R.I.P. City – The Dynasty That Never Was

Before signing a four-year, $80 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs, all-star big man LaMarcus Aldridge was the last man standing from the trio that was supposed to bring the Portland Trail Blazers back to glory.

While the Boston Celtics were forming the new NBA phenomenon of the “Big 3” by adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen alongside Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, the Blazers were putting together their own threesome that was supposed to be complete the night of June 28, 2007 when they selected Greg Oden with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Entering the 2007 season the Blazers envisioned going to battle with a young core of Greg Oden (19), LaMarcus Aldridge (22) and Brandon Roy (23) for years to come.

Before undergoing microfracture knee surgery in September of 2007 causing him to miss the entire season and then eventually becoming the punchline in every joke regarding him and Kevin Durant and being the Blazers new Sam Bowie after several more injuries, Oden was supposed to be it.

Source: thesportsfanjournal.com

Source: thesportsfanjournal.com

If anyone saw Oden at Ohio State it was virtually impossible not to see a dominating NBA big man. Whether or not Portland should’ve taken him over Durant is another debate, but Durant and Oden became the first set of freshmen to be voted on the All-American First Team since 1990. On top of that, Oden was named First Team All-Big Ten and the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. His numbers that season showed a standout player – 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.3 blocks in 28.9 minutes. On the biggest stage against what was an incredibly stacked Florida Gators team, Oden posted 25 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in the National Championship game, albeit in a losing effort. He was a prime-time player in the highest order, prompting Steve Kerr to call him a “once-in-a-decade type player” and he certainly wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Oden only played 82 games in a Blazers uniform and just eleven of those games did he play 30-plus minutes. His per-36 minute average in Portland was 15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Impressive numbers at age 22 if he could have just stayed healthy. Oden’s last game in a Blazers uniform was December 5, 2009 against Houston. He injured his left knee less than five minutes into the game and would undergo a second knee surgery, ending his season. Oden sat out the next three seasons, being waived by the Blazers in March of 2012 during that stretch after a disastrous four-year run in Portland.

Source: columbian.com

Source: columbian.com

On the night of June 28, 2006 the Blazers committed armed robbery.

First they selected Tyrus Thomas with the fourth overall pick and dealt him in a draft-day trade to Chicago along with Viktor Khryapa for Aldridge and a 2007 second round pick (Demetris Nichols was later selected). Thomas was one of the many colossal busts in the 2006 draft class. Of the first five selections in that draft, Aldridge was the only one who actually panned out.

Top-5 picks in the 2006 NBA Draft:

  1. Andrea Bargnani – Toronto Raptors
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge – Chicago Bulls
  3. Adam Morrison – Charlotte Bobcats
  4. Tyrus Thomas – Portland Trail Blazers
  5. Shelden Williams – Atlanta Hawks

The sixth overall pick proved to be a steal – Brandon Roy by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Portland orchestrated a few more draft-day trades that night, this time involving Randy Foye, the seventh overall pick. Foye was selected by the Boston Celtics who then traded his rights to the Blazers along with Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau for Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and a 2008 second round pick (Trent Plaistad was later selected). Portland then traded Foye’s rights to Minnesota straight up for Roy. Another flat-out steal.

In their rookie seasons Aldridge was blocked by Zach Randolph so it was Brandon Roy who really shined for Portland, winning Rookie of the Year honors with 16.8 points in 57 games played. Roy followed up his stellar rookie year with three consecutive all-star appearances in the tough Western Conference, the last two resulting in back-to-back 50-win seasons and a spot in the playoffs.

On April 11, 2010, Brandon Roy suffered a right knee bone contusion which eventually contributed to the lack of cartilage in his knees and ultimately arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in January 2011. He was never the same after that and took on a reserve role in Portland.

Roy gave us one last glimpse of the player we loved to watch during the 2011 playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. His Blazers trailed by 23 points late in the third quarter of game four and Roy poured in 18 fourth-quarter points to help lead an improbable comeback and show everyone the closer he used to be. At his best, Roy was a smooth operator with the basketball in his hands. From a talent standpoint, he was probably a better Manu Ginobili when healthy. I don’t know if he would have had a Hall of Fame career if he was able to play 10 years at his level, but there certainly would have been consideration.

Roy’s knees degenerated so much, lacking cartilage between the bones in both of his knees, he was forced to retire before the start of the 2011-12 season after the lockout.

Source: kgmi.com

Source: kgmi.com

Entering the lockout shortened season LaMarcus Aldridge was the last man standing. The dream trio of he, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy was no more. For the first time in his career, it was Aldridge’s team. At least when it was Roy’s team he had LMA next to him. This time around, Aldridge was looking at a young Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson. An overweight Raymond Felton who didn’t want to be there and a 29-year-old Gerald Wallace who the team wanted to trade and build for the future. There wasn’t much help for a guy looking for his first playoff series win.

The Blazers missed the playoffs at 28-38 but thanks to that Gerald Wallace trade with the New Jersey Nets, they ended up with the sixth overall pick in the draft and eventually selected Damian Lillard.

Much of the talk about Aldridge’s time in Portland was that he felt unappreciated.

First it was Brandon Roy who took the spotlight thanks to LaMarcus being stuck behind Randolph his rookie season. Then the following season they were able to land Greg Oden and he was going to be the next great big man. Help bring Portland to the promise land.

Even though Aldridge was showing improvement every season before ultimately becoming a 20-and-9 player, Roy was the closer. He was the guy who took the big shot and had the moments in the fourth quarter. Aldridge was the second piece.

Then the Blazers strike it with Lillard and in his second season Portland is back in the playoffs with a 54-28 record. Aldridge was the all-star for the third year in a row, he posted a career year with averages of 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds. But still, as much as everyone liked LMA, they all LOVED Lillard. And that’s no exaggeration. Even his lone playoff series win during his nine-year run in Portland was as a result of Lillard’s game-winner against the Houston Rockets in game six. Even though Aldridge completely dominated the first few games of that series.

It’s not to say that Aldridge resented Lillard or even wished he missed that shot or wasn’t as good, he just wanted to be appreciated more for what he did.

And so now nine years after being drafted by the Blazers, four years after seeing his first running mate forced into retirement and one year after his first ever playoff series win, Aldridge for once had the red carpet rolled out for him. The San Antonio Spurs wined and dined LaMarcus. Made him feel wanted. Showed him how he can be the piece to bring another championship to the state of Texas and not the other way around.

We won’t ever know how good those three could have been had they all stayed healthy. One thing I do know is that the Blazers were doing it right. In what should have been Oden’s rookie season, some of their complimentary pieces were players like Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, James Jones, Channing Frye, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Josh McRoberts. Portland was loaded with some quality young talent. I’m not saying they would have won a title that season, but the oldest players on that list were Blake and Jones at age 27.

This team was building what was supposed to be a monster. Hard to imagine they don’t win at least one championship if those guys stayed on the court. Unfortunately, it’ll just be another “what if?” in the history of sports.

Featured image: bleacherreport.com

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