It’s the 2009 season and the Blazers are now the only team in the Pacific Northwest as the Sonics turn into the Thunder.
Like in every team, each fan has their favourite player. But in Portland, I bet you only three players took most of the votes. LaMarcus Aldridge, a top-flight NBA power forward that possessed both skill and talent. Brandon Roy, one of the most must-watch young stars in the league, especially in crunch time.
And lastly, the great Greg Oden. Before the beginning of the season, Oden didn’t have much of a reputation. He missed his first year due to a knee injury so the hype was slowly fading, but he was the first pick for a reason. However, the track record for first picks missing their real rookie years because of injury was not promising.
Any fan would be desperate to break the trend after succumbing to years and years of watching their beloved team commit painful and avoidable mistakes and having their once-respected franchise become a satirical joke for the league. Oden was the one to make up for all of it.
And when Oden headed into his ‘rookie season’, he played just like that, a rookie. Going scoreless in his first game is one thing but leaving 13 minutes in after a foot injury…I’m surprised local counsellors were not instructed to wait outside the arena to aid weeping fans. It really was that bad.
But before you knew it Oden would come back. It was only when fans watched Oden that the season felt endless. He had his good games including a 22-point, 10-rebound performance, but he had his fair share of bad ones too. After another knee injury from a knee to knee collision with Corey Magette, Oden was never the same and would not put up a double-double for the rest of the season.
Brandon Roy, on the other hand, was unparalleled, dropping a career-high 52 points in a tightly-fought battle against the Suns. He continued this dominance in every game-defying moment, dropping game-winners on the Rockets and Knicks. He received his second all-star nomination in just three years since coming into the NBA.
Aldridge was the perfect sidekick, averaging 18 points and nearly 8 rebounds a game. He was also showing great signs of improvement dropping in over 20 points in half of the last 28 games of the season. Rookie Nicolas Batum was another exciting story as he worked his way into the starting lineup. Rudy Fernandez, another rookie, taken right out from the Spanish national basketball team, broke the record for most threes made in a regular season by a rookie with 159. He also participated in the dunk contest that year.
For the first time since 2003, the Blazers not only finished with a winning record of 54-23, but were in the playoffs facing the Houston Rockets. Even with a steller 42-point outing from Roy in Game 2, the Rockets were just too deep and too experienced.
The line-up of Luis Scola, Yao Ming, Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest and Dikembe Mutombo (yes, he was still playing in 2009), won the series in six games.
Even with loud whispers that Oden was a bust, the season was a success. The Blazers had officially found their franchise player in Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge’s ceiling was rising with every game played and the team was deep with young talent. From dead last in fan attendance in 2006, Portland were now third.
Things were looking up.