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.
Today we’re going to take a minute to acknowledge players and staff who could have made the list, but didn’t. One of the ways to look at this would be, “Who Should Have Been #101?” It’s a fair question. Go ahead and argue for any of these figures, or add some of your own. Leaving anybody off is hard, so we don’t mind!
For each person, we’ll share the claim (or claims) that could have gotten them into the Top 100, then the reason they didn’t quite make it.
Wayne Cooper, Center 1982-1984, 1989-1992
Who he was: Wayne “Coop” Cooper played two separate stints with the Blazers. He came over from Dallas in 1982 in the Kelvin Ransey deal that also gave Portland the draft pick that turned into Terry Porter. After two years of averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds, half the time as starting center, Cooper became part of the famous Kiki Vandeweghe trade. He spent his prime in Denver. He signed again with the Blazers in 1989, at 33 years of age, just in time for their big run to the Finals. He served spot duty, but still contributed defensively.
Why he didn’t make it: Not having Coop on the list is probably my biggest regret. He was crowded out because he was too similar to other entries. Journeyman centers were well represented, even over-represented, in the lower ranks of the list. Almost everybody from the Drexler era got in one way or the other (wholly appropriately). One more player—let alone a center—from that time frame just didn’t make sense. Cooper’s per-minute stats were good, but ultimately he didn’t start enough or play enough minutes to justify bumping more distinct, if somewhat lesser, players.
Mason Plumlee, Center 2015-2017
Who he was: Mason Plumlee gave the Blazers a lift as starting center exactly when they needed it, during the fallout from LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure in 2015. He played blue-collar ball and was a hard-nosed defender. He also became part of one of the best trades in franchise history when the Nuggets sent Portland Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick for him.
Why he didn’t make it: See Wayne Cooper above for the proliferation of journeyman centers. Also he was only in Portland for 136 games...not a flaw in itself, but not enough to distinguish him.
Ime Udoka, Forward 2006-2007
Who he was: Ime Udoka goes under the category of “one-hit wonders”. He started 75 games in 2006-07, the season Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge came on board. While they and Zach Randolph were figuring things out, Udoka played great defense, shot 41% from the three-point arc, and helped keep the team running.
Why he didn’t make it: His tenure wasn’t long, the Blazers waived him, and his performance in other places didn’t uphold his stats in Portland. For one-year players, Nick Van Exel held far more cachet as an NBA great even though his stats didn’t match Udoka’s. If you were picking schoolyard teams, Nick the Quick would be a great surprise pick. Udoka wouldn’t even be mentioned.
Jim Jackson, Small Forward and Shooting Guard 1999
Who he was: Jim Jackson was a high-scoring wing whose best years came with the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 26 points per game for them in 1994-95. Those days were long past when he signed with Portland for the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, but he had still been good for 16 per game the year prior. He generated considerable excitement coming in with Isaiah Rider. They provided a ton of raw scoring power.
Why he didn’t make it: When I first formulated the list, I would have sworn Jackson would have been on it, maybe placed in the middle sections. The hype surrounding him was real and his good performances in Portland engendered happy memories. In reality, there weren’t nearly enough of them. He averaged only 8.4 points per game with the Blazers, shooting 41% from the field and 28% from the arc. Those percentages, and his per-minute scoring in Portland, were among his career lows. His main claim to fame was being part of the deal to the Atlanta Hawks that brought Steve Smith to the Blazers. He did far better in Atlanta than in Portland. Even so, they only kept him for a single season. Between all that and only playing 49 games total with the Blazers, inclusion just wasn’t in the cards.
Carmelo Anthony, Power Forward 2019-present
Who he was: If we’re going by NBA pedigree, Carmelo Anthony would be in the upper reaches of Portland’s Top 100 List. He’s among the most talented players to put on the uniform, duking it out with Scottie Pippen and friends in the Top 5. He wasn’t at that stage when the Blazers got him (of course), but he still averaged 15.3 points for them this season, a decent redemption story for a player who was out of the league entirely before Portland signed him.
Why he didn’t make it: It’s only been one season, 50 games so far. His point total is great. His shooting percentages are so-so. The team has been ravaged by injuries and is playing well below .500 ball. Had the team been in better shape, Anthony probably wouldn’t have been featured so prominently. With the lens immediate and the lights bright, we can say that he’s made more of an effort on defense than expected and has had a net positive effect on the team. As immediate observations recede into history, though, he’ll need more time and good performances to crack the All-Time Top 100.
