LET US ALL catch our breath for one brief moment. Even the most mundane NBA season can be exhausting to follow, so imagine the emotional weight that has been lifted from the collective chests of the Blazer faithful, who had to endure a season like no other. While the basketball record books might regale the 2009-2010 Portland Trail Blazers for managing to piece together 50 wins and a playoff berth, despite players missing a combined 311 games due to injury or illness, this season took a toll on everyone brave enough to follow this team. In this season in review, let us relive it all—the good, the bad, and the excruciatingly painful.
Following a 54-win season and armed with the NBA's finest roster of young players, expectations were stacked to the heavens for the Blazers entering the 2009-2010 season. But then Hedo happened. In a baffling move, the Trail Blazers swung open the money vault doors and attempted to lure mouth-breathing free agent Hedo Turkoglu to Portland. The "Turkish Michael Jordan" verbally accepted a five-year deal for nearly $50 million, a move that would have upended this franchise in ways we do not care to imagine. Thankfully his better half, Mrs. Turkoglu, stepped in and (allegedly) did not approve of Portland as a city worth their residency, instead demanding her husband take his clunky basketball skills and head to Toronto. Once there, Hedo spread like a cancer, crippling the once-promising Raptors, soiling their relationship with franchise player Chris Bosh, and helping the team miss the playoffs entirely. Oh, and the Raptors still owe Turkoglu about $44 million over the next four years. Good luck with that.
After getting stiffed by the Turk, the Blazers poisoned the Utah Jazz's books by offering Paul Millsap a bloated four-year, $32 million deal—which the Jazz then had to match—before reluctantly settling on veteran point guard Andre Miller. Their third option, Miller seemed only somewhat enthusiastic to leave his former team, the cash-strapped Philadelphia 76ers, and come to Portland. But unlike Turkoglu shunning our city for a more metropolitan destination, Miller's trepidation might have had something to do with hearing Coach Nate McMillan drop this crazy bomb: "Right now, Steve Blake is our starting point guard."
Despite all this, the Blazers opened the season with a revenge victory over the team that eliminated them from last season's playoffs, the Houston Rockets. And yes, Steve Blake was the starting point guard that night.
The Blazers seemed to endure a fair amount of strife in the constant battle for playing time between Blake and Miller—an argument that just seems adorably quaint compared to the problems this team was soon to face. The Blazers headed into December with a respectable 12-7 record and the emergence of Greg Oden as a bombastic force under the basket. The oft-injured (spoiler alert!) seven-footer was slow in developing during his rookie year—the one he played, not the rookie year he missed due to injury—but in the opening weeks of the season, Oden quickly established himself as the finest center in the Western Conference. Brandon Roy was relieved of his duty to carry the entire franchise on his back, LaMarcus Aldridge was free to take his pillowy soft 14-foot jumpers in peace, and Blazer fans were finally were able to point to the scoreboard whenever someone made a Sam Bowie joke.
This glorious time lasted all of four minutes and 15 seconds into a December 5 game against the Rockets. Let's relive the nightmare, shall we? Houston guard Aaron Brooks casually dribbled around starter (!) Steve Blake, Oden was then forced to assist his pasty inept teammate... and snap. One awkward tumble to the hardwood later, Oden was done for the season. We all died a little inside that day.
But as Blazer fans were soon to discover, when God closes a door... he slams our fucking heads through a window. The devastating loss of Oden only had 10 games to sink in before his apt replacement under the basket, Joel Przybilla, tore his knee to shreds like it was a piñata full of delicious candy. As the normally invincible-to-pain Przybilla withered on the court and Blazer fans watched in horror, it became clear that this season was cursed. In addition to the tender knees of the largest players, Nicolas Batum missed the first 45 games of the season, Roy was hampered by a lingering hamstring injury (that only went away when he tore his meniscus in April), and perhaps in an effort to create team solidarity, owner Paul Allen got cancer and McMillan tore his Achilles' heel.
Yet in a direct affront to the gypsy that cursed this team, the Blazers somehow entered 2010 with a 21-13 record.
The team soldiered on, thanks to a resilient starting lineup and buoyed by a bench full of forgettable players—Juwan Howard, Jerryd Bayless, Dante Cunningham, and Jeff Pendergraph. The Blazers relied on any and every warm body to salvage their season. Like the NBA's The Dirty Dozen, this forgettable lot of players (Jerryd Bayless, you are Telly Savalas) was brave enough to face down the world champion Lakers and help the team establish the second best road record in the Western Conference.
Now back to the soap opera (As the Pinwheel Turns?): Not content with splitting time with a man who resembles an extra from Deliverance, the usually reserved Miller melts down at Blazers practice on January 7 and gets in a screaming match with McMillan. One day later, the pair makes up and they are suddenly BFFs. Three weeks later, Miller scores 52 points against Dallas. One month later, Blake and Travis Outlaw are shipped off to a fate worse than death—the Los Angeles Clippers. Marcus Camby arrives in their place; Blazer fans rejoice.
For the first time all season, the Blazers come together as team. Granted, a crippled and overachieving team—but a team nonetheless. A healthy Batum offers glimpses at the superstar he will soon become, Camby is adored by the Blazers faithful and signs a two-year extension with the team, and Kevin Pritchard cements his legacy as the finest general manager in basketball, the man who built this winning empire of basketball. That said, with no previous indication of unrest, the franchise dismisses assistant GM Tom Penn, then team president Larry Miller refuses to give the man responsible for everyone keeping their jobs (that would be Pritchard) a vote of confidence in this dark hour. Pritchard's fate is still undecided, but if he is fired look for the Blazers to get worse before they get better.
If the front office and oncourt turmoil was not enough, Rudy Fernández pouts his way through the winter and complains to the foreign press about how he is unhappy as a Blazer and wants to return to Spain. Both valid arguments are nullified by the fact that he signed a contract with the team and isn't going anywhere. Still, this news does little to waver all of our significant others' desires to sleep with him.
As the postseason looms and momentum begins to build for this team, Roy shreds his meniscus and the Blazers are doomed to a playoff date with the hottest team in the league, the Phoenix Suns. Six games and one noble effort later, the Blazers season mercifully ends. Now we are left with seven long months of silence—with the exception of the draft, free agency, summer league, and a possible GM firing—until the Blazers' season starts once again.
After this season, what's the worst that could happen?