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Blazers Top 100: The Broken Savior

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

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/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. 5 | Brandon Roy

Games Played with Blazers: Regular Season 321, Postseason 15

*PTS: 19.0 | AST: 4.7 | REB: 4.3 | FG%: 46.0% | 3PT%: 35.2%

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

Joined Club: June 2006, selected 6th overall in the 2006 NBA Draft

Departed Club: December 2011, waived via amnesty

Place in History: Brandon Roy was unique. He cannot be understood via stats or video alone. Highlights and numbers don’t tell the whole story. The effect he had on the Trail Blazers franchise and the community surrounding it is just as much part of his legacy as 40-point performances and playoffs comebacks.

Buckle up, and let’s take a journey through time.

The Background

Since the late 1970’s, “Blazermania” had set the standard for grassroots professional sports movements. The Trail Blazers barely ever led their conference, let alone the league in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They had exactly one championship to their name. Though it receded quickly into history, fan loyalty towards the Blazers never did. Through the end of the 20th century, Portland fans were still tabbed routinely as “the best in the league”.

In the mid-2000’s, though, Blazermania had itself become a distant memory, torn to tatters under a five-year onslaught of questionable player behavior, unfortunate media quotes, and losing seasons. 20-win campaigns were one thing. Hearing a star guard tell Sports Illustrated that players didn’t give a crap about fans because fans would always come crawling back made losses much harder to bear. Instead of “Rip City,” crowds were now screaming, “You can’t dump us. We’re going to dump you first!”

Every legal incident, on-court setback, and failed draft pick confirmed that the fans had made the right decision. All those things abounded as the Summer of 2006 rolled around.

It’s not like the Blazers stopped trying. They were aware of the issues. They had dumped Bonzi Wells, Rasheed Wallace, and most of the faces that once populated their “Jail Blazers” rosters. It wasn’t helping. Not only did they fail to outrun their past, they couldn’t stop tripping over their own feet in the attempt. Controversial power forward Zach Randolph remained the #1 option and franchise star. Instead of Wallace arguing with referees, Team President Steve Patterson fought like cats and dogs with local media, with accusations of bias and incompetence flying both ways. Everybody looked bad.

Worse, the Blazers had discovered that dismantling an old roster doesn’t automatically lead to success with a new one. The team that spent two decades straight going to the playoffs seemed eternally stuck in the draft lottery. The franchise that went almost without interruption from Walton to Paxson to Drexler to the Traveling All-Star Teams of the late 1990’s was bereft of star power. Nobody stood on deck, ready to take over as the next big thing.

Portland once hoped that 2004 lottery pick Sebastian Telfair, a former SI Cover subject, would ascend to the throne. In just two years, he had fizzled hard and was about to be traded. The jury was still out on 2005 pick Martell Webster. He spent his rookie season scoring 6.6 points on 40% shooting. Seeing as how Chris Paul had just won Rookie of the Year in New Orleans, it seemed the Blazers might have erred slightly in trading down (away from Paul) to get Webster.

In short, you could count the things going right for the Blazers at this time on exactly zero fingers. Then you’d want to take that zero-fingered fist and punch yourself upside the head for being a Blazers fan in the first place.

The Beginning

In retrospect, it’s tempting to cast the turn-around that came with the 2006 NBA Draft as instant. In real time, it was just one more in a series of attempts to salvage what most thought was un-salvageable, another example of the Blazers showing up to a Superfund reclamation site with a couple of shovels and a roll of Hefty sacks. There was no reason to believe that Portland’s pick in 2006 was going to be any better than the 2004 and 2005 versions. If the franchise was going to resurrect itself, the process would take years. Maybe the draft would be a baby step, another chance for the Blazers to show that they could do something right. (Anything...please.)

Portland pulled off one major bit of “rightness” when they drafted Tyrus Thomas fourth in the draft order, then sent him to Chicago for second overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge.

Then they pulled off another, more spectacular trade, moving Telfair and center Theo Ratliff to the Boston Celtics for Dan Dickau, Raef LaFrentz, and seventh pick Randy Foye. Then they traded Foye to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the sixth pick in the draft.

That whirlwind series of moves is where our story really begins. That sixth pick would turn out more right than the Blazers or any of their fans could imagine. It would erase a half-decade of frustration in a little more than a year, reuniting fans with the team and their own sense of hope.

With the sixth pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, the Blazers selected University of Washington guard Brandon Roy, the man who would define the team’s next era.

Nobody knew this that summer, of course. The Roy-Aldridge rookie duo was intriguing, but they were more curiosity than standard-bearers. People said the Blazers might have just filled two of their five starting positions, but they wondered where the rest of the team would come from. Two people couldn’t possibly make that much difference.

The buzz began to change when Summer League rolled around. Aldridge was good, looking every bit as smooth as advertised. Roy was a revelation. He had the ball, and every defender who faced him, on a string. From his first appearance in exhibition, it was clear Brandon Roy was something special.

The 6’6 shooting guard wasn’t muscular. He wasn’t a speed demon. He could dunk with authority but he didn’t really trade on hops. Instead he was a throwback, cerebral player with a few twists.

Do you remember the original Nintendo system controllers, or back even further the joysticks from Atari home consoles? They were great, but limited to four or eight directions. You could push them up-down-right-left or any of the diagonals. Modern systems evolved to thumbstick controllers. Suddenly players had 360-degree motion and the ability to go any way they pleased, fluidly and instantly.

That was Brandon Roy. He wasn’t just multi-directional, he was omni-directional. Naturally light on his feet, he had the kind of first step that great scorers like Kiki Vandeweghe exhibited. He could also hit a jump shot. Combined, that skill set made him a threat from EVERYWHERE. Defenders simply couldn’t guess what he was going to do. When they leaned one way, he simply went the other. He made opponents look clueless.

Though Foye would win the Summer League MVP in 2006, Roy was the more impressive of the two. Foye was a scorer, Roy was a player. He was ready to take center stage.

Portland fans watched in awe as Roy got off to a hot start in his rookie season. On opening night against the Seattle Supersonics, he scored 20 while shooting 10-16. He followed that up with a 5-16 outing against the Golden State Warriors, but he earned 10 free throws that night and scored 19. Recapping: On a good night, Brandon scores 20. On a bad night, Brandon scores 19. You know, this just might work out.

Knee trouble would prove the only thing capable of keeping Roy down that first season. He missed a month in November-December with injuries. Apart from that, he took the league by storm, averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. He won Rookie of the Year, becoming a huge rallying point for Portland fans. Finally, without qualification, somebody on their team had done well.

Rise to Stardom

Two enormous events rocked the landscape for Portland in 2007.

They won the NBA Lottery drawing, earning the right to select first overall in the NBA Draft. This would give them a choice for the ages: massive center Greg Oden or seven-foot scoring champ Kevin Durant? They went with Oden, forming a potential Big 3 rotation of Roy-Oden-Aldridge that could well have carried them to championship contention.

The Blazers backed their confidence in that promise by trading away Randolph, their long-tenured scoring leader and center of gravity. With Randolph’s departure, the team belonged to the youngsters, captained by Roy.

Given freedom and responsibility, Roy soared. With more minutes and touches, he pushed his scoring averaged to 19.1 per game. He also averaged 5.8 assists...a big number for a shooting guard.

Roy’s three-point percentage dipped in his sophomore season and his defense wasn’t at the same superlative level of his offense. Those were the only two critiques of his game. Considering where the Blazers had been before he arrived, complaining about Roy’s flaws was like grousing about a glass of water having not quite enough ice in it after you just crawled out of the desert.

Roy earned an All-Star nod in 2007, a tradition that would continue for three straight years. During the game, he led the Western Conference All-Stars in minutes and field goal percentage, tying Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in points with 18 (on just 10 shots). With that display, Roy arrived on the national stage, the first Trail Blazer to do so in such a dramatic way since Clyde Drexler.

