Ben's Babbles: Boom go the Blazers

March 17, 2012

When I was younger, I used my vivid imagination to put myself into all sorts of fantastical places, whether it be flying an X-Wing in Star Wars, or fighting off an invading army. No matter what I was doing, I was sure to make some great explosion sound affect, for which my parents and siblings still poke fun at me today.

I mention this because the explosion noises were the only way to describe what was happening at 1 Center Court in Portland Thursday - fwooooosh."

In one cataclysmic day, the franchise burned away the final links to the team which was supposed to take it to the promised land.

Of the key players which set the course for the franchise over the last five years - Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Nate McMillan and Kevin Pritchard - only Aldridge remains.

Even former GM Rich Cho - who lasted less than a year after replacing Prichard - had his signature move erased when Gerald Wallace was traded to New Jersey.

Roy retired before the season, Oden was hardly ever on the court and both Pritchard and McMillan were fired.

Say what you want about Paul Allen as an owner, but the man apparently has learned how to quickly cauterize a wound. After leaving Maurice Cheeks - McMillan's predecessor - to twist in the wind for months before being canned, a mistake he later repeated with Pritchard, Allen was swift and decisive Thursday.

It was clear a change had to be made in the coaching staff. NBA coaches have become like major league baseball managers - they don't have much to do other than keeping order in the locker room and penciling in a lineup which makes sense. McMillan lost the ability to do either, and got the axe after one of the more embarrassing losses in recent franchise history.

Oden, Roy and Aldridge were supposed to become the Blazers' Big Three. Instead, by the time Oden was waived Thursday to clear room for a flood of new players, an era ended with a whimper.

Instead of dragging the process out over months, like things are prone to do with the Blazers, in a matter of hours two key players in the last two playoff runs were gone, the coach hired to turn around the franchise was gone and the center who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the team for years was waived.

I doubt any of the players the Blazers acquired in shipping out Wallace and Marcus Camby have any long-term impact for the franchise, but it was clear that Marcus Camby, Wallace and McMillan had worn out their welcome.

At least clear to everyone but the marketing department, who had been running season ticket renewal commercials for weeks featuring Camby and Wallace.

I would hate to be selling season tickets this morning, when the team is now in full-blown tank for the draft mode. It's a little hard to convince someone to invest thousands of dollars for a ticket package when they have no idea what the team will look like next year.

For some reason, I doubt Hasheem Thabeet will be getting a commercial. Point guard Raymond Felton wore out his welcome long before any of the others, but reportedly he was so bad no team was willing to trade anything to get him.

But regardless of whether he plays another minute this season, Blazer fans should picture him as a moneybag with a -$7 million sign on it - the amount that comes off when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Albeit an expiring contract who routinely passes the ball to the other team, but an expiring contract nonetheless.

Thursday's slash and burn was a start, but the real decisiveness will come as soon as the Blazers stumble across the finish line.

The Blazers will have somewhere around $25 million in cap space this summer. They will be heading into the offseason with an interim coach and interim general manager. Aldridge is unquestionably the center of any rebuild. The team must decide if Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum also should be part of that future. If they are, the team still needs to find a starting point guard and a center or power forward to work with Aldridge, and decide if they can be had on the free agent market or through the draft.

The Blazers will need people in place to answer those questions.

But first Allen must decide who is the right type of person to guide them. He's tried the lap dog in Steve Patterson, and independent thinkers in Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho. All of them have fallen short of giving him an NBA title.

Back when the Blazers hired Pritchard and then went on to draft Roy, Aldridge and then Oden a year later, I wrote that those drafts would change the course of the franchise. And it did. The Blazers got back on track after years as the JailBlazers and gave fans a team to cheer for.

This offseason is just as important, with two first-round draft picks, tons of money to spend and a new coach and general manager to hire.

After watching the team try to splurge on high-priced, low-character free agents, then setting a new course of rebuilding through the draft, Blazer fans will have to hope whatever the new course the Blazers set after steering out of Thursday's wreckage is a smart one.

Those free agents who led to the JailBlazer era were supposed to take the team to the championship; so were Oden, Roy and Aldridge.

Blazer fans can only hope that this time, the team gets it right.

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