paragon of the rare “hired gun” in Portland—Nick Van Exel earns the 73rd spot on our Top 100 Blazers countdown.

Discuss your thoughts and memories of Nick the Quick below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.