|Not the NBA's worst this season, the Blazers have reason to hope|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 19 April 2007 23:45|
The reason? Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez. Portland's rookies have given the team high hopes for the future.
``I'm sitting in the locker room, listening to the coach's speech, and my heart was pounding getting excited for next season,'' Roy said after this season's finale.
The Blazers finished 32-50, with 11 more wins than in the previous season.
``Last year was such a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes they just didn't have any effort in those blowout games,'' coach Nate McMillan said. ``But this season they came into practice from the very first day and worked hard, and they continued to give us an effort in every game.
``I like this team, and I'm excited about this summer - the draft, free agency, summer league, getting perhaps a player or two to put us over the hump.''
Roy was named the West's rookie of the month three times, was named to the All-Star game's rookie squad and appears to be the frontrunner for the league's rookie of the year honor.
He averaged 16.8 points to lead all rookies, and had 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
Roy, who played at Washington, was picked up by the Blazers on a wild draft day in which they made six moves. The Blazers also got first-rounders Aldridge and Rodriguez.
Aldridge averaged 9.0 points and 5.0 assists, thriving as a starter after Joel Przybilla had knee surgery. But he gave the Blazers a scare late in the season when he left a game because of dizziness and shortness of breath. Tests revealed a heart condition called Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which is treatable and not career-threatening.
Rodriguez, who is from Spain and has drawn comparisons to Steve Nash, was hampered by a midseason ankle sprain. But he showed flashes of his aggressive, up-tempo game with averages of 3.7 points and 3.3 assists.
``We're so young,'' Aldridge said. ``When you look at everybody we have coming back, you have to think we're going to be good.''
The trio provided a supporting cast to Zach Randolph, who averaged 23.6 points and 10.1 assists. He was one of just five NBA players to finish with averages over 20 and 10.
The surprise of the season was Ime Udoka, a Portland native who was a fall camp invitee and became a starter averaging 8.4 points and 3.7 rebounds.
In the front office, the Blazers also made key moves.
Team owner Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, decided to reacquire the Rose Garden. He relinquished the building in 2004 when his company that ran it declared bankruptcy. Then, last season he announced the team was losing too much money and it might have to move.
The ownership issue was resolved last summer when Allen took the team off the market. Getting back the Rose Garden meant the Blazers will again make money from things like luxury boxes and concessions - and all signs point to the Blazers staying in Portland.
The Blazers also let go of Steve Patterson, who was serving as president and general manager. Kevin Pritchard, an assistant GM and former director of player personnel who is considered one of the up-and-comers in the business, was recently named GM.
One of the big offseason questions surrounds Travis Outlaw, a free agent. Outlaw, who just finished his third season with the Blazers, had a career-high 36 points in the season finale, a 120-98 loss to Golden State.
The 22-year-old has attracted attention from several teams, but coach McMillan has said he hopes the Blazers can keep him.
A question at the start of this season - Darius Miles - was resolved in the short term when he had season-ending surgery on his knee. He did not play in a single game.
Miles had ended the season before complaining to McMillan that he wanted to be traded. In one notable incident, he changed into street clothes at halftime without McMillan's permission.
This season, no one told McMillan he wanted out.
``There was no quit in this team. We fought to the end, so that gives you a positive outlook, to know the person next to you is always going to fight with you,'' said guard Fred Jones, acquired in a deadline trade with Toronto. ``Every team feels like next year is their year. We just have to be the ones who work hard to make it happen. It's not going to be given to us, we have to take it.''