In today’s NBA, the dynamic between the big market teams and their small market counterparts is felt every time the collective bargaining agreement comes close to expiring. Small market teams have always had a more difficult path to contention when compared to the glitz and glamour of teams in big cities like Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago, due to the allure they hold in the minds of players, especially superstars, throughout the league. The poster boy for small market contention over the last two decades has been the San Antonio Spurs, who built some fantastic teams around a transcendent superstar in Tim Duncan. Nevertheless, what about the other small market teams that haven’t had the benefit of drafting one of the greatest players of all time? The Portland Trailblazers are one of those small market teams who are always in contention, and have a long and storied history of building great teams around transcendent players while competing against the NBA behemoths.
The Blazers own a franchise win percentage of .533, which is 7th in NBA history, ahead of several large market teams, including both the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks. In the 47 years since the Blazers were founded, they have made the playoffs an amazing 32 times, including 6 out of the last 8 years. However, the most impressive stretch for the franchise is undoubtedly from 1976-2003, when the Blazers only missed the playoffs once, won 50 games or more 9 times, went to the NBA finals 3 times, and won the NBA championship in 1977. That ’77 team is widely considered one of the greatest teams ever assembled, featuring a fearsome tandem of Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas who terrorized opponents inside with their toughness and skill around the basket.
Bill Walton is undoubtedly the best player to play for the Blazers in the early period of the franchise, but Clyde Drexler is the greatest player in franchise history.
A ten time All-Star, Drexler led the Blazers for 12 seasons, and took the team to the NBA finals twice, losing in 1989 to Isiah Thomas’s Pistons and in 1992 to Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Drexler was an exemplary scorer, with averages of 22 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6 assists per 36 minutes over his career in Portland. Drexler teamed with Terry Porter for most of his career in Portland, and together they created perhaps the NBA’s best backcourt during those golden years of the NBA.
Any article about the Blazers would be remiss not to mention the most infamous period in franchise history, the “Jail-Blazer” era. These teams, lead by Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire, were very successful on the court, while consistently causing trouble off it. Consistent run-ins with the law and abuse of officials and opponents were not able to stop the Jail-Blazers from reaching the Western Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000.
Through great drafting, trading, and development of talent, the Blazers have consistently overcome the roadblocks that small market teams face when trying to compete with the titans of the NBA. The Blazers are led today by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, both fantastic players and worthy heirs to the legacy players like Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler created throughout the often overlooked and underrated history of the Blazers.
All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/