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Blazers build hope

Martell Webster says the Trail Blazers can win 40 games - nearly double what they won a year ago, when at 21-61 they owned the worst record in the NBA.

Told of the second-year swingman's prediction, Nate McMillan rolls his eyes.

'The innocence of youth,' the Portland coach says with a grin. 'I can't say a number. We're a younger team than we were last year. If we're going to be close to (40), we need Zach (Randolph) and about three other guys to have good years.'

The Blazers open Wednesday in Seattle after a 2-6 preseason. The record matters little. What counts most is the development of the young talent McMillan hopes will lead the franchise to better times in the near future.

The brightest indication of progress is the preseason play of Randolph, whose microfracture knee surgery and off-court antics over the past two years have dimmed what seemed to be a career worthy of at least occasional All-Star status. The 6-9 power forward averaged 23.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and shot 50 percent from the floor and .881 from the line in six exhibition appearances.

Randolph appears to finally be fully recovered from his March 2005 operation and is in excellent shape. If he can approach his play during the 2003-04 season - when he averaged 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds and was named the league's most improved player - fans will quickly forget about any speed racing and sexual-assault investigations.

'I voted for Zach to be captain,' rookie guard Brandon Roy says. 'He's not leading by his mouth, but by his example on the court. He's playing hard, he's hustling, he's making sure rookies are in the right spot. All I can worry about is what Zach is doing now, not what he did in the past. His effort now is great.'

A look at what fans can expect from the rest of the players on the Portland roster:

Brandon Roy: The rookie from Washington will start at shooting guard and be the backup at the point. His versatility and leadership - that's right, from a first-year player - will be integral to the Blazer success.

Jarrett Jack: He has earned the starting point guard spot, even though there is little competition. Jack shot well (50 percent from the field, .935 from the line) during the preseason but had more turnovers (26) than McMillan would like.

Joel Przybilla: He didn't do a lot in the preseason but seems poised to give Portland the six to eight points and eight to 10 rebounds, along with a couple of blocked shots, that it needs in the middle of each game.

Ime Udoka: There's no better story as the NBA kicks off the season than Udoka's. The hometown kid, a journeyman since his days at Portland State, makes the team as an afterthought free agent, then winds up as the starting small forward. The death of Udoka's father hours before the player's first scheduled preseason start makes the drama all that more compelling.

Martell Webster: The Seattle native may not be able to play in his hometown Wednesday because of a 'twisted s.i. (sacroiliac) joint in the back of his hip,' according to President-General Manager Steve Patterson. Webster averaged 16 points in his two preseason appearances but missed the last six exhibitions. Once he joins the team, he will be a key figure, probably coming off the bench at first at both shooting guard and small forward.

Juan Dixon: The veteran will be the first guard off the bench in Webster's absence and probably will enter either for Jack or Udoka. Roy will be able to fill in at either the 1 or the 3, depending on the situation. Dixon's scoring off the bench will be vital.

Travis Outlaw: He had a solid preseason, spectacular at times, and ran the floor well. His inconsistency still concerns McMillan, but Outlaw has earned a spot in the rotation.

Raef LaPrentz: The self-proclaimed 'shooting big' is just that, and his work from the perimeter and beyond the 3-point line will be important. He also can defend the 4s and 5s, which McMillan likes.

Jamaal Magloire: A turnover machine in the preseason, the 6-11 former All-Star will be in McMillan's rotation as Przybilla's backup. He needs to show more, though, if he is to be of any help.

Dan Dickau: The trustworthy squad member will be counted upon from time to time but won't begin the season in the rotation. His 3-point shooting and ball movement can be assets, but Roy will earn most of the backup point-guard minutes for now.

Sergio Rodriguez: The final preseason game at Sacramento told the Spanish rookie's tale - eight turnovers in 16 minutes. The point guard shows promise, but he's not yet ready for prime time.

Stephen Graham: The late free-agent signee is a swingman who looked good in his two exhibition appearances (12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 60 percent shooting in 28.5 minutes). The Blazers don't really need another player at his position, though, so his future is uncertain.

LaMarcus Aldridge: The second pick in the draft is gradually working into more participation in practice sessions following surgery in August on his right shoulder. The 6-11 center/forward is weeks away from playing, though.

Darius Miles: Nobody is saying it, but you get the feeling coaches and staff are trying to keep the mildly motivated small forward away from the core group as much as possible. Patterson says the club will know by the end of the week whether further surgery on Miles' knee is necessary, but he won't be playing anytime soon.

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