Paul Allen is owner and chairman of the Portland Trailblazers. His group bought the team in 1988 for $70 million. In the almost 20 years since the purchase the value of the team has increased to $253 million. This is over 360% growth. Not a bad return on an investment. But what did they get for their investment? Let’s take a look.
The Portland Trailblazers hired Kevin Pritchard from among their ranks to be General manager of their team. Nate McMillan has also moved through the organization from Assistant Coach to Interim Head Coach and is starting the 2007 season as Head Coach. Both had careers as players in the NBA. Pritchard won titles with the Kansas Jayhawks (1988) and the Kansas City Knights (2001) of the ABA. McMillan played his entire career with the Seattle Supersonics.
Since this ownership, Portland has gone to the playoffs 15 times, won division titles 3 times, had 2 conference titles and are yet to win an NBA Title. Their success and failures coincided with the arrival and departure of several talented but sometimes troubled individuals. Perhaps it was only that the players did not fit into the Trailblazer environment.
All these troubles came to an end in the last off-season. The “Brain Trust” of the Portland Trailblazers had a new concept. I like to call it “The Project". They would waive, trade or outright release any player that didn’t fit their new plans. In return they would draft, sign or trade for players that fit a certain profile. Anyone long in the tooth was gone. All shaded characters were out. They were looking for transparency.
There are 15 players that make up the Portland roster. Not one of them was drafted later than the second round. Actually, no one on their roster was drafted later than 52nd overall. They total 43 years of NBA experience. That’s 2.87 years of experience per person. Six players have less than 3 years experience and Raef LaFrentz is their senior statesman playing in his 10th NBA season. They have 8 Lottery Picks and 3 more first rounders on their team. I just have to say it once, “WOW”.
The rookies are Greg Oden (#1 overall, Ohio State University), Josh McRoberts (#37, Duke), and Taurean Green (#52, Florida). Second year players are LaMarcus Aldridge (#2, Texas), Brandon Roy (#6, Washington) and Sergio Rodriguez (#27, Spain). Third years are Martell Webster (#6, Seattle Prep HS), Channing Frye (#8, Arizona) and Jarrett Jack (#22, Georgia Tech). Fifth year are Travis Outlaw (#23, Starkville HS), Steve Blake (#38, Maryland) and James Jones (#49, Miami). The two eighth year players are Darius Miles (#3, East St. Louis, Ill) and Joel Przybilla (#9, Minnesota). And their tenth year man is Raef LaFrentz (#3, Kansas).
These are players have had success already in their lives. They have experience on a big stage. They are already leaders. Success breeds success.
This team is young. Really young. I can’t imagine that the Brain Trust expects them to win right away. Perhaps two or three full years together and the expectations can be for the playoffs. And a year or two after that, Conference Titles and in the Championship Finals picture is reasonable.
But they’ve started winning already. In fact they had a 13 game win streak where they beat some very good teams. A true sign that there are skilled players in the organization. They have fallen back a little lately. 4-6 in there last ten games. A sign of growing pains. Overall they are 28-21 (Feb.9, 2008) and one game out of the 8th playoff spot. One never knows.
The Project seems to be working. All the newsworthy material coming out of the Portland camp is in regards to the team’s excellent play. There doesn’t seem to be any whining or complaining. These young men are professionals. And they have taken a professional approach to their jobs.
Greg Oden suffered a season ending injury before the season started and Brandon Roy is out injured. They are still learning the game and their opponents every game and overall the team is learning how to win.
The concept conceived by the executive branch of the team is showing evidence of a road soundly taken. Time will be the ultimate test, however. As the teams basketball acumen grows, so too will positive results.
I, personally, cannot wait. I like what I see and I like the early results. For a team that has struggled much in recent years it is good to see the crossing over. I see the righting of the ship and the abundant fruit of their labour is displayed.
They’re a proud franchise and in my humble opinion they are getting it right.