As I prepare to take my talents to The Columbian’s Editorial department in a couple weeks, I am struck by a surprising reality of my 13 years as this paper’s Sports editor.
Throughout that time, the Portland Trail Blazers have never won a playoff series. Not a single one.
They’ve made the playoffs a few years; they’ve missed them a few others. But the Blazers have not won a playoff series since 2000, when they reached the Western Conference finals only to suffer the Joe Louis of gut-punch losses in Game 7 against the Lakers.
That gives Portland the longest current streak in the NBA without winning a playoff series, which must be deserving of some kind of award. I mean, even the basketball Chernobyl that is the Washington Wizards have won a playoff series during that time.
So maybe Portland should receive the Kevin Loughery Trophy, in honor of his 0-8 series record as an NBA coach. It can be like the Larry O’Brien Trophy, only it’s made out of tin foil and the basketball is deflated.
But I digress. Because the real frustration is that there’s no reason to expect the Blazers to win a playoff series in the foreseeable future. Just look at the two big moves they’ve made in the past week.
Portland picked up power forward Thomas Robinson from Houston for essentially nothing. Robinson played his first NBA game 8 1/2 months ago and now is with his third team.
Then the Blazers picked up center Robin Lopez, also for essentially nothing, which would appear to be a very good price.
But as Dave Deckard of BlazersEdge.com writes: “If bigs were radioactive material the Blazers would be Nevada. Sure, dump it here! We’ve got plenty of unused space! Who’ll notice?’ “
As Deckard points out, it’s a not a matter of whether or not the Blazers got a poor return on their investment. It’s a matter of them destroying their available salary-cap space with which to sign free agents.
Portland had planned on having almost $12 million available for free agents, but most of that now has gone to players who were available because their previous teams were looking to dump salary.
It’s like picking up a couch that somebody leaves on the curb. The price might be great, but there’s a reason it is being left on the side of the road.
Which brings us to the ugly truth about the Blazers — Portland will never, ever, ever be able to sign a marquee free agent. The city isn’t big enough and the franchise history isn’t rich enough to land a big-name free agent.
The Joel Przybillas and Andre Millers and Wesley Matthews of the world can contribute to a winning team, but they aren’t going to alter the course of a franchise.
By bringing in Robinson and Lopez, the Blazers avoid that painful truth. They don’t have to worry about not landing any worthy free agents this year because now they aren’t even playing the game. They’re taking their ball and going home.
Which might be a good idea.
For all the attention placed on NBA free agents each summer, many a championship contender has been built through wise draft selections and crafty trades. For some teams, that path is viewed as smart business; for the Blazers, it’s a necessity.