OSN Column: The Three Futures Of The Portland Trail Blazers
By: Ben McCarty/Oregon Sports News
While the Portland Trail Blazers’ season may not be “over” in that there are still roughly two months to go in the regular season, the team has effectively waved the white flag on its 2022 season. The team now looks to the future, with the team’s on-court situation, ownership, and front office all unsettled. So let us gaze together into a hazy crystal ball I found at a flea market for a quarter, where I foresee three possible futures for the team. While some details may be unclear (telling the future is not an easy task), this crystal ball can allow us to see the outline of futures that may yet come to be. Come! Visions of the future await!
1.) What is this? A most marvelous timeline! After clearing mounds of cap space and tanking the 2022 season to protect their own first round draft pick, the Blazers hit the jackpot. They win the draft lottery and wind up with the No. 1 and No. 8 picks in the draft. After taking Auburn freshman power forward Jabari Smith at No. 1, the team takes advantage of a slight drop from Gonzaga freshman center Chet Holmgren to grab the 7-footer at No. 8. Overnight the Blazers re-invent their front court, and when combined with a still stellar Lillard, a committed owner in Jody Allen and a long term contract for General Manager Joe Cronin the team is set up for success. The team closes negotiations with the City of Portland for significant upgrades to the Moda Center. Then, when all the factors combine with a big free agency spending spree during the 2022 and 2023 offseasons the team wins the 2024 NBA title. Once again it is truly a great day to be a Blazer! Portland erupts in a giant party, celebrating its first NBA title in nearly 50 years.
2.) To the next vision! Could it be, things will be just the same as they always have been? The Blazers actually play surprisingly well down the stretch, as do the New Orleans Pelicans, whose first round pick they own after trading CJ McCollum. The Blazers improbably make it to the play-in round but get bounced there. Still, with a fun squad there’s reason to hope for the future. The team winds up with a pair picks at the edge of the top 10. Instead of the high impact players they were expecting, the team settles on developmental projects. Unable to draw big name free agents around Lillard, the team rebounds some, but is only able make a pair playoff appearances-both first round losses, before Lillard departs in free agency, becoming neither the first, nor the last Blazer icon to search for a ring elsewhere.
3.) Our final vision! What dark devilry is this! It’s so awful I can hardly stand to watch! But watch we must! The Blazers tank down the stretch of the 2022 season. Once the offseason hits, they make two things clear: Jody Allen is selling the team, and decks must be cleared for the sale. Lillard is quickly shipped out of town. Jusuf Nurkic departs. With the team dismantled, Joe Cronin is shown the door from his interim general manager spot, and Chauncey Billups is dismissed as coach after one season. With a blank slate in place, everything is set up for a new owner. Just weeks before the start of the 2022-23 training camp, the new owner is announced: Seattle tech billionaire Chris Hanson. Hanson takes control vowing to keep the team in Portland (which some find ominously odd, because no one had mentioned the possibility of the team leaving). Within months, Hanson informs the city of Portland that the terms of the teams lease agreement at the Moda Center, which the prior regime had left undone just short of the finish line, would need to be “renegotiated.” Over the following year, Hanson makes it clear he wants the Moda Center rebuilt from the ground up and the Rose Quarter revitalized, with most of it coming from city coffers. He also makes it clear that should he not get his way, a certain city a few hours to the North already has an arena ready, and is just waiting for the NBA to return. Portland balks and refuses to meet his demands, and in short order moving trucks are loaded up and the Portland Trail Blazers are transformed into the relaunched Seattle Supersonics. Meanwhile Rose Quarter falls into disrepair- it’s only tenants being a homeless encampment, a semi-pro hockey team and the occasional monster truck show…
Emerge with me from the haze and shake off the dark and deep sorrow left by that final vision! Remember, it is only a glimpse of the future! Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, there is still time for the future to change. A wise future-fighting woman once said, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” As the Blazers embark on a new journey with a new roster, let us journey with them into what we can hope is a brighter future.
Just to be safe, though, and make sure I’m prepared for any eventuality, I’m going back to that flea market to see if they have an old Sonics hat. One can never be too careful.