Team's shaky start has players talking openly about trades
There have been shaky moments during Maurice Cheeks' 2 1/2-year tenure coaching the Trail Blazers, but none more fragile than the present.
Portland has been awful on the road and sometimes not all that good at home, either. The defense is horrible, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of on-court chemistry, and many of the players suggest it is time for General Manager John Nash to shake up the roster.
'I hate to say this, but maybe this is a bad mix of players,' says Damon Stoudamire, who came to Portland in a trade with Toronto in 1998. 'I remember one of the main things in me wanting to get out of Toronto was, I wanted to go to a perennial (contender), a team that consistently got things done in the playoffs.
'Right now, man, this is frustrating. This is the most frustrated I've been in the NBA. We don't play for the 48 minutes. We don't have full concentration for the duration. That tends to hurt us. We have breakdowns at key times Ñ and in a five- or six-minute span, we lose a game, usually in the second half.'
Key reserve Ruben Patterson is struggling with his role, too. He has had some big games and others in which he is either a non-factor or a minus, such as Friday's home loss to Denver, when he went 0 for 4 from the foul line and contributed two points and no rebounds in 15 minutes.
'I just want to go out there and be Ruben Patterson,' he says. 'If I get 18 or 20 shots, I would average 20 points. I can score just like anybody else can. Everybody knows me about bringing the energy, being nasty, a good defender. I can score, too, but I'm just trying to accept my role. It has been frustrating. Win one or two, lose one or two.'
Is it time for the Blazers to make a roster move?
'Absolutely,' Patterson nods.
Even mild-mannered Dale Davis, rarely one to make waves, is feeling it. He has five technicals, perhaps a reflection of the frustration that has set in. He is on pace to average career lows in points (5.8) and rebounds (6.4), in part because of declining playing time.
Part of that is Davis dealing with back spasms, but even when he's healthy, Cheeks rarely uses him at crunch time with the outcome still in balance. Davis says he intends to talk to Cheeks about his role and might ask management to include him in a trade.
'I have considered it, definitely,' Davis says. 'I'm pretty much easygoing, but sometimes enough is enough. I know I can contribute more than what I'm doing. I've been banged up a little, and I can understand making the sacrifices. I have no problem with that. But I would like to be on the court in the fourth quarter, and I pretty much never am. We will see what happens.'
Davis says he expects to talk with Cheeks and hopefully get an idea of what the Blazer decision makers are thinking.
'You hate to think that way and you hate to talk that way,' he says, 'but I want to find out where everyone's head is and what are their plans for using me.'
The Blazers' defensive statistics are numbing. Their .473 field-goal shooting allowed is by far the worst in the NBA. They force only 12.5 turnovers per game, ahead of only Cleveland.
The Blazers have trouble scoring, too, averaging only 90.5 points, 18th in the NBA. They hit the century mark only five times in their first 31 games.
'It's time to be concerned,' Davis says. 'We are sporadic. Sometimes we have good showings. Other times, it's like we never played the game. It's a major concern. Defense has been one of the problems. (Against Denver), we didn't do anything defensively. We didn't get it done on the ball or off the ball. Our rotations were poor.
'It's time for something to happen with the makeup of this team. Maybe it's time for me to explore other options. It's no fun out there playing this way. I've been around for a while. I've been on a lot on different teams. The way we're playing, I don't think our chances (for the playoffs) are great. Going up and down like we do, you just don't develop any consistency.'
Even Zach Randolph, a staple offensively all season long, has been flagging of late. Stoudamire had words with Randolph during the Denver game but says any comments are intended in a leadership capacity. 'I have no friction with nobody,' Stoudamire says. 'If I have a problem with Zach, if I feel he's shooting the ball too much, I can address him with no hard feelings between us. You can't fault Zach for the way he has played. He plays hard. We just need to help him learn to play the right way. It's the same with Qyntel (Woods). Every time he comes in, I tell him to play aggressively, because when you do that, that's when you have success. I don't have a problem with Zach shooting the ball, because that's what he does. He's a scorer, and we need that from him.'
Blazer management hopes that the return of Derek Anderson Ñ perhaps Thursday at Minnesota Ñ will provide -the infusion of talent and inspiration the team needs. Meanwhile, Nash continues to field offers for Rasheed Wallace as the Feb. 19 trade deadline looms. Nash has shown patience in that regard. He doesn't want a fire sale. The hope is that a team will offer something worthwhile Ñ good player or players, short-term contract, solid citizen. If not, the Blazers are likely to play out the season, then wash their hands of Wallace as he slides into free agency this summer, saving the team $34 million, including $17 million in luxury tax.
Cheeks still hopes that Portland can catch fire on the road. Monday's game at Seattle started a stretch of 13 of 18 away from the Rose Garden.
'If we play at the pace we've been at, we won't be a playoff team, and that's hard to believe,' Stoudamire says. 'It could slip out of our hands in the next two weeks if we don't get things turned around. The next couple of weeks will tell a lot in terms of what will happen with this team's roster. If we're not able to get off the slide and show signs we can make a run at this thing, the obvious thing for John (Nash) to do is to see what's out there and make our team a little stronger.'
An item in ESPN The Magazine said the Blazers are looking to trade Woods after deciding he's a bad influence on Randolph. 'I don't know where that came from,' Nash says. 'There's no validity to that. Zach is a young man who is capable of making decisions for himself. That's not fair to Qyntel.'