NCAA March Madness is just around the corner. In homage to the great annual event we’re running a Portland Trail Blazers bracket here at Blazer’s Edge this month. The idea came from an article from Dia Miller and Dave Deckard, detailing the Blazers they’d most like to see one more time. The piece was fun and well-received, so we’re making a bracket of 16 candidates and letting you vote for your favorites during these January weekends. Eventually we’ll see which player you’d most like to bring back for one more go.
Here are the conventions:
- We’re not including Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler, since everyone should want them back for overwhelming talent and impact purposes. They count as, “Anytime, Anywhere” legends.
- You can vote in the comments or on Twitter @blazersedge. We won’t get as many votes that way as if we just opened a poll, but the discussion is important as well.
- You don’t necessarily have to consider the current roster or the state of the team as you make your choices, but you can. You’re voting for the player you’d most love to see suit up for one more season. The qualities/memories of that individual player are the most important things. Helping the current team is a bonus which can weigh in your decision, but doesn’t have to.
- Sadly, we’ve lost some of the players on this list. We remember them with honor and thank their families for sharing them with us through basketball so we could appreciate and remember them.
- Go ahead and envision the best Blazers version of each player. That’s part of the fun!
Our last matchup of the day features two talented fan-favorites, known for their effect on their teams in addition to their production on the floor.
Brian Grant needs no introduction in Portland. Part of the sweeping infusion of talent under GM Bob Whitsitt, the “Rasta Monsta” provided the Blazers with grit, heart, superb rebounding, and low-post scoring. Playing alongside Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis, Grant could have gotten lost. Instead he pulsed as the heart of the team. Nobody who saw them will ever forget his playoffs duels with Utah Jazz Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone. The bruises may still be healing from that matchup. But Grant wasn’t limited to blue-collar work. He had a few moves in his pocket as well, the chiefest of which was never giving up on a play:
Many would argue that the spirit of the ultra-talented late-1990’s/early-2000’s Blazers teams departed when Whitsitt traded Grant to the Miami Heat in 2000 for Shawn Kemp. Portland wasn’t going to pay the veteran forward and, with so many other bigs in the rotation, he looked expendable. As it turned out, he wasn’t.
Not giving up would be a fine quality to add to the current Blazers roster. The chance to see Grant play again would be heartwarming as well.
All you need to know about Wesley Matthews is this: we passed up high-scorers Jim Paxson and Geoff Petrie—both superior players statistically—to get Matthews into this bracket. He came to Portland as a free agent in 2010. At 24 years of age, he inherited an impossible job: replace franchise superstar Brandon Roy, whose knees were giving out and whose career was measured in games, not seasons. Matthews would never outscore Roy. Few could. But he’d pioneer a new concept that would soon sweep the NBA, “3-and-D” wing play. Matthews would shoot almost 40% from the three-point arc during his Portland tenure, scoring over 15 points per game doing so. He became the perfect offensive outlet for Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, ready to receive and fire at a moment’s notice when opposing defenses double-teamed the stars. Matthews also provided plenty of defense of his own, linking with small forward Nicolas Batum to hold down the perimeter, allowing scorers to operate without giving up as many points as they produced.
Matthews’ highlight reel isn’t going to stand out among the historical greats. Lillard makes more “stand up out of your seats” plays on a random Tuesday than Wes made during his Blazers career. But Matthews was the ultimate complementary player: consistent, bankable, making the right play at the right time nearly ALL the time.
The Blazers were on their way to what many consider a promising playoffs run in the 2014-15 season, among the favorites to reach, if not surpass, the Western Conference Finals, when Matthews ruptured an Achilles. The Blazers were 41-19 at the time. They went 10-12 in Matthews’ absence, fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, and Matthews left in free agency that summer. Some would argue that the team has never been the same since. Matthews continues to play, suiting up this year for the Milwaukee Bucks at age 35. The chance to see him back, younger and at full strength, to redeem the lost playoffs run (and maybe supplant high-scoring, less-defending guards like he did in his youth) could make him a darkhorse for the player you want to see return.
So which will it be? If you had to choose between Brian Grant and Wesley Matthews to play one more year, which would it be? Vote in the comments or on Twitter!