Sunday, May 28, 2006

State of the Blazers...part 2

(I began part 1 by mentioning Derek Anderson, so I'll begin part 2 with some other historical tidbits)

Some news about former Blazer coaches: Rick Adelman just got fired, again, and Mike Dunleavy recently botched another playoff series. In addition, a former player from Adelman's days in Portland, Mario Elie, and Adelman's replacement in Portland, P.J. Carlesimo, are on the short list of likely replacements for him in Sacramento.

And Blazer related Sports Guy stuff: why does he have to keep reminding me of that dreadful game seven against the Lakers in 2000? That was the day I graduated from high school. It was terrible. Jerk.

Once again Oregonlive, the Oregonian's online newspaper, has been running a survivor style competition to see who the fans think should remain from the team last year. I don't mind this except for what it does to the mentality of the fans. Certainly part of the reason that the Blazers haven't been doing as well in the past few seasons is the personnel on the team. But the problems that have led to the demise of one of the great NBA franchises are located mainly in the management camp. In the heyday of the Portland Trail Blazers there was a core of players that could be counted on. From 1989 until 1995 the foursome of Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter were constant. At the end of that span they traded Drexler away, and neither Kersey nor Porter were starting, but they were still a part of the team. As those players were getting older other players stepped in and provided continuity. Cliff Robinson was a holdover from the glory days of the early '90s, and then Arvydas Sabonis finally arrived, followed the next year by Rasheed Wallace, the year after that by Brian Grant and Damon Stoudamire. That was the 1997-98 season. Because of the slow personnel turnover--instead of bringing players in for one year stints--the Blazers were able to overcome a declining public image and off-court antics to continue as a perennial playoff performer. The downfall of the Blazers really was game seven of the Western Conference Finals in 2000.

After that game management decided that they needed to make some big changes. And maybe they did. But what happened was to start shifting the focus from being a good team to bringing in the right players. Even though there had been some complaining, most of the Blazers accepted their roles on a team that was loaded with talent. People like Brian Grant and Rasheed Wallace actually cared about the community. When management decided it needed to make big changes, instead of expecting more from the players they had already invested in, that's when things really started sliding.

I know, the NBA isn't a league that allows for keeping teams together for long periods of time. But it is possible to keep a core of players together. This idea that getting rid of problem players and bringing in fresh blood will solve things is outrageous. Most of the teams that have done well, even in the NBA, have had a core of players that have some longevity. I think it's time for another table. I'll examine the NBA champions from the last 20 years, and look at how long the core players had been together.

YearNBA ChampionsCore playersYears together
1985-86CelticsBird, McHale, Parish5
1986-87LakersAbdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, Cooper, Rambis4
1987-88LakersSame (and some others)5
1988-89PistonsThomas, Laimbeer, Dumars3
1989-90PistonsSame and Rodman3
1990-91BullsJordan, Pippen, Grant, Paxson3
1991-92BullsSame and Cartwright3
1992-93BullsSame and Armstrong3
1993-94RocketsOlajuwon, Thorpe, Maxwell, Smith3
1994-95RocketsSame, minus Thorpe4
1995-96BullsPippen, Kukoc, Kerr, Longley2
1996-97BullsSame, Jordan and Harper2
1997-98BullsSame and Rodman2
1998-99SpursRobinson, Elliot, Johnson3
1999-2000LakersO'Neal, Bryant, Fisher, Horry3
2000-2001LakersSame and Fox3
2002-2003SpursDuncan, Robinson, Rose, Kerr4
2003-2004PistonsBillups, Hamilton, Wallace, Prince1
2004-2005SpursDuncan, Parker, Bowen3

The table shows that, with the exception of the 2003-04 Pistons, the NBA champion team had a core group of players who had been together for at least two years before winning a championship. Even the Bulls had a core of players not including Jordan that had been together during his absence. You'll notice too that only one of the teams lost someone from the core that I mentioned if they won back-to-back titles. In addition to these things, what most analysts thought was so incredible about that 2003-04 Pistons team was how well they played together as a team. It seemed as though they had been together for more than just one full season before their championship run. Also of interest is how many teams had one or two players that were added to their core before the championship run started, so that if I were only looking for teams that had been together for two years, instead of trying to find longevity of the core, I could have listed a lot more names for several of those teams.

This brings me back to my question: can a team in the NBA keep a core of players together in the current situation? I believe they can. What does that mean for Portland? It means that management needs to stop blaming the players for everything and start taking some responsibility for the mismanagement that's gone on in the last six years. It means that the Blazers need to let Telfair, Miles, and Randolph know that they are the core of the team and they will be playing together for more than just the next season. It means that they need to resign Przybilla to be a guy that pulls the other core players along. It means that McMillan needs to have the confidence of management so he can mold these core players into a team. It means that management needs to put more confidence in the players instead of just threatening to get rid of them if something goes wrong. I might include a few other players in that core group: Outlaw, Khryapa, Webster, and Przybilla, but that means that these guys need to continue to develop as players and teammates--and in Przybilla's case resign with the team.

After seeing my Seahawks have a fantastic year in the NFL I came to the conclusion that continuity was more important in pro sports than many people acknowledge. Upon doing the research into the last 20 years of NBA champions I believe that even more strongly. Hopefully it works, and hopefully the Blazers follow the plan.

(A huge source for this post was This site has all sorts of goodies on it, and is up there with some of my other favorite NBA sites:


Mac said...

good stuff carlton. i'm glad i dropped by Lambsticks to see if part 2 was complete yet...

not to continually bring of the 2000 season melt-down, but i kind of feel as if that series was the defining moment of Scottie Pippen's career. He'll always be an all time great player, but that was his one chance to win a title without jordan, and lead a team in the process (not just in scoring, but in everything. he brought so much to the table besides scoring, especially on that blazers team). it's too bad, really. Scottie deserves better...

Lew said...

Nice work Carlton. Sorry it took me so long to keep checking back, but I enjoyed Part II. You are right though, they need to commit to the core of Miles, Zach R., and "Bassy" bc that is a solid, young group that could be successful down the road as they keep getting better. Hopefully someone in the organization is reading your blog.