Portland won 41 games that year...remarkable, considering Oden spent the season on the sidelines injured. They didn’t make the playoffs, but one more year in the lottery wouldn’t hurt. With Oden back, Roy rolling, and new picks in tow, the Blazers were expected to step their way up the ladder towards the top of the conference next season.

The Peak Years

2008-09 was the first serious run for what would become the standard Blazers formation during Roy’s reign: Roy, Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, insert a center, insert a point guard. Depending on the year, Oden, Joel Przybilla, or Marcus Camby could fill the pivot position, Steve Blake or Andre Miller the point. Either way, the ball would touch the hands of Roy and Aldridge during most possessions, and all of the critical ones.

Oden was relatively healthy in ‘08-’09, playing 61 games, starting 39. The Roy-Olden-Aldridge triumvirate was as powerful as advertised, winning two-thirds of the games in which they took the floor together. Portland had the best offensive rating in the league that year, the 13th best defense. They played at a slow pace. The halfcourt game suited their stars. They had too many options for any opponent to deal with, Roy not the least among them.

Roy would average 22.6 points on 48% shooting. On December 18th, 2008 he scored 52 points on national television against the Phoenix Suns. He led his team to victory after they were 12 down in the third. In the process he made Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal look like the second- and third-best players on the floor.

The Blazers would go on to win 54 games, not bad for a shakedown cruise of their new, fully-armed and operational lineup. They’d face the Houston Rockets in the playoffs. Portland had homecourt advantage and was favored in the series, albeit lightly.

You’ve no doubt heard the advice, “If you see a shark, punch it in the nose before it bites you.” That’s the approach the more experienced Rockets took with the young Blazers. Roy and company showed up to the playoffs with suits and briefcases, the Rockets with hard hats and a sledgehammer. Houston blew Portland out of the water in Game 1, seizing homecourt advantage with a 108-81 victory.

If the Rockets thought it was going to be easy, though, they had not reckoned with Roy. In Game 2 Brandon shot 15-27 from the field against Metta World Peace, Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry, and some of the best defenders in the league. He scored 41, willing his team to victory and the series tie.

Unfortunately the damage had been done. Narrow losses in Houston in Games 3 and 4 made the hill too steep to climb. Portland would fall 2-4 in the series, but not before Roy averaged an astounding 26.7 points per game.

The world had already been crazy about him. Now they were flat-out bonkers.

It wasn’t just the points, either. Roy had evidenced a nose for the big moment, the kind that real stars have. The tighter the game, the bigger the reward at stake, the better he seemed to perform. Long before Damian Lillard was waving buh-bye to Paul George, Roy was pasting last-second shots on the Rockets and Wizards, sending them off the court shaking their heads, wondering how the one guy they knew they were supposed to stop was also the guy who just beat them at the buzzer.

Roy was big time, but his vibe was intimate and friendly. His public image was radically different than the players in the era before him. Blazers television and local media took full advantage of Brandon being “just folks”, playing with neighborhood kids, looking to raise a family in town. Their Ozzie and Harriet stories evoked the glory days of the 1970’s Blazers. Portland ate it up.

The Summer of 2009 was the high point of Roy’s career. Everything was right with the world. All systems were go for launch into the stratosphere.

Sadly, this was as high as Roy and his team would get. Many of his most brilliant moments were yet to come, but collectively, he and the Blazers were about to descend in a downward arc that would lead, ultimately, to sadness and regret.

Decline

Oden was the first harbinger of the disaster to come. 21 games into the 2009-10 season, his leg gave out again. He would not return. Without him, Portland’s defense and rebounding suffered.

Roy made up as best he could. He averaged 21.5 per game that year, posting a trio of 40+ point performances. But he was battling his own issues.

Health had been a concern for Roy coming out of college. In 2006, he had been described as the most NBA-ready of all the rookie class, but also an injury risk due to knee issues. Concerns had melted away with the stellar performances of his first few seasons. They returned full-force in 2010.

