Monday , Jan , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

What should Portland do?

(Sports Network) – What a mess in Portland.

The Trail Blazers, who are 16-23 and very close to ending up in the cellar
in the Pacific Division, are struggling this season and look like they will
miss the postseason for the first time since the 1981-1982. Portland fans
should start to prepare themselves for some lean years, as the time has come
for the Blazers to get rid of the bad seeds and re-build their roster
through the draft and free agency.

Portland has problems with its roster on and off the court. However, now is
not the time to reflect on the past. It is time to move forward in a
different direction.

Team general manager John Nash will be the architect behind the process to
re-shape Portland’s roster. How is he going to do it?

Nash already traded multi-talented swingman Bonzi Wells, 27, earlier this
season to the Memphis Grizzlies for 32-year-old swingman Wesley Person, a
conditional first-round pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and cash considerations. If
the Grizzlies’ first-round choice in the 2004 draft is one of the top three
picks, the team has the option to keep the selection.

Prior to being traded, Wells was stripped of his team captaincy and suspended
for two games by the Blazers after he cursed at head coach Maurice Cheeks.

The Blazers did not get the better player in the Wells deal. But, what they
did acquire was a draft pick from a team that has had trouble making the
playoffs in the past, and that could lead to a chance to selecting a talented
player in the draft.

This is the type of deal Nash is going to have to make. He should look to
clear up space under the salary cap by acquiring players in the final year of
their contracts, even if it means giving up the more talent player.

Who else needs to go? How about Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Ruben
Patterson and Dale Davis for starters. Wow, that is one-third of Portland’s
active roster.

The 29-year-old Wallace has been rumored to be the center of serious trade
talks that would land him in Dallas. The talented, but hot-head North Carolina
product has a lot of value and also makes a lot of money. With a salary cap in
place in the NBA, it makes it much more difficult to makes moves. Nash has to
be creative when it comes to dealing Wallace, but it will definitely be for
the best.

The Portland GM is also going to have to use his imagination when it comes to
dealing veteran players like Stoudamire, Patterson and Davis. All three
players have significant contracts and come with excess baggage. They will be
tough sells to other teams, but it can be done with a little bit of
creativity.

There are two positive things for Portland to look at. The first is its head
coach. Cheeks, who is in his third year as the general of the Blazers, is a
class act and a solid coach. In his first two seasons, Cheeks led the Blazers
to 99 wins, but has not able get his team out of the first round of the
postseason. In fact, Portland has not made it out of the opening round since
the 2000 playoffs.

The other positive is that there actually is a player for Portland to build
around. Third-year veteran Zach Randolph has turned himself into an excellent
power forward. The 22-year-old Randolph, who was selected out of Michigan
State by the Blazers in the first round (19th pick overall) of the 2001 NBA
Draft, is a good starting block.

Randolph has emerged as Portland’s leading scorer and rebounder this season.
As long as he can be a good citizen and stay out of trouble off the court, one
piece of the puzzle is in place.

At this point, it does not matter what kind of talent Portland gets in return
when making trades. As long the Blazers load up on draft picks and players who
are either in the final year of their contract or have one, even two years
left on their current deal, they’ll be better off.

Nash and the rest of the Portland organization should come to grips with the
fact that losing is only going to make them better. It is going to take time,
but remember, Rome was not built in a day!

POR