Anybody remember the 1950s/60s western “Have Gun — Will Travel”? The show portrayed the adventures of a hired gun named Paladin, played by Richard Boone. Have Gun — Will Travel is remembered today primarily for its catchy theme song by Bernard Herrmann, but also for eschewing many of Hollywood’s more **ahem** questionable portrayals of life in the Old West.
Apropos of nothing, and given that life is a special kind of absurd right now, let’s use the theme of an honorable hired gun fighting for moral justice in a savage land to talk about the Portland Trail Blazers. Who were the greatest hired guns* in team history?
1. Scottie Pippen
What team is he most associated with?: Chicago Bulls
How did the Blazers get him?: The Blazers traded literally half their roster to the Rockets in October, 1999 to acquire the former Bulls superstar. Pippen was coming off a tumultuous and disappointing season with the Rockets and needed a change of scenery.
Notable moments: Pippen was Portland’s best player during their 2000 playoff run where they came within inches of beating the dreaded Lakers and (presumably) winning a championship. The 2000 Blazers were, arguably, the best non-championship team of the post-Michael Jordan era.
2. Steve Smith
What team is he most associated with?: Atlanta Hawks
How did the Blazers get him?: The Blazers swapped Isaiah Rider for Steve Smith in the summer of 1999, turning the team’s biggest headache into one of the most understatedly impressive players in the league.
Notable moments: Steve Smith is better than you remember. The first seven seasons of his career overlapped with many notable shooting guards (Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Mitch Richmond, Reggie Miller, etc) undermining Smith’s notoriety. But Smitty’s sneakily effective scoring punch and defensive length were enough to make him one of the best players in the NBA throughout the ‘90s. His spot on the 2000 Olympic team should be an indication of how he was viewed around the league.
3. Danny Ainge
What team is he most associated with?: Boston Celtics
How did the Blazers get him?: The Blazers acquired Ainge for Byron Irvin and a couple of draft picks in August, 1990.
Notable moments: Ainge was the third guard on the 1990-91 and 1991-92 Blazers — two of the most successful teams in franchise history. After putting up big numbers for a losing team in Sacramento, Ainge settled in to a reserve role for coach Rick Adelman and became integral to the team’s deep playoff runs.
4. Carmelo Anthony
What team is he most associated with?: Denver Nuggets
How did the Blazers get him?: The Blazers signed Melo a few weeks into the 2019-20 regular season.
Notable moments: There’s no deep playoff run to Melo’s credit in Portland. But it’s hard to overlook a former superstar who possibly re-invigorated a seemingly dead career with the Blazers while also helping Damian Lillard and co. avoid complete disaster. It’s still kinda surreal to think of Melo as a Blazer — the sign of a true hired gun.
5. Enes Kanter
What team is he most associated with?: Knicks? Thunder? Kanter hasn’t really found a home yet.
How did the Blazers get him? The Blazers signed Kanter in the middle of the 2018-19 season after the Knicks waived the Turkish center.
Notable moments: Other than filling in for an injured Jusuf Nurkic and then playing through a separated shoulder as the Blazers made their first Western Conference Finals run in two decades?
*There’s no strict definition here so I arbitrarily defined “hired gun” as anyone who played four or fewer seasons in Portland, is primarily known for their time with another team, and contributed significantly to a successful season(s). Rod Strickland and Buck Williams, for example, don’t qualify. Bonus points if they fought valiantly against amoral villains (e.g. Shaq and the Lakers).
Editor’s note: Apologies to Timmay! I didn’t realize I was borrowing one of his open thread topics until it was too late. Think of this as a shameless, money-grabbing sequel (e.g. Highlander 2) and not plagiarism!