Roy missed almost a month between January and February, playing only once in a 15-game stretch. When he returned in mid-February, he looked slower, more ground-bound. The once-reliable scorer was now shooting under 40% on multiple nights. It seemed like he was either really on or totally off. Either way, he wasn’t eluding opposing defenders quite as easily.

As March and April progressed, people chalked this up to recovery and the need to get back in rhythm. Brandon was still scoring. One of his 40-point performances came in March versus the Warriors. How can a guy who’s hurt badly put up 40? It’d be ok, surely.

Then, in Portland’s 79th game of the year, Roy exited the floor after only 11 minutes. He had already played 39, 39, and 41-minute games that week. He just couldn’t go again. This was ominous. The Blazers were gearing up for the playoffs, in a tight fight with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for seeding position. They needed Roy. If he wasn’t playing, something must be wrong.

The news came out. It was his knees.

The situation got more dire when Roy didn’t suit up for the first three games of Portland’s playoffs series versus the Suns. The Blazers went 1-2. Then, amid concerns about his long-term health, Brandon attempted a heroic comeback in Game 4. The Blazers won that night, but Roy scored just 10 points. He played 19 minutes in Game 5, shooting 2-7 from the field. Portland lost. They also lost Game 6 as Roy played a full 37 minutes, but shot only 4-16.

Roy’s sacrifice hadn’t earned the Blazers a series win. It barely earned them a single game. It was hard to see how he would have kept playing through another series had they won anyway.

Then the news got worse. This wasn’t just an injury. Roy’s condition was degenerative. His knees were described as doughnuts with all the jelly squeezed out. You couldn’t just pipe more in there and have it stick. At some point his joints would approach bone-on-bone friction. That would be impossible to endure, let alone play through. His career was going to be shorter than planned.

A Glorious Ending

Even with that revelation, questions remained. How long could Roy play and how well? He vowed to give it everything he could. Fans watched him, cheered for him, and tried to forget. It was hard. This was not the Brandon Roy of old. 40% shooting became the norm. Defense and leaping ability were all but non-existent.

Hopes flared again during the first 11 games of 2010-11. In that stretch, Roy averaged 35 minutes and 18 points. If this was bottom, it wasn’t too bad. In that last game against the New Orleans Hornets, he played just 22 minutes while shooting 1-7 and looking miserable. He missed the next three games. This was like hearing a character cough in a movie. It didn’t seem too bad on the surface, but everybody knew what it meant.

Roy returned for another dozen games, 35 minutes per. During this interlude he shot only 39%, averaging 15 points per game. Once again, in that 12th game, he played 29 minutes, shot 2-5, scored 4 points, and left looking discouraged.

He’d sit out the next 28 games. By that point, pretty much everybody knew they were watching the beginning of the end.

Roy would return for 24 more appearances late in the season. He’d average 21 minutes, 40% shooting, and 8 points. He was coming off the bench now, a shadow of himself. Outside of a single, 21-points-in-28-minutes effort against the Dallas Mavericks, nobody wanted to watch. It felt like the beloved franchise star was grinding down his knees for nothing.

The Mavericks were Portland’s opponent in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Roy’s last. Dallas won the first two games of the series easily. The Blazers won Game 3, partly because of a 6-10, 16-point performance from Brandon. The series still looked grim. Dallas was clearly better than the Blazers. There wasn’t much Portland could do about it.

Incandescent light bulbs are curious things. At the end of their life cycle, just before they blow out, they flash into a brilliant, blinding blaze of light with a pop that fills the whole room, then disappears forever. This would also happen with Brandon Roy’s career. Clearly on his last legs, the former All-Star still had one big moment left. The flash from that moment would burn into the league’s retina, its afterglow so distinct that, to this day, barely anybody remembers that the Blazers ultimately lost the series in which it happened.

Blazers-Mavericks Game 4 fell on April 23rd, 2011, the day before Easter. It was an utterly forgettable affair for three quarters. With time about to expire in the third, Portland had only 44 points and trailed by 23. The score read 67-44 with 36 seconds left to go in the period when Aldridge hit a twisting layup on the fast break. He cut the deficit from 23 to 21. After that, it was Roy time.

