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Trail Blazers work out big men in draft preparation

Posted May 29 2012 5:04PM - Updated May 29 2012 5:29PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Portland Trail Blazers opened draft workouts with a look at two big men, North Carolina's Tyler Zeller and Meyers Leonard out of Illinois.

Zeller, at 7 feet and 250 pounds, is the more experienced of the two, having played all four years for the Tar Heels. Last season as the ACC Player of the Year, he averaged careers highs with 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.53 blocks per game.

Leonard, at 7-foot-1 and 245 pounds, played two years at Illinois. Last season he averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.88 blocks.

Portland has the 11th spot in Wednesday night's draft lottery in New York, which will determine the order teams will draft on June 28. The Blazers could potentially have another first-round selection if New Jersey doesn't draw one of the top three picks in the lottery. The Blazers acquired the protected first-round pick at the trade deadline when the team sent forward Gerald Wallace to the Nets.

The Blazers also have two second-round picks in the draft.

Portland finished the lockout-shortened season 28-38 and out of the playoffs for the first time in four years. The team is currently without a general manager or a head coach.

Interim GM Chad Buchanan took over a year ago when the Blazers dismissed Rich Cho after less than a year on the job. Coach Nate McMillan was fired at the NBA trade deadline and the Blazers named assistant Kaleb Canales to the job for the rest of the regular season.

Canales conducted the team's first draft workout on Tuesday. The team expects to look at as many as 40 players in the weeks leading up to the draft.

The Blazers don't have the best reputation when it comes to high-profile big men. Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, was finally waived this season after four major knee surgeries. Before that, there was often-injured center Sam Bowie, whom the Blazers took with the second pick in the 1984 draft, passing on Michael Jordan.

Both prospects shrugged when asked if they thought Portland was jinxed.

"I don't think anybody's that superstitious about it," said Zeller. "It happens."

Leonard added: "You've just got to go out and play and do what you can do. The jinx isn't something I can worry about."

Both Zeller and Leonard are projected to be first-round selections.

"I think they're both very talented and I think they'll both get a lot of consideration from teams in the lottery," Buchanan said. "It's hard to find centers."

In addition to four draft picks, Portland figures to be active on the free agent market in the offseason. The team could have as much as $24 million in cap space to work with. Right now the priorities include re-signing forward Nicolas Batum and acquiring a starting point guard. Buchanan has said that a center is also high on the list.

Portland worked out several other players, including former Oregon guard Garrett Sim, who is from Portland, and former Long Beach guard Casper Ware, a two-time Big West Conference Player of the Year.

Sim, who says he was probably 4 when he went to his first Blazers game, said he's hoping to get on an NBA Summer League team.

"Man, this is fun," he said. "You can't look at it as stressful. You just take the opportunity and make the most of it."

The Blazers also announced Tuesday that the team had agreed to a single-affiliation partnership with the NBA Development League's Idaho Stampede starting next season. Portland will be the Stampede's sole affiliate and have control over basketball operations.

The Blazers, Jazz and Nuggets were all affiliates of Idaho last season.

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