Blazers look to rebound from ugly season
Change would be expected after a 21-61 season, and the Portland Trail Blazers obliged.
A flurry of offseason moves, including six draft-day trades, added seven new players to the roster and inspired hope that the team can shed its reputation for off-court problems.
Though management's campaign to rebrand the team has centered around younger players such as Martell Webster and rookie Brandon Roy, much of the attention during Monday's media day focused on veterans Darius Miles and Zach Randolph.
Miles averaged 14 points last season, but missed half the games with a knee injury. Randolph averaged 18 points and eight rebounds &
good statistics, but numbers that have declined for two consecutive seasons.
Miles angered coach Nate McMillan last year with his often lackluster effort, and he was sent home from a road trip late in the season after changing into street clothes at halftime of one game. Randolph ended up on the police blotter twice during the offseason &
once when a car in which he was a passenger was stopped for street racing, and again when he was named in a sexual assault complaint. The Multnomah County District Attorney's office declined to press charges.
McMillan, who spent part of his summer as an assistant coach with the U.S. basketball team, said he spent a lot of nights in hotel rooms thinking about how to improve the Trail Blazers. "This season is a different year," he said. "What is behind us is behind us. Our message is that desire needs to be shown through our effort.
"I hope to get that through to all our players, not just Darius, not just Zach," he added. "We all have to change. We all have to show improvement."
Miles had said he wanted to be traded, but on Monday he said he wants to stay with the Blazers. Miles added that he has no particular expectations of being a starter and doesn't expect to be a team leader.
"Next year, I can step up and be a leader," he said. "(This year) more of a follower."
Veteran center Joel Przybilla said he recognizes that Miles is uneasy with his role on the team and wants to bring him back into the fold.
"His situation is that we want him," Przybilla said. "I want him. He's a heck of a player and to win ballgames we're going to need him. Deep down he wants to be here. I know he wants to be here and shake off all the negative stuff that's happened."
The Blazers were the talk of the NBA during a frenetic draft day that saw them land four first-round picks, including Roy, forward LaMarcus Aldridge of Texas and point guard Sergio Rodriguez of Spain.
The Blazers also acquired veterans Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau.
Przybilla re-signed with the team in July, agreeing to a five-year, $32 million deal. Later that month, center Jamaal Magloire came over from Milwaukee for Steve Blake, Brian Skinner and Ha Seung-Jin.
"We're starting fresh," Przybilla said. "It's a new year and everybody has a second chance. I'm going to step up and be more of a leader, be more vocal. Now that I know I am set in stone to be a leader, I'm going to voice my opinion."
The Blazers should have more of a half-court offense than last year's team. Speedy point guard Sebastian Telfair was traded on draft day, and more of the offense could run through power forward Randolph, who is in the third season of a six-year, $84 million deal.
Second-year guard Jarrett Jack could be the starter at point, but McMillan said he'd also like to try Roy in that position. Roy played shooting guard in college.
The addition of Magloire and LaFrentz could shore up the post, especially with Aldridge recovering from shoulder surgery.
Both McMillan and team president Steve Patterson said they expect significantly more wins this season. Przybilla even said the playoffs were in reach, but noted that the Blazers at least need to continue remaking their image in the community.
"That's what this organization needs, what this city needs," Przybilla said. "On the court and off the court."