Brandon’s barrage began with a three-pointer in the final seconds of the third. It continued through the most dazzling driving, passing, and shooting imaginable. Every shot—whether hook or jumper or dipsy-doodle—dribbled through the rim. Roy kept scoring, and scoring, and dishing, and scoring. As he did so, Dallas’ lead kept getting smaller and smaller. It went from 23 to 18...then under double digits. At that point the Blazers had momentum. Could they follow through?

Now the lead is 8 points with 2:30 left...a Roy layup! How is he doing this? Now it’s 4 points with 1:07 left...is there enough time? AND BRANDON HITS A THREE!!! HE WAS FOULED!!! HE WAS FOULED!!! FOUR POINT PLAY!!! TIE GAME!!!

The entire Rose Garden crowd, along with coaches and teammates on the sidelines, along with Blazers fans across the universe, leapt out of their seats and OUT OF THEIR EVER-LOVING MINDS when Roy’s shot went in and the whistle blew. Jesus himself peeked out from under the shroud, saying, “I know I’m not supposed to be back until tomorrow, but I’ve gotta watch this. I thought coming back from the dead was great, but 23 points down to the World Champs??? Who is this guy?”

That was Brandon Roy. For a gloriously-amazing second he had united us all.

Roy banking in the go-ahead bucket with 39 seconds left in the game was icing on the cake. He also defended the final, game-winning attempt from Jason Terry to seal the victory.

Portland’s 2-2 series tie would be short-lived. The Blazers didn’t win another game. But for that half-hour stretch, Brandon Roy shone forth so clearly that few moments can compete with the memory.

Roy would play in the final two games against Dallas. They were anticlimactic. The Mavericks were ready for him; he scored but 14 points total. Those would be the last 14 points of his Blazers career.

Aftermath and Legacy

That summer, Roy called it quits. His moment had come, everyone had celebrated. He could no longer play at the level he was accustomed to, the level that shook the league to its foundations. It was time to go.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that year allowed each team to make one “amnesty” cut, to remove a single salary from the ledger. The player would still be paid in full, but the contract would not count against the salary cap. The Blazers chose Roy. His contract was long and expensive and he was not returning. Portland ate the cost and freed up cap space for others.

After a year sitting out, Roy would attempt a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He played 5 games, shooting 31% and scoring 6 points per. After playing just 15 minutes against the Indiana Pacers on November 9th, 2012, Roy hung them up for good.

Despite playing just five active seasons for the Blazers, two of those partial years, Roy ranks 17th on Portland’s all-time scoring list, 14th in assists. He’s 7th all-time in point per game average. In addition to the Rookie of the Year award, he earned three All-Star nominations and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team in 2009, the 3rd Team in 2010.

No matter the awards or stat totals, Brandon Roy will always be remembered as the player who resurrected the franchise after the trauma of the Jail Blazers era. The distance between the collective “Ugh.” of 2005 and the crowd in the video above nearly immeasurable. Talent alone couldn’t pull a fan base that far. It took a special player, doing everything necessary to rebuild the relationship behind and the road ahead at the same time. That player was Brandon Roy.

Ultimately, history may forget the era in which Roy played. It was characterized by injuries and playoffs disappointment as much as anything. Had the franchise not been so low in the early 2000’s, the late 2000’s and early 2010’s would be considered unremarkable. But even when records and seeding from the time become academic, nobody will forget Roy himself. His scoring talent and instinct for the big moment made him a legend. His bearing made him beloved.

For the points, the Dallas comeback, and for resurrecting the franchise in a shorter time than anyone would have thought possible, Brandon Roy earns the 5th spot on our Top 100 List of Trail Blazers players and influencers.

Share your thoughts and memories of Brandon Roy below. For perspective, you can read one of Ben Golliver’s best pieces for Blazer’s Edge, his epilogue to Roy’s Blazers career.