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. 42 | Kenny Anderson
Games Played with Blazers: 127 Regular Season, 4 Postseason
*PTS: 15.8 | AST: 6.5 | REB: 3.9 | STL: 1.8
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: July 1996, signed as free agent
Departed Club: February 1998, traded with Gary Trent, Alvin Williams, and three picks to the Toronto Raptors for Damon Stoudamire, Walt Williams, and Carlos Rogers
Place in History: The 1990’s began and ended with the Trail Blazers in the middle of a blinding spotlight. Clyde Drexler and company owned the first two years of the decade, taking the Blazers to the NBA Finals twice. The Traveling All-Star Team formulated by Mad Chemist Bob Whitsitt would reach the Western Conference Finals twice as the new millennium approached.
The dirty little secret is that in between, the Blazers were sipping some pretty thin gruel. When Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe in 1995, the roster didn’t make sense anymore. Aging veterans Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, and Buck Williams weren’t able to fill Clyde’s shoes well enough to push the team to its former heights. Role players like Thorpe and Chris Dudley had no superstar to play off of; their limitations were exposed for all to see. The mid-90’s were a time of sad goodbyes amid an unknown, and not very promising, future. The Blazers easily could have slipped into nondescript mediocrity.
That’s pretty much what did happen in 1995-96. Portland won 44 games, exiting in the first round, despite having a decent coach in P.J. Carlesimo and a lineup including Cliff Robinson, Rod Strickland, and All-Rookie first-teamer Arvydas Sabonis.
During the Summer of 1996, Portland made a huge move, trading Strickland to the Washington Bullets for a young forward named Rasheed Wallace. Wallace was not a sure thing. He’d shown plenty of talent in Washington, but both performances and temperament were mercurial...so much so that the Bullets were willing to part with him after having selected him fourth overall in the previous summer’s draft.
The Blazers made another significant move that year: signing free agent point guard Kenny Anderson. This would not have the same long-term effect as trading for ‘Sheed, but it made an enormous difference in the short run.
When people remember Wallace, they remember the awesome, versatile offensive player he became. That player was not in evidence in 1996. Wallace could face up just fine. He had range out to the three-point arc. He needed an established place and he needed confidence. Anderson helped provide both. People don’t remember how much of Rasheed’s initial offense came on fast breaks, cuts to the hoop, and thunderous alley-oops. If you recall early Randy Moss with the Minnesota Vikings, where the offensive play amounted to, “Throw the ball in the air near Randy and he’s going to out-jump everyone on the planet for it,” that was Wallace.
Anderson, a six-year veteran at the time, was the perfect point guard to set up ‘Sheed. He was young and quick enough to get into open space himself, heady and unselfish enough to get the pass to his leaping forward. He was dangerous on the break and able in the halfcourt. He could shoot the three to create space, but wasn’t so reliant on it that it kept him out of passing range. He had averaged 18.8 per game in 1993-94, an All-Star year with the New Jersey Nets. He was a genuinely pretty passer with a great sense for the ball and the floor. He played defense willingly and generated steals.
But Anderson also had that extra something that allowed him to come up big when needed. When radio host Mychal Thompson was analyzing the Blazers in the preseason of 1996, he said, “Rasheed Wallace could be exciting, but don’t ignore Kenny Anderson. This guy’s a real player. In fact [pause]...looking at this lineup, the Blazers actually might be really good this year.” Wallace provided the impetus for his statement, but Anderson was the pivot.
That’s how it ended up, too. Anderson gave the Blazers 17.5 points, 7.1 assists, and 4.4 rebounds that year, leading the team in scoring while playing all 82 games. He scored 25 or more in 15 games that season, topping 30 five times, all while keeping Robinson, Wallace, Sabonis, and Isaiah Rider fed. The Blazers won 49 before falling to Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Kenny scored 30 in the sole game they won.
In the process, Anderson helped re-define the Blazers as a franchise trending upwards instead of down, a franchise worth playing for. With his résumé, he could have signed plenty of places. He chose Portland, then proved that decision right. That spirit prevailed for the next few seasons after Anderson left, but it’d be a long time thereafter before even a ghost of it returned. Inking Anderson to a deal won’t go down as one of the all-time great Trail Blazers moves, but for that moment, it was really, really big.
The Blazers weren’t as faithful to Anderson has his performance probably merited. They had their eyes on the Next Big Thing: Damon Stoudamire, a local Wilson High product turned Rookie of the Year with the Toronto Raptors. Portland moved Anderson and a bunch of other assets to bring Mighty Mouse home, ending Anderson’s tenure after a season and a half. He’d play another seven years in the NBA, shifting from starter to reserve, then eventually into the broadcast booth and college coaching ranks after retirement.
For being the right player at the right time, making his deal look incredibly smart for the franchise, leading his team in scoring, and helping turn around the franchise narrative from mourning to hope, Kenny Anderson nets the 42nd spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 players and influencers list.
Share your memories of Kenny below and stick with us as we continue the countdown towards #1!