Mike Dunleavy, Head Coach 1997-2001
Who he was: Mike Dunleavy owns an impressive .642 winning percentage as Trail Blazers Head Coach, second only to Rick Adelman. He took the team to the Western Conference Finals twice, winning NBA Coach of the Year in 1998-99. Those numbers and awards should theoretically merit entry on any Top 100 List in which coaches are included.
Why he didn’t make it: Dunleavy has two legendary coaches ahead of him in franchise lore: Adelman and Jack Ramsay. He also has two behind who helped define their eras more strongly than he defined his: Nate McMillan and Terry Stotts. All four of those coaches are well over the 500-game mark with the franchise. Dunleavy sits at 332. He coached a cavalcade of big-name players who, to his credit, must have been a nightmare to manage. At the same time, they absorbed all the headlines and list-spots from that era. The one breakthrough which would have cemented Dunleavy’s place in history—a trip to the NBA Finals—eluded him. With a roster as stacked as his, that was an expectation, not an option. As his tenure wound onward, Dunleavy wasn’t helped from below by his players or above by his General Manager, but empathy doesn’t necessarily equal a spot on the list.
Raymond Felton, Point Guard 2011-2012
Who he was: If we’re measuring influence, it could be argued that Raymond Felton had plenty. He became an archetype of the under-performing free agent. His name is still greeted with sneers. The Blazers traded Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez to get him, the latest attempt at solving their point guard conundrum. Felton came into the season out of shape, missed a huge number of three-pointers (he had one job!), and made enemies of the fan base with sketchy quotes even as he was stinking up the joint. Credit where credit is due: he was a good player overall in the NBA and he had a few brilliant moments in Portland. Basically, though, it was a year of mutual disappointment for him and the team...enough disappointment to get Head Coach Nate McMillan fired mid-season.
Why he didn’t make it: Some controversy has impact, some is just stupid. All the stuff surrounding Felton falls into the latter category. It was less, “Wow! This submarined an entire franchise!” than, “Pfffffftttt.” Felton wasn’t the only issue that year; the team had been heading for a reckoning for a while. They were flailing, trying to salvage the aftermath of a Brandon Roy-Greg Oden collapse that couldn’t be salvaged. Felton was miscast in his Portland role. He was a creative, ball-in-hand, slashing point guard. The Blazers wanted him to stand still, enter the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge at the elbow, then wait for the return pass off the ensuing double team for a catch-and-shoot three. He was not that guy. If you hire an elephant to quack like a duck and fly at your daughter’s birthday party, the resulting controversy is on you, not Packy.
Jamal Crawford, Shooting Guard and Point Guard 2011-2012
Who he was: Jamal Crawford was one of the finest scorers in the league when the Blazers signed him as a free agent in 2011. He’d remain so for years after, most notably with the Los Angeles Clippers. It just didn’t work out that way in Portland. Again, the offense in 2011-12 was centered on LaMarcus Aldridge. Crawford couldn’t operate the way he was accustomed to. His raw and per-minute scoring numbers were fine (14.0 points per game, 18.7 per-36), but when you consider his 38.4% clip from the field, 30.8% from the arc...ugh. That’s career-low territory. He was generating decent aggregate numbers by throwing up bad shots.
Why he didn’t make it: As we just described, that whole season was snakebit. Crawford’s inclusion could have been justified by virtue of his body of work across the NBA, but sometimes the icky residue of a bad season just doesn’t wash off, particularly when it’s your only season in town. As with Felton, a few brilliant moments and a bunch of dreck in an utterly forgettable year don’t add up to enough to get you on this list. This era was more dumb than memorable.
Leroy Ellis, Center 1970-1971
Who he was: As part of the inaugural Trail Blazers team, Leroy Ellis averaged 15.9 points and 12.3 rebounds over 74 games in 1970-71. That’s a huge stat line, even if it was just for a single year. If we’re just going by numbers, he should be on this list. His omission is a serious thing.
