Blazers in search of answers

I guess one could say the Lakers three-game sweep over Portland this weekend was exactly what this franchise needed.

Strong words for a team who has the highest payroll in NBA history, but it’s true.

This was a season full of misery. The injuries, the absence of a leader, ejections, fights within in the team. All this, plus an $89.5 million payroll that couldn’t muster up a single playoff victory. “One team one dream?” How about “one team one round?” Or, “one team, no chemistry?”

It was clear from the start this team might have chemistry problems. Arvydas Sabonis started the year on the injured list and that began the trek of 13 different starting lineups during the season. Despite Sabonis’ absence, the deep bench along with a plethora of games with the weaker Eastern Conference kept the Blazers near the top in the Western Conference race.

Finally, Sabonis came back, Bonzi Wells was flourishing in a starting role and the Blazers were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak seemingly primed for a mid-season run to pull away from the rest of the pack. But this time it was Scottie Pippen who would miss 18 games with an elbow injury and once again, the chemistry would change.

The Blazers were still never below the fourth spot in the West, and never out of reach of the top spot. But rumblings were beginning to be heard and it was clear, this was a very fragile team on the verge of a blowup.

After 60 games and a 42-18 record, the Blazers led the Western Conference race for the last time. At a time when teams are supposed to be playing their best ball and beginning to gear up for the playoffs, the Blazers fell apart. Rod Strickland was signed to give them help at the point guard spot in the absence of injured Greg Anthony. Nothing would seem to stop this team now until a Tuesday night game with Vancouver when Clyde Drexler’s jersey was retired.

Everything seemed to unravel for the Blazers as Rasheed Wallace was ejected, Strickland was running around not knowing what to do, and the Grizzlies were pounding the bigger Blazers in every part of the game. This started a swoon of five consecutive losses for Portland, two of those to the Grizzlies, and dropped the Blazers from number one in the West to number five.

Portland never recovered from this losing streak, as everything began to hit the fan with so little time until the playoffs. Wallace was being ejected almost every other game. Players were complaining about playing time. Shawn Kemp checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic. That same day, Wells tore the ACL in his knee. As games went by and the losses piled up, the Blazers kept dropping in the standings. Eventually, they would drop all the way to the seventh spot in the West.

The playoffs didn’t amount too much for the Blazers. If anything, it was three more games on the schedule. Frustration was at its peak. After Dale Davis elbowed Robert Horry in game two in Los Angeles, it was evident this team didn’t want to play anymore. Davis was suspended, Stacey Augmon followed, and the rest of team called it a season.

General Manager Bob Whitsitt placed the blame on himself. He wouldn’t speculate on the status of Mike Dunleavy and he wouldn’t comment on trades or any ideas he had in the off season. It’s safe to say there will be changes and they could come quickly. If anything, the theme won’t be “one team one dream.” It could be, “one summer, one long summer.”