Special to ESPN.com
They are trailblazers, all right, true Portland pioneers, doing things no other franchise has ever dared to try.
Doing things impossibly backwards.
Warn the Blazers, over and over, that they can't win without a clearly defined Go-To Guy, and what happens? They let their best player rage out of control until he degenerates from troubled hot head into thoroughly undependable Goes-Away Guy.
Caution them constantly about packing too much heat onto one roster, for fear of turning the locker room into a scorching greenhouse, and how does Trader Bob Whitsitt respond? By assembling The Best Team Money Can Buy, or the Trail Mix, or whatever you want to call this costly lab experiment that's defying the laws of physics.
Yes, our beloved Blazers are bidding to become the first life forms on record to live in the rainy Pacific Northwest ... and still melt.
Sounds impossible, true, but remember: That's what pioneers do.
These pioneers, anyway. They did the same thing last season -- following a 45-11 start with a 14-12 swoon -- and they're repeating the implosion in implausibly more fatal fashion, sliding from best in the West just two weeks ago to fifth place, a half-game ahead of Dallas after beating the Mavericks on Tuesday. It doesn't get easier for Portland, which has won twice in its past eight games: The Blazers are at Utah on Thursday.
Forget your Big Dance bracket and that Where's The Grizz Goin' office pool. Put the big money on Rasheed Wallace, stuck on six ejections and counting, to crack the magical 40-technicals barrier by week's end.
Mr. T has 38 already, through 68 games, for a 45 pace. He's already tied his own NBA single-season record, established in 1999-2000.
And that's just No. 1 on our list of virus strains to infect this Paul Allen enterprise. Team Microsoft is guilty of far more than merely letting Wallace go unregulated for so long.
Whitsitt has made way too many moves with Allen's money. Even before signing Rod Strickland, which inevitably unsettled Damon Stoudamire and Greg Anthony, he summoned Detlef Schrempf out of retirement to fill in for an injured Scottie Pippen. Which ruffled Stacey Augmon. And the offseason, don't forget, brought Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp, who -- surprise, surprise -- don't fit so snugly in the same frontcourt as Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis. Bonzi Wells has further muddled things by becoming Mike Dunleavy's second-best player, which takes minutes away from the classy Steve Smith.
Worst of all, Whitsitt defended all the wheel-dealing with a Quote O' The Season contender, smugly pointing out that "I wasn't a chemistry major in college, I was a sports major." Translation: Let the coach sort out the jumble, no matter who we foist on him. Not textbook GM-ing, is it?
Dunleavy, meanwhile, doesn't know which coaching manual to consult for this mess -- a 2-5 skid since the Strickland signing. It has been suggested that he simply settle on the eight or nine names he likes best, cementing a rotation no matter who it angers, instead of trying to keep so many folks happy. Since he'll probably pay with his job either way if the Blazers fail to win the championship. Problem there, of course, is that Wallace and even Wells are so volatile. Not a twosome you want to rely on heavily, huh?
Thus the storm warnings are ominous, even by Portland standards. Defense is suddenly just a rumor up there, which, as we've seen with the Lakers, is a common problem for clubs that aren't chummy. During the recent five-game skid, which included those two stunning losses to the Grizzlies, the Blazers allowed 95.2 points per game. In the first four defeats, before an 84-79 setback to Phoenix, it was 98 points per game. Portland's season average is only 90.5.
Then there's our old pal Scottie The Sidekick, who had us worried as early as November. In the very first month of the season, Pippen could be heard admitting that he has "a tendency to pace himself" because he knows "that our team is so talented."
"Whether it's pacing myself for the long haul, or just for one game, I don't put any stress on myself to carry this team on my back," Pippen said then.
Uh, we've noticed. We watched Game 7 of the conference finals.
Now there's more. The latest Pippen revelation: "We are sort of breaking apart as a team, and ... nobody really knows the answers right now. It's going to take some razzle-dazzle on Mike's part to try to put the right guys in, but that's why he gets the big bucks."
Funny, we thought that's why Pip got the big bucks, to show the way to the title. Apparently, Six Rings Scottie makes $13.75 million to slam water bottles to the ground when he gets pulled out of a game. Or to say things on the bench like "This [expletive] can't coach," loud enough for reporters to hear.
See, it's all backwards. Like melting in the rain.
But Blazermaniacs needn't be too concerned, since it's still a tad early to abandon all hope of a big rebound. Besides, who needs home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs? Word on the street suggests that George Karl wouldn't mind coaching all those wild pioneers if Dunleavy indeed gets fired, and that Gary Payton definitely wants to move to Portland as soon as possible. That should stabilize things.
Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.