What If Wednesday: If Brandon Roy stayed healthy

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If you are unfamiliar with Brandon Roy or what kind of impact he made on the Trail Blazers and the city of Portland, then listen up. Roy was a man who changed what basketball meant to the people in Portland as Clyde Drexler had done in the late 80s and early 90s. Basketball is alive and well in Portland and Brandon Roy is a big reason for that even though he is no longer around. Let’s take a look at Roy’s beginning and the road he took in his career and see how the Portland Trail Blazers might look today if Roy didn’t have so many injury issues.

On June 28th, 2006, Brandon Roy’s name was announced at the NBA Draft as the 6th overall pick. He was originally drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Portland Trail Blazers made a quick move to deal for Roy trading the draft rights for Randy Foye for him. Roy wasn’t the only player that Portland traded for in that draft. LaMarcus Aldridge was drafted 2nd overall by the Chicago Bulls and Portland valued him tremendously as well. The Trail Blazers dealt Tyrus Thomas (the 4th pick in that same draft) and Victor Khryapa for LaMarcus Aldridge. So, to sum up, Portland traded three players who have never made too serious of an impact on any team in their career for two perennial all-stars. To put it lightly, the 2006 NBA Draft was a success for Portland.

The 2006-2007 NBA Season was not one that started with much hope from Portland fans. The Trail Blazers had missed the playoffs for 3 straight years without being over .500 or even somewhat close to it in those years. Zach Randolph was the face of this franchise, leading the team in points (18.0) and rebounds (8.0) per game the prior year. Brandon Roy came onto the scene as a rookie just trying to make a name for himself, and boy did he ever.

In Brandon Roy’s first career game, he played his hometown team the Seattle SuperSonics, being born in Seattle, Washington. He finished with 20 points on 10/16 shooting in the game. Roy’s skills and incredible ability to create his own shot were immediately noticed. Roy’s rookie season was a complete success averaging over 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game which was good enough for him to win the Rookie of the Year Award. With Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge in their rookie years and still trying to find how they fit in the league, the Portland Trail Blazers did not have a good enough team to make a real impact in the Western Conference with only Zach Randolph as their true star. This would be the 4th straight season that the Trail Blazers missed the playoffs.

Management decided to make a huge change to commit to Aldridge and Roy for the future as they traded Zach Randolph away to the New York Knicks along with Fred Jones for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. Portland would eventually waive Steve Francis a couple weeks later. The Portland Trail Blazers had the 1st pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and with it, they chose Greg Oden. Kevin Durant, as we remember, went 2nd in that draft and many fans pleaded for them to draft him, but the organization loved how Oden was at Ohio State. The question with regard to Greg Oden, like Roy, was if he could stay healthy. Unfortunately from his rookie season, you could tell Oden would not be able to play in the NBA for a long time because he could just not remain healthy.
Brandon Roy’s 2nd year was an exciting one, but did not live up to the full potential. Things were going slow early on for Portland and after a 21 point loss to the Spurs in the first game of December, the team had realized that they hit bottom. With a record of 5-12 and 2007 about to end, things were looking bleak for Portland. I don’t know what happened and many of those players don’t know either, but they finally started to all play as a team. Travis Outlaw was the 4th quarter magician, Steve Blake and James Jones did their job as role players, and LA and Roy did their thing leading the way for the team in scoring. During a 13 

game winning streak, Roy had 10 games with 20+ points and in 6 of those games he went for 25+. After the 13 game hiatus, the Blazers went back to their mediocre ways, but there was definitely a sign of life in this team for the future.

The Trail Blazers would enter the All-Star break with a record of 28-24. Brandon Roy had himself a fantastic first half of the season that would earn him his first All-Star nod. Roy posted 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists in his coming out party to the basketball world. After the All-Star Game, Brandon Roy was not himself as he was dealing with a right ankle injury. So, the Blazers yet again would miss on the playoffs for the 5th straight year finishing with a 41-41 record. One thing was for sure though, Brandon Roy had made a name for himself and planted his stake as the face of the Portland Trail Blazers organization for the future.

2008-2009 was the beginning of terrific times for the city of Portland as once again, the playoffs would come to Oregon. The season began in similar fashion as it did the previous few seasons with the Blazers losing 3 of their first 4 games. The 5th game of the season was an unforgettable one though.

The Blazers would face off against the Houston Rockets on November 6th, 2008 in a thriller. Brandon Roy had not proven that he could be that guy for Portland late in games yet, but this game surely proved it. Roy entered the final seconds shooting 4/16 from the field. An off night to say the least. What happened next has to be seen to believe:

Wow, just incredible. No words can describe that kind of performance from Roy. A young player struggling all game having the courage to take that shot and hit it is extremely impressive. Then he commits the foul on Yao to allow the Rockets to pull out a victory? No, he keeps his composure and takes a jump shot from essentially half-court with under a second to go and…. nothing but net. Cold-blooded.

Again that year, and in the very next month, Roy would do something phenomenal. December 18th, 2008 was the date where Brandon Roy had a career-high 52 points.

In the locker room following the game when he was asked what he thought about the fans cheering M-V-P when he was at the line at the end of the game, Roy had this to say:

“My No. 1 goal is to win. Not to be the MVP. Not to be the All-Star,” said Roy, who kept the game ball as a souvenir.

This has to be one of the reasons why Portland fans loved him so much. He was always so humble off the court, but on the court he was as feisty as anyone.

Brandon Roy played the entire 2008-2009 season healthy for the most part as he earned his 2nd All-Star Game appearance and finished with a career year. This season officially put Brandon Roy’s name with the likes of the best shooting guards in the NBA at the time. He finished with career highs in points (22.6), rebounds (4.7), FG% (48%), and 3PT% (37.7). Roy had never made the playoffs, but finally got his chance this year.

While the Blazers finished with an improbable record of 54-28, they still were given the 4th seed in the packed West while tied with Denver and San Antonio for the 2nd spot. So, they had to face off against the mighty Houston Rockets in the first round. While Portland was the higher seed on paper, the Rockets had the advantage in every which way. They had been there before. For Aldridge and Roy, the two stars for the Blazers, this would be their first playoff appearance.

The Rockets took home court immediately from Portland in convincing fashion by winning Game 1 by 27 points. Hope was all but gone and if it weren’t for a couple hero-like performances from Roy, this would have been a sweep. The Rockets would go on to win the series 4-2, but not by any means was this on Roy. Brandon would personally tell you that you win as a team and lose as a team, but his averages for the series were just ridiculous:

MINPTSREBASTBLKSTLFG%3P%FT%
39.826.74.82.81.21.30.4590.4710.87

Following the series loss, Ron Artest, who was a member of the Rockets at the time, notably called Brandon Roy the best player he’s ever played against because of his stellar play. Just an incredible series that would’ve undoubtedly led Roy to have the confidence to lead his team to a series win the following year, but the injury bug caught up with him at the worst time and would just not go away.

The big addition for the Portland Trail Blazers in the summer of 2009 was the addition of Andre Miller. He would be able to slot in as the starting point guard for the Blazers immediately. This would be the first real solid PG Roy would be able to play with.

Brandon Roy had another great first half of the season and it was announced that his great start would lead to his 3rd, and unfortunately his last, All-Star Game. Couple weeks before the All-Star Break, Roy would suffer a strained hamstring in the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers. Roy would miss the next 12 games before the All-Star Game and would have to sit out that game. Following the All-Star Game, Roy showed signs that he could get back to his old self, but as I mentioned, the injury bug would catch back up to him.

With only three games left in the NBA in the 2009-2010 season, the Blazers would face off against the Lakers. Roy played 11 minutes then had to leave the game with a sore right knee. Roy had already been dealing with back pain, so the news of right knee pain was just another issue Roy had to fight through. Whether he sat out or fought through it, the Blazers’ chances in the playoffs were minimal at best. Before the playoffs began, even worse news came after an MRI was done on that right knee that showed a torn meniscus. Roy would decide to hold off on the surgery until the off-season, but would still need to miss a couple games and maybe the entire playoffs.

The Blazers would face the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, but couldn’t do much without Roy. Brandon did shock everyone by returning for Game 4 to help them tie up the series at 2, but Games 5 and 6 showed obvious weaknesses from Roy and the Blazers would yet again be eliminated in the 1st round. Brandon was such a prominent shooting guard in the NBA just earlier in the season and for now on would seem as an afterthought.

The 2010-2011 campaign was utterly similar to the prior one for Brandon Roy. He started off the season well, after getting work done on his knees in the summer. What Roy didn’t know was that his knees were worse than he and the doctors had originally thought. In the middle of January, 2011 it was announced that Brandon Roy would need arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees. Just horrible news for a team heading for another playoff run. Brandon Roy would miss the next 30 games and return to a team prepared for the playoffs with Wes Matthews, Nicholas Batum, Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge all stepping up big in the absence of their All-Star. Wesley Matthews had impressed enough to hold onto Roy’s starting spot for the time being as they were still unsure of what to expect from Roy. And they were right to be cautious.

Brandon Roy came off the bench for the rest of the year and struggled with his shot. His explosiveness was no longer there and could not get any separation as he did the previous years. Brandon Roy knew his impact on this team was diminishing, so he accepted his role. Roy struggled some games so much so that he played under 10 minutes.

Playoffs time came up again and the Blazers would be playing the 3 seed Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Dallas took the first two wins at home and were in full control. Portland stole Game 3 from Dallas in a nail-biter, but Game 4 was the defining game. Not for this series, or even for the hope from Portland of advancing. But it was the defining moment for Roy’s career and the last time we would ever see Roy play like his old self. He gave everything in that game and left it all on the floor. Just watch as the only word that I can use to describe Roy’s performance is: “Magical”.

Might have been the best way to say goodbye. Brandon Roy would announce his temporary retirement from basketball during that off-season. He did return for 5 games in 2012 for the Minnesota Timberwolves to try to make some type of comeback, but it was to no avail. Brandon Roy meant so much to the city of Portland and while it might have been a disappointment to see a man like this retire at an early age, Trail Blazers fans can sleep easy knowing that Brandon Roy gave it all for the city of Portland.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers, Game 4

 

 

 What if Roy Stayed Healthy?

The million dollar question. Where would the Blazers be now if Brandon Roy stayed healthy? We are going to assume that Roy stayed on Portland the entire time and did not get traded. What would their roster look like? Would Damian Lillard still be there? Let’s take a look at what their roster would look like and what moves they would or would not have made.

The common misconception with this situation in the 2012 NBA Draft is that the Blazers would not have drafted Lillard with the #6 overall pick if they had Brandon Roy since they would have finished better than they had. While it might be true that they’d finish better, it doesn’t matter. The 6th overall pick was property of the Nets and Portland acquired that pick through dealing Gerald Wallace to the Nets. Meyers Leonard is the player that the Trail Blazers chose with their own first round pick.

In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Blazers drafted C.J. McCollum with the 10th overall pick. If Portland had Lillard, Roy, Matthews, Batum, and Aldridge all on the same team, there would be no way that they miss out on the playoffs, so you would have to lose CJ. McCollum who is a solid young player. But if you ask any Blazers fan, they would choose Roy healthy over Leonard and McCollum any day.

Now, the question is whether they would be able to keep everyone with the cap space they have. The Trail Blazers actually still have Roy’s contract on the books, owing him around 14 million just this past year. So, they ultimately would have just enough room to keep all of them.

We could only wonder how the Blazers would have impacted the Western Conference if they had a lineup of Dame, Roy, Batum, Aldridge, and RoLo with Wes coming off the bench. That is plain and simple an insane lineup. They could still have Afflalo, Blake, and Kaman as well off the bench if they wanted to keep them. Now, would the Blazers win a championship or even make the Finals? Probably not with how good the Spurs have been the last 4 years, but maybe they could have stolen a Western Conference Championship one year and challenged LeBron and Miami for a championship.

Just in terms of pure talent at the shooting guard position, I truly wonder if Roy would be a top 2 shooting guard in the NBA right now, or maybe even #1, if he were healthy. I think at this point in his career (he would be just about in his prime), Brandon Roy could very well be the best shooting guard in the NBA. Kobe and Wade are getting older and that really only would leave Klay Thompson and James Harden to contend. When Roy was on his game, he was one of the best and I can only imagine how much he would have improved if he didn’t catch the injury bug.

It’s truly unfortunate that Roy had to deal with such a variety of injuries throughout his career which eventually led to him calling it a career. Not only were the injuries unfair to Roy, but to us basketball fans as well. Now, we are simply left wondering what could have been for Brandon Roy and in my opinion, he could have been one of the greatest guards of all time.

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