McMillans itching to get the season going

Blazer coach has plenty of new blood, with just seven players back from last year
by: SAM FORENCICH, Is Zach Randolph ready to be a leader? Or will his off-the-court troubles be a distraction? Those are just two of the questions facing coach Nate McMillan as the Blazers kick off training camp.

Nate McMillan's second training camp begins today at the Trail Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin, based on the premise that new blood, the development of young returnees and hard work will result in improvement.

Portland has nowhere to go but up. The Blazers finished an NBA-worst 21-61 in McMillan's first year as head coach. There are only seven holdovers among the 14 players listed on the opening-day camp roster.

The Portland Tribune caught up with McMillan on the eve of the first workout for the coach's views on a variety of subjects. The result:

Trib: Can you believe the first exhibition game (Oct. 11 vs. Seattle at the Rose Garden) is little more than a week away?

McMillan: I'm ready to go, man. It's such a long offseason when you don't make the playoffs. You have from late April through September off. Though we have the draft, summer league and free-agent signings, you'd much rather be playing basketball into June. So it's time.

Trib: What are some of the things you hope to accomplish during training camp?

McMillan: We have a lot of new guys who we have to incorporate into things - players like Brandon Roy and Jamaal Magloire and Raef LaFrentz. We will be a different team this year in terms of style.

We're even younger than last year. It's going to be another year of teaching, of developing, of trying to build chemistry with a very young unit.

We will change some things, but primarily just simplify and not give them a heavy dose of things. We changed a lot over the course of last season, whether it was with different lineups or the style of play, because we had so many injuries.

You try to adjust to the guys on the floor, and our regulars missed more than 100 games. This year, we're going to try to keep it simple.

Trib: What do you see as the strengths of this year's club?

McMillan: We should be a better perimeter-shooting team. Last year, teams double-teamed us and zoned us. With Martell (Webster), Travis (Outlaw), Raef, Jarrett (Jack), Brandon and Juan (Dixon), we have more shooters. Hopefully, Zach (Randolph) can give us good play in the post, where he is forcing double-teams and is also able to knock down the perimeter shot.

We're balanced in the sense that we don't have a number of guys overloading one position like we did last year at the small forward spot. We're heavy with players at the point, but also very young. With Magloire, Zach, Raef and Joel (Przybilla), we have four guys who can play inside, along with the rookie, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Trib: With those five guys, do you worry you have too many post players who need minutes?

McMillan: Yes, that will be something that will have to work itself out.

When you have a young kid who was the second pick in the draft (Aldridge), you want to develop him and try and get him minutes, but we also have four guys who have proved they can play in this league.

I don't know how that's going to work out. I'll go by what I see from all of them in practice and in the games.

Trib: With Aldridge recovering from August shoulder surgery and not at 100 percent as camp starts, it might be a blessing …

McMillan: You don't have to finish that sentence. I know what you're going to say. It buys me some time, that's for sure.

Trib: When will Aldridge be ready to play?

McMillan: He'll be able to do some things as we start camp, working with (trainer) Jay Jensen and (strength and fitness coach) Bobby Medina.

Sometime in November, LaMarcus should be ready to go. You want to make sure he is as close to 100 percent as possible. With the veterans we have, we can afford to be patient.

Trib: You have only Jack, Roy, Dixon, Webster and rookie Sergio Rodriguez as fully healthy guards coming into camp. Is that enough?

McMillan: We have enough guards, but we're more inexperienced at the guard position than we were last year.

The guard play is so important. We have to throw these guys out there and live with them. Jarrett is a second-year player who wasn't a starter most of the year, and Roy and Sergio are rookies. That is a concern.

Trib: What players will provide leadership?

McMillan: Last year, I chose the team captains. This year, I want the players to make that decision. We'll go through training camp and see who leads, who deserves to be captains this year. We'll have a vote on it at the end of camp. Hopefully we'll have two guys emerge.

Trib: Are Randolph and Darius Miles going to have to be leaders?

McMillan: The team will decide who has fit that role through the month of October.

If it's Zach and Miles, those guys will be our captains. Are they leaders? We'll see who the team wants to wear the 'C' on their jersey.

Trib: How do you feel about the incidents Zach was involved with during the summer - the speed-racing charge, the hotel caper in which he was accused of sexual assault?

McMillan: That has been taken care of. What we're doing now is moving forward.

We've talked to Zach, and what we want to do is focus on getting him ready for the upcoming season.

Trib: Will the Randolph stuff be a distraction as the team starts camp?

McMillan: I hope not. What I want us to focus on is making a change with our team, both on and off the court.

We've had a lot to happen to us. We can change that. We really can't do a lot of talking about it anymore. We need to start showing that we are trying to change, that we are trying to be better, both on and off the floor.

We've talked enough. It's time for us to show to ourselves, to the organization and to the fans that we mean it.

Trib: Roy is sort of the point man for the team's desired new image. He made a big impression during summer league and is being talked about as a strong rookie of the year candidate. Do you worry about too much being thrust on him too soon?

McMillan: The attention is a good thing, but I don't want people's expectations to be too high for this guy. He's coming into a very difficult situation. He has the respect not only from our fans and the press but also from opponents right away.

He won't be able to have that normal rookie season where you can sneak in and have a good year like a Chris Paul. People are talking about him like they've already given him rookie of the year. He's almost like the NBA's version of (New Orleans tailback) Reggie Bush.

He has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He is playing on a team that is going through another transition year. What I want (Roy) to do is enjoy his rookie season. I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on him other than to go out and play and learn.

Trib: When will veteran guard Dan Dickau, who underwent Achilles tendon surgery last winter, be ready to play?

McMillan: He'll be with us to start camp, but he's not 100 percent. I can't put a percentage on it.

Dan feels he has a ways to go. He is still rehabbing. It's day-to-day with him as far as how much he can do.

Trib: What are realistic goals for this team? How many wins can you get?

McMillan: We want to try to win more games this year, even as we continue to develop our young talent. But we are still very young, and it's going to be difficult to win games.

Let's be honest. I know a lot of people want to see the L's and the W's change. If we can keep our team healthy …

Zach is the main guy. He has to have a good season … our young guys have to come along and have good seasons … if those things happen, we can win some games.

But the Western Conference is going to be as strong as it's been the last five or six years. The biggest thing for us is consistency. If we are consistent with our effort and our preparation, we'll win some games.

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