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Blazers have a good problem

Team has two quality centers in Magloire, Przybilla, who say they will coexist
by: SAM FORENCICH, New Blazer Jamaal Magloire, who figures to share time with Joel Przybilla at center, says he’s ready to return to his 2004 NBA All-Star form.

Maybe they'll get along swimmingly. Maybe they'll divide minutes at the post and go about their business and help the Trail Blazers have a successful season.

Or maybe there will be a center controversy in Portland. Maybe Joel Przybilla or Jamaal Magloire will decide the other guy is getting too much playing time or shouldn't be starting.

Coach Nate McMillan hopes everything works out, but he isn't saying how he plans to use his pivot pair.

'We'll have to see how things shake out,' the second-year Portland coach says. 'I'm just glad to have both of them.'

All three of them, really. McMillan also has 6-11 Raef LaFrentz, an eight-year veteran who can play center as well as forward. But LaFrentz has been unable to participate in training camp so far due to a strained left calf.

'I just have to treat it and give it time and hope for the best,' says LaFrentz, who came to Portland in the draft-day trade that sent Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff to Boston. 'I first hurt it about three weeks ago during conditioning drills, then I tweaked it again a few days ago. I don't want to come out and hurt it again.'

With rookie center-forward LaMarcus Aldridge out until at least November after shoulder surgery, LaFrentz probably will get most of his playing time backing up Zach Randolph at power forward if and when he returns to the team in the preseason.

Last season, Portland was 24th among the NBA's 30 teams in field-goal percentage (.445), tied for 18th in 3-point shooting (.349), and was last in scoring (88.8 points per game). LaFrentz was acquired with the long ball in mind. Last season, he shot .392 from beyond the arc. He sank 7 of 9 from 3-point range en route to a 32-point performance against Houston.

'My role is apparent,' LaFrentz says. 'No matter what guys I'm playing with, I'm a shooting big (man). When we need a shooting big on the floor, I'll be out there. When we don't, I won't. We have a lot of bigs. Minutes will be at a premium.'

After ending the 2004-05 season as the team's starter, Przybilla split time with Ratliff last season, averaging 6.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 24.9 minutes. In July, Przybilla spurned offers from San Antonio and Detroit to sign a five-year, $32-million contract with Portland.

And still, he might not wind up as a starter. Two weeks after the 7-1, 255-pound Przybilla's signing, Portland swung a three-for-one trade with Milwaukee that landed Magloire, a six-year veteran who played in the 2004 All-Star game and has been a starting center the past four seasons.

How important is it to Przybilla to be a starter?

'It ain't,' he says. 'Whatever it takes, man. What coach (McMillan) wants me to do, I'll do. Starting doesn't mean you finish the games. I just want to play.'

Magloire was quoted this week as saying he will create a fuss if he isn't the team's starting center.

'That isn't what I meant at all,' he says. 'Of course I'd like to start, but my main ambition is to be an integral part of the team. I feel good about that after talking to (McMillan).'

Przybilla and Magloire say they have a good relationship.

'I didn't really know him until I got to Portland,' Magloire says. 'He's a very cool guy. Humble. He's a defensive presence who blocks a lot of shots.'

'We're pushing each other in practice,' Przybilla says. 'That's what we both need. I respect his game, and I know he respects mine. He was a heck of a player as a rookie, and he's gotten better as his career has gone on.'

Both entered the league in the 2000-01 season after being selected in the 2000 draft - Przybilla with the ninth pick to Houston, which sent him to Milwaukee, and Magloire with the 19th choice to the Charlotte Hornets.

Magloire experienced personal success more quickly, becoming a starter in New Orleans in his third season and earning All-Star acclaim in his fourth. But last season, he averaged only 9.2 points, his lowest total in four years.

Working with personal trainer Simeon Mars in Toronto, the 6-11 Magloire dropped 25 pounds through the offseason to get down to 255.

'Haven't been this light since college,' he says. 'I was in the gym every day through the summer. I can definitely feel the difference. I'm a double-double guy. I want to get back to the All-Star level. I want to be able to show everybody the improvement.'

LaFrentz isn't making a claim on a three-way battle to start at center.

'We all bring different things to the table,' he says, 'but at the 5 spot, those two guys will have a lot of those minutes locked up.'