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 semi-finals are upon us, so be ready for some heart-rending choices!
The original 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. 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!
The first semi-final features the two most beloved international players in franchise history.
Arvydas Sabonis won his second-round matchup with Maurice Lucas in voting so tight that we had to go to email submissions to resolve the virtual tie.
No player outside of first-overall draft picks created more stir upon his arrival in Portland than 7’3 Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis. His exploits with the Soviet National Team throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s were legendary. He destroyed all opposition behind the Iron Curtain, and most of it in the Spanish pro league, emerging occasionally to lead the Soviets to glory in international competition. He was as big as a mountain, as lithe as a breeze, had huge hands, immaculate footwork, prescient vision, passing ability, and range out to the three-point arc.
Injuries slowed Sabonis and limited his effectiveness well before he joined the Blazers in 1995. Even a hobbled, bulk version was able to accomplish plenty:
Sabas played 470 games for the Blazers, averaging 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 24.2 minutes. His game would translate into any era, including the modern one, especially with his ability to stretch the floor on offense and clog the middle on defense.
Drazen Petrovic took his second-round contest against LaMarcus Aldridge by a fairly narrow margin, perhaps due to a bit of lingering ill-will against the departed power forward. Aldridge might have slotted into Portland’s power forward slot nicely, but people just wanted to root for Petrovic one more time. Can Petro dethrone the Lithuania giant? Here’s his bio:
As we all know, Drazen Petrovic is one of the players in this bracket who has passed on. His death in 1993 at the age of 28 sent shock waves through the basketball world.
Petrovic is also the only player for whom we are bending the bracket rules somewhat. We say to consider years with the Blazers as the foundation for your choices. But Petrovic’s seasons with the Blazers, spent behind Clyde Drexler and other veteran guards, were the most muted of his career. Petrovic sparkled in his native Yugoslavia, then in European leagues, receiving the designation, “Mozart of the Hardwood”. His craftiness with the ball was good, but his shooting was legendary. Basketball hadn’t invented a shot that Petro couldn’t hit. Pull-ups were like candy to him, three-pointers like free throws.
Understanding his potential, the Blazers drafted Petrovic in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. He would not join the team until 1989. He played just 12.6 minutes per game in his rookie year, but he averaged 46% from the arc, 48.5% overall. Appropriate to his nickname, watching him hit jumpers was watching a master at work.
The Blazers ascended through the NBA ranks in Petro’s second and third seasons. Intent on chasing rings, they didn’t have time or patience to put up with his learning curve, or encourage him through it. In January, 1991, they’d trade him in a three-way deal, exporting him to the New Jersey Nets for Phoenix Suns legend Walter Davis. By that point, Davis’ spectacular days were long by him.
Petrovic went on to average 21 and 22 points in his two full seasons with the Nets, shooting north of 50% from the field, 44.4% and 44.9% from the arc. He was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 1993, just before his untimely death.
It’s hard to separate the desire to want to see Petrovic play again with the absolutely heart-longing urge to just SEE Petrovic again, but both are appropriate, and that’s also true of other beloved players like Maurice Lucas and Jerome Kersey.
Were Petrovic able to take the court in his prime for these Blazers, his distance shooting would make him an instant star in the modern NBA. That, and watching him work so hard for shots that other people wouldn’t even dare to take, make Petro an easy addition into this “Who would you want to see?” bracket.
OK, Portland fans. If you had to choose one player in his Portland prime to put on the court with these Blazers, would it be Petrovic or Sabonis? Vote in the comments below!