[size=18:4c3461f7d7]An unlikely scenario, maybe, but it beats reality [/size]
June 4, 2000
That day will live infamy, at least for Trail Blazers fans.
On that day, the Blazers lost a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and, in the process, the seventh game of the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since then, things in Rip City just haven't been the same. The panic that set in after that loss caused the team to ship promising young forward Jermaine O'Neal to Indiana, a one of a series of questionable personnel decisions that saw the Blazers' stock fall faster than shares in Martha Stewart Inc.
But what if the Blazers hadn't coughed up that game to the Lakers? What if they held on and advanced to the NBA Finals that year? Would we still have had to live through the same quagmire of a team that took the floor in recent seasons?
Funny you should ask.
For the purposes of demonstration only, I'm going to allow you this one-time glimpse into what might have been . . .
June 4, 2000
After losing a 15-point advantage in the final 10 minutes of regulation, the Blazers' season looks all but over. However, with the Lakers nursing an 81-79 lead in the closing minute, Shaquille O'Neal, on a lob from Kobe Bryant, clanks a sure dunk off the back rim, and Portland has new life. The Blazers regroup and tie the game on two free throws by Rasheed Wallace, setting up a four-overtime thriller eventually won by the Blazers, 114-113.
The hero is Jermaine O'Neal. Summoned from the end of the bench after Wallace, Brian Grant, Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis foul out, he continually saves the Blazers at both ends of the court. This prompts coach Mike Dunleavy to say, "Maybe I was wrong about the kid."
June 14, 2000
Portland sweeps Indiana 4-0 [color=darkred:4c3461f7d7](Fat chance, but it's his dream)[/color] to win the NBA championship. Again coming off the bench, O'Neal averages a double double (12 points, 10 rebounds). Pacers general manager David Kahn is quoted as saying, "I'd trade for him tomorrow if I could." Upon hearing that, Bob Whitsitt responds, "The city of Portland has a better chance of building a baseball stadium than Indiana does of getting O'Neal." Kahn takes note.
Aug. 30, 2000
In a surprise move, Whitsitt announces his resignation to become commissioner of the new RBA (Rotisserie Basketball Association). Kiki Vandeweghe is named his successor and makes his presence felt immediately by sending Grant to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic. Vandeweghe justifies the trade by saying Grant had become expendable with the emergence of O'Neal, and "you can never have too many jump shooters."
In shock from their playoff defeat at the hands of the Blazers, and needing more muscle up front, Los Angeles ships Bryant to Cleveland for Shawn Kemp. A beaming Phil Jackson says, "Kemp is going to be HUGE for us."
April 29, 2001
Portland, behind Stojakovic and O'Neal, eliminates the Lakers 3-0 on its way to back-to-back NBA championships.
July 25, 2001
The Blazers make another deal, sending Wallace to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. When informed of the deal, Wallace is heard to mutter, "As long as the T-Wolves cut the check at the end of the day, I'm with them."
June 13, 2002
On the heels of the Blazers' third consecutive NBA title, Dunleavy stuns the team by leaving to take the Timberwolves' coaching job. Despite the team's success, Dunleavy is heard to say, "It's just a little too quiet without 'Sheed around." Portland turns to former Blazer Terry Porter to replace him. Porter immediately hires Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey as his assistant coaches.
Portland also trades Bonzi Wells to Cleveland for a future first-round draft pick.
August 1, 2002
The Lakers, smarting from yet another first-round playoff exit, send Shaquille O'Neal to Philadelphia for Dikembe Mutombo and, at Kemp's insistence, a cheesesteak to be named later.
June 15, 2003
It's four championships in four years for the Blazers, this time over the Shaq-led 76ers.
Down south, Mutombo and Kemp can't keep Los Angeles from missing the playoffs and plunging into the draft lottery.
June 4, 2004
Porter's Blazers dispatch Minnesota in the Western Conference finals and are heavily favored to win their fifth consecutive championship. The team's starting lineup now consists of Jermaine O'Neal, Garnett, Stojakovic, Stoudamire and rookie LeBron James, chosen with the draft choice from the Wells trade.
Los Angeles, languishing in the Pacific Division cellar, fires Jackson and has a press conference to announce its new coach . . .
David Benedetti lives in Northeast Portland
[color=darkred:4c3461f7d7]I remember Blazer fans and the media thinking Portland had stolen Dale Davis from the Pacer's.
His workmates had to give Peck oxygen.[/color]