Why he didn’t make it: He only stayed one year and, unlike the obvious stars and enduring characters from that time, I simply couldn’t find much that referenced him. He played in the league for 14 years, so he must have been good. Maybe he wasn’t quite as memorable? Or maybe the stats were of the “somebody’s got to get them” variety. Either way, I’ve heard that he was a kind soul, but I just didn’t have enough basketball material to go on in order to include him. That’s about my ignorance more than Mr. Ellis’ play. Apologies to him and his family.
Mike Schuler, Head Coach 1986-1988
Who he was: Mike Schuler accumulated a .602 winning percentage with the Blazers and won NBA Coach of the Year in 1986-87. He was at the center of a mini-firestorm in 1988 that resulted in a mutiny of half his roster. His resulting dismissal led to the promotion of Rick Adelman, who became one of the most beloved figures in franchise history.
Why he didn’t make it: The combination of the national award and local notoriety might have done it for Schuler, but then Mike Dunleavy would have needed to make the list. Putting 6 of 11 full-time head coaches in the history of the franchise into the Top 100 just didn’t seem right. Schuler wasn’t a bad coach. He was reportedly great with X’s and O’s. But his award can be attributed to the league not yet understanding how great Clyde Drexler was as much as any objective measure.
Martell Webster, Forward 2005-2010
Who he was: Martell Webster is one of the longer-tenured players not to make this list. He appeared in 301 regular-season games for Portland, starting 164 of them. His main claim to fame is that he’s the player the Blazers traded down to get in the 2005 NBA Draft, forsaking their shot at Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He was known as a three-point shooter and was built like a great athlete. The Blazers spent five years trying to coax those characteristics out of him. It just never happened.
Why he didn’t make it: The Chris Paul moment was pivotal, of course, but Webster’s tenure overall was unremarkable. Any story told about his Portland career could be encompassed by the phrase, “He was OK, but ultimately disappointing.” He never shot better than 42% from the field or 38% from the arc. Only once did he average more than 10 points. His per-minute scoring wasn’t special. Neither was his defense. His is a story of hopes unfulfilled. Take Paul and Williams out of the equation and he’s basically a draft pick who didn’t live up to the position at which he was selected. That story happens everywhere, among players of all stripes. The Blazers didn’t pin franchise-changing hopes on Webster in the first place. It didn’t seem fair to him or the list to manufacture a bigger story around him based on other teams’ picks, emphasizing things that were never going to happen in the first place. The list is about what was there in each player and era, not what wasn’t.
Ron Culp, Trainer 1974-1987
Who he was: Ron Culp had a long run as the Athletic Trainer for the Blazers. He was in the position in 1976-77 when Portland won it all. He was responsible for taping, physical evaluation, and all the travel coordination/facilitation that trainers do. He also worked with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. He reigns as the longest-serving trainer in NBA history and acclaimed as one of the best.
Why he didn’t make it: He deserves credit. It’s just hard to write about trainers since most of the work they do is thankless and unseen. Public Address Announcer Mark Mason was also deserving and distinctive, so we gave that “support role” spot to him. We remember and honor you, though, Ron!
Raef LaFrentz, Center 2006-2009
Who he was: The Blazers didn’t expect too much from 30-year-old center Raef LaFrentz when they acquired him from the Boston Celtics in 2006 (with Randy Foye and Dan Dickau) for Theo Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair. They wanted a few minutes of play, some of his classic shooting, a few rebounds, and maybe a blocked shot or two. They got the rebounds and blocks. His shooting was not up to par.
LaFrentz played in only 66 games over two seasons. His contract ran three and was very expensive. That was the other part of the deal. It was rumored that the Blazers were banking on being able to trade his expiring, $12.7 million salary for somebody really cool to help out Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum...the final piece of the puzzle for practically free. It didn’t quite work out that way. Portland had to eat the contract, paying prime dollars for an older center who wasn’t playing. It’s said that inability to engineer a trade for LaFrentz was one of the reasons the relationship between General Manager Kevin Pritchard and owner Paul Allen went sour.
Why he didn’t make it: That’s mostly urban legend and rumor. “Raef LaFrentz’s Expiring Contract” remains a byword for futility and false hopes to this day, but it’s not enough to build a Top 100 entry on.
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I’d like to give a HUGE thank you and shout-out to basketball-reference.com, the best one-stop shopping center in the universe for NBA statistical information. You already know about them, I’m sure, but don’t forget to thank them for the service they provide. Without that site, this list would not have been possible.