By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Oct 14 2010 1:12AM
It's been another strange offseason, to say the least, in the NBA's most remote outpost. Some wanted in, some wanted out. Others aren't sure when they're getting back.
It's unpredictable. It's got to be nerve racking.
It's NBA life in Portland.
"My focus is on the team," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.
Maintaining that focus through a constant stream of distractions would wear on most mortals. Maybe McMillan has built up a tolerance, having more experience than most in plugging dams and juggling priorities. In the five years since he left Seattle, the 46-year-old North Carolina native has overseen the rebuilding of a franchise with massive image problems while helping repair a fractured fan base.
But for all the healing, breaks continue to come. Injuries nearly crippled the Blazers last season, though they somehow managed to pull enough together to win 50 games and get back into the playoffs. The offseason saw the unusual departure of general manager Kevin Pritchard and the bizarre wants-to-return-to-Spain stance of Rudy Fernandez. McMillan also overhauled his coaching staff.
Going into this season, no one is sure when former No. 1 pick Greg Oden is returning from his latest knee injury. Fernandez continues to maintain that his heart no longer is into playing in the NBA. New general manager Rich Cho is searching for more frontline depth after Jeff Pendergraph was lost for the season in the second preseason game.
While those may be reasons to break out the violin, grounds for optimism are taking root in the fertile Pacific Northwest soil. Brandon Roy is fully recovered from the knee injury suffered late last season that had the franchise's poster boy hobbling in the playoffs. Unlike the tense contract negotiations of last summer, Roy reports this year's break was void of anxiety.
All that was on his mind was the team. He just isn't making any predictions.
"I threw the whole goal thing out the window," said Roy, a three-time All-Star. "We're going to prepare to win the division and then we're going to prepare to get out of the first round."
The Blazers added swingman Wesley Matthews to the nucleus of Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. Matthews picked up a hefty $34 million deal after a stellar rookie year in Utah. The undrafted free agent has a wide 6-foot-5 frame, can shoot the three, attack the rim and defend.
"He has a lot of intangibles," Roy said.
It wasn't so long ago that Fernandez did the same. The one-time fan favorite was injured for long stretches last season, falling out of the McMillan's rotation and into a personal funk. He's asked to be released from his contract to play overseas, while stressing his desire isn't to force a trade to another NBA club.
"I want him here," Roy said. "We have to do a much better of making him feel comfortable and not leaving him out there on the island where he feels homesick."
Fernandez reported to training camp and has played well in preseason games. For now, the Blazers are trying to make do.
"Rudy is here," McMillan said. "My thing is try to take advantage of it."
More than anything, McMillan hopes his players avoid the constant trips to the training room. Thirteen different Blazers missed a combined 311 games because of injuries last season, easily the most of any playoff team. Not that the Blazers haven't been here before. Portland racked up 205 games missed in 2008-09, also a high for postseason squads.
Portland used 16 starting lineups, with not one for more than 20 games. Seven players missed significant time after surgeries, led by returnees Oden (knee), Joel Przybilla (knee), Fernandez (microdiscectomy) and Nicolas Batum (shoulder).
The early reports on both Oden and Przybilla appear to be positive. Oden is working out, though no timetable has been set for his return. Przybilla, on the other hand, is hoping to play in about 60 games. Until either returns, the Blazers are considering using Aldridge to spell Camby in the middle.
McMillan soldiers on through it all. A veteran assistant in the USA Basketball program, he was on coaching staffs that took gold at the 2008 Olympics and the recently completed World Championship. McMillan pointed out the traits that both those teams had in common, including first-rate chemistry and unity.
"Those are areas that we've always tried to work on here," he said. "There's definitely going to be more of a focus on it this season because that gives you the best chance to win."
SWAT THE INJURY BUG
No team completely avoids injury, but no team is ever stung as much as Portland. Some semblance of good health should go a long way.
DEFENSE IS THE CALLING CARD
Allowed the fewest points (94.8) of any West team last season. Held opponents to less than 100 points a West-best 58 times (44-14).
GET CAMBY SOME HELP
Marcus Camby is a more-than-capable starting center, but at 36, he could use some backup from Greg Oden or Joel Przybilla or both.
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LAST YEAR: 50-32, 3rd in Northwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, FORWARD
17.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.1 APG
One of the franchise's foundation pieces along with Roy. Has definite All-Star talent and presents matchup nightmares for foes, but also tends to drift.
NICOLAS BATUM, FORWARD
10.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG
Taking on larger role coming into third season. Solid shooter, especially from distance, and defender. French native started 25 games last season.
MARCUS CAMBY, CENTER
7.5 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.97 BPG
Defense is the 15-year veteran's forte. Ranked second in rebounding and fifth in blocks last season. Solidified a position decimated by injuries.
ANDRE MILLER, GUARD
14.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.4 APG
Struggled to find his place at times last season - his first in Portland. Is used to having the ball in his hands, but so is Roy.
BRANDON ROY, GUARD
21.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.7 APG
Team leader and one of the most complete guards around. Toughness also can't be questioned after rushing back from injury for the playoffs.
|Wesley Matthews||6-5||196||Guard||Pricey free-agent pickup brings versatility and grit to the bench. Has quickly fit in.|
|Jerryd Bayless||6-3||191||Guard||Solid backup point guard who proved last season he produce when given the chance.|
|Rudy Fernandez||6-6||198||Guard/Forward||Could be a game-changer or could be a major distraction. Up to him.|
ADDED: Wesley Matthews,Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt
LOST: Juwan Howard, Martell Webster
WESLEY MATTHEWS, GUARD
Fetching $34 million coming off a rookie season as an undrafted free agent is quite the feat. Now, it's time to prove you're worth the investment. Matthews jumped ship within the Northwest Division, leaving Utah and giving the Blazers valuable depth behind Roy and Batum. Matthews is also an insurance policy if Fernandez doesn't find his way back into the fold.
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