EGGERS: Mark Bryant, Robert Pack talk Blazers, then and now
Before there were LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts, there were Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter and Rick Adelman.
Before there was the Trail Blazers surprising first-half ride to the top of the Western Conference playoff picture this season, there were the Blazers of a quarter-century ago, who averaged nearly 60 regular-season wins and reached the NBA finals twice over a three-year period.
Two of the players on those early 1990s teams Mark Bryant and Robert Pack visited Portland on Tuesday as members of the coaching staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and offered their memories, opinions and comparisons.
Bryant, 48, was a 6-9, 245-pound reserve power forward who spent the first seven seasons (1988-95) of his 15-year career with the Blazers.
Pack, 45, was a 6-2, 180-pound reserve point guard who played the first of his 13 NBA seasons in Portland (1990-91).
Bryants second season was 1989-90, when the Blazers reached the NBA finals a year after winning 38 games with up-and-coming players such as Drexler, Porter, Jerome Kersey and Kevin Duckworth.
The 89-90 Blazers went 59-23 and swept through Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix in the playoffs before falling in five games to Detroit in the NBA championship series.
Bryant had a quick answer when I asked what made the difference that year.
Buck Williams, says the Seton Hall product, now in his 10th season as an NBA assistant after retiring as a player in 2003. He brought everything together. His presence. His defense in the middle. His demeanor. He was the glue. That was our biggest change from the previous season.
The 6-8, 225-pound Williams an undersized but tenacious power forward had arrived in a trade from New Jersey in the offseason. He would shoot .548 from the field, average 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds and make the NBA All-Defense first team that season.
The 6-7, 235-pound Drexler was 27 and in his seventh NBA season, already a three-time All-Star on his way to becoming one of the great shooting guards in history. He would average 23.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists that season.
Clyde was so good, Bryant said. There were not many guards his size so big, so strong. He could take smaller guards down low into the paint, and when his jumper was going, there was nothing you could do with him. He was right there with (Michael) Jordan as the best in the league.
There were no really vocal players on the 89-90 Blazers, but the leadership was good, says Bryant, who averaged 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds that season. We had quite a few veterans. Buck was a quiet leader. Terry would say things in spurts. Clyde was also kind of a quiet leader. You knew hed go hard every single night.
We had great chemistry, on and off the court, Bryant says. Wed have Christmas dinner at someones house, wed go eat at someones house, everybody would meet up somewhere. On the plane, wed be laughing and joking with each other. It was a family-oriented group. Everybody was close. I could go hang out with anybody on the team, from 1 to 15. Thats very rare in this league.
Adelman was in his first full season as head coach after taking over from the fired Mike Schuler in midseason during the 1988-89 campaign.
Rick was a players coach, Bryant recalled. He didnt do much yelling. but when he started yelling, you had either done something crazy or we werent playing well. If that was the case, you knew something wasnt right and it was time to get on the ball.
Bryant draws comparisons with the 89-90 Blazers and the current contingent.
It seems like this group gets along pretty good, Bryant says. They certainly have good cohesiveness on the floor. Aldridge seems like a quiet leader. Lillard reminds me a lot of Terry Porter. Id compare Wesley Matthews to Kersey relentless. (Robin) Lopez is very much like Buck was a rebounder who plays good defense.
As is the case with the current Blazers starting five, the 89-90 starting quintet was durable. Drexler, Porter, Duckworth, Williams and Kersey missed a combined 11 games, with Williams, Duckworth and Kersey playing all 82.
The major difference in the teams is depth. The 89-90 bench, led by rookies Cliff Robinson and Drazen Petrovic and veteran point guard Danny Young, combined to average more than 38 points a game. This years reserves contribute about 23.
We had a lot of guys capable of coming off the bench to really help out, Bryant says. I dont think this years (Portland) team has that as much.
But Bryant sees good things ahead for the 2013-14 Blazers.
This team can do very well, he says. They seem to be growing as a unit. Theyre still young, but they have a lot of talent. When the playoffs come, theyll fine-tune and be ready to go.
Pack came out of nowhere two seasons later, 1991-92, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Cal who played a surprising role on the team that won 57 regular-season games and lost to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls in six games in the NBA finals.
For Pack, just making that Blazers team was an accomplishment. He beat out Young for the backup job behind Porter and was instrumental in several early-season victories.
It was amazing, coming into camp and working hard to make the team, says Pack, who wound up playing for seven NBA teams and is in his sixth season as an assistant in the league. Playing with all those great professionals, guys who knew what it took to win ... we had a mission from day one in training camp. Nothing was going to get in our way. It taught me a lot and set the tone for my career, learning from Clyde and Jerome and Terry and Buck and Kevin and Danny Ainge.
Portland signed Rod Strickland as a free agent in the offseason, though, making Pack expendable. He was traded to Denver for a future second-round draft pick.
I was disappointed, Pack says. I had a good summer league and was looking forward to being a part of the team (in 1992-93) and taking the next step in my career.
Pack played only the single season in Portland, but I love this city, he says. The fans showed me a lot of love. They were on fire behind our team. Its something Ill always remember.
The 91-92 Blazers were much different than their predecessors from two years earlier.
We had a lot of veterans who had been through some trials and some letdowns, Pack says. This game has to break your heart a little bit before you really know what it takes to get to the top. I was a hungry rookie who fit in with that group and was just along for the ride. This Portland team is coming along, but its a different makeup than our 90-91 team.
Pack says the current Blazers remind him of the 1993-94 Denver team on which he played. The Nuggets hadnt made the playoffs the three previous seasons, but won 42 games and beat Seattle in the first round of the postseason before falling in seven games to Utah in the Western Conference semifinals.
These Blazers have a bright future moving forward, but there is still some growing to do, Pack says. They need to play together and gain more familiarity with one another and maybe add some pieces off the bench. But they have a chance to be good with some time.