The title of this blog may be deceiving. The phrase “could have been” often carries negative connotations with it, namely those of wasted potential or disappointment. The Blazers franchise has been competitive in the NBA since it shipped off the last of its Jail Blazers. This blog also isn’t striving to say that the scenario I set up is what should have happened. Rather, this blog is a look into what would have been an interesting path that the Blazers could have gone down.
For any tried and true Blazers fan, there are things that remain fresh on the mind no matter how much time has passed. Damian Lillard’s shot, the Jail Blazers, The 1977 Championship season, Brandon Roy’s two retirements, and drafting Sam Bowie and Greg Oden respectively are all particularly meaningful moments in the Blazers’ history.
Even eight years later, Greg Oden remains a sore subject for the Blazers. Every Rip City fan has been bludgeoned over and over with the fact that they passed up Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah (though Durant is often the player used to stress Oden’s disappointment). Let’s take a look at what the Blazers team would look like if they had chosen Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden.
When Portland drafted Greg Oden, they were weak in three positions: Center, Small Forward, and Point Guard. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy were the unquestioned stars of the team, both of whom only had a few years experience in the NBA. Adding Kevin Durant into the equation would have been an interesting situation as it would have created a big three with a rookie. In Durant’s first year, he averaged 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1 steal per game. Of course, Durant’s numbers would have been inflated in relation to what he would experience in Portland. Just as Kevin Love put up greater numbers in Minnesota than in Cleveland, Durant’s stats would likely have been at least a little lower than in Seattle. He would, after all, have to share the ball with ROTY Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The success of an Aldridge-Durant-Roy big-three would clearly have been short lived. As each player would play out their rookie contracts, it would become increasingly hard to keep these players together. Whether it was Roy, Aldridge, or Durant, one of them would likely have had to leave at some point. This would have resulted in plenty of free agency drama that has come to be expected in years past. If the situation played out where Roy left Portland, tears would have been shed but Portland would have been notably better off for the long term. If Roy had stayed and either Aldridge or Durant had left, the situation would have been particularly devastating as it really was when Roy bowed out with injuries the first time.
For the sake of making things interesting, I’ll assume that Kevin Durant stayed in Rip City and Brandon Roy signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge would have to adjust to life without Roy though they’d have the consolation of Jamal Crawford during his 2011-2012 season with the Blazers. They would also get Wesley Matthews, who would go on to do great things for Rip City.
Realistically, the Blazers would only begin to be a championship-calibre team once they drafted Damian Lillard. The draft pick that the Blazers nabbed Lillard with was a result of trading Gerald Wallace to Brooklyn. Durant’s presence on the roster wouldn’t have made them too good to get the Weber State star. The stars would have all but aligned in 2012. With the exception of the undersized JJ Hickson, the Blazers would be set at all positions. The Blazers would have a future MVP, three total all-star players, and one beast of a role player in Wesley Matthews.
Just like the situation with the big-three of Aldridge, Durant, and Roy, the days of an Aldridge-Durant-Lillard partnership would be numbered. Without the burden of an MVP contract, the Blazers already have been flooded with rumors of losing Wesley Matthews to other teams for financial reasons. I would predict that Aldridge would be the least likely to leave given his lengthy tenure in Rip City. Durant would have a similar reason to stay and the Blazers would be quick to re-sign an MVP candidate. That leaves Dame.
Would the Blazers have won championships with Aldridge, Durant, and Lillard together? Perhaps. The problem would lie in finances. Maintaining big-threes is costly and often comes at the sacrifice of quality depth. The Blazers have long struggled with their bench and including Durant on the roster would likely restrict their ability to sign good alternate players. Meyers Leonard, who has been a notable contributor from Portland’s bench this season, would not have gone to Rip City at all. Meyers Leonard was drafted with Portland’s own pick, which means that any success with the Aldridge-Durant partnership would likely have put him out of reach. Nonetheless, the question will remain what could have been if the Blazers had chosen differently in 2007.
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