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Anything but NBA business as usual

On Sports
by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

It has been a quiet summer for the members of the Trail Blazers' coaching staff. And it is about to get even quieter.

Head coach Nate McMillan and his assistants are set to convene in Portland after the Labor Day weekend to, well, prepare for the 2011-12 NBA season along with acting General Manager Chad Buchanan.

'For us, it's business as usual,' McMillan said this week. 'We haven't changed what we're doing. Chad and I are getting ourselves ready for the season. That's pretty much where we are.'

Business as usual?

A little thing called a lockout means coaches can't have contact with players or - as per orders from the NBA office - mention any of them in a sentence when speaking to the media.

While the league's website (nba.com) still has stories on players and links to player stats and bios, any mention of current players has been stricken from each of the 30 individual team sites. Trailblazers.com features a story on Hall-of-Famer Arvydas Sabonis, photo galleries of Geoff Petrie and Steve Smith and information on the Kia Summer Tour.

Normally in the summer, assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Kaleb Canales and strength/conditioning coach Bobby Medina are with the Blazer players in their hometowns, working on individual skills to prepare for the upcoming season.

Since July 1, when the collective-bargaining agreement expired, that has been prohibited. Players are on their own.

So Portland assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff - who interviewed for the vacant Minnesota Timberwolves' head coaching position early this summer - has been at his Washington, D.C., home with wife Eugenia, enjoying visits from some of their 11 grandchildren.

Assistant coach Bob Ociepka has been in his native Chicago, looking for help in writing a screenplay for his book on mafia movies, 'Minestrone for the Mobster's Soul.'

Assistant coach Buck Williams has been at his home in Potomac, Md., trying to keep busy.

Bayno, who lives in Los Angeles, has been helping his old boss at U-Mass, John Calipari, coach the Dominican national team.

Canales worked his children's camp in his native Laredo, Texas, and is ticketed to take part in the Kia tour that hits Eugene and Medford next week.

McMillan has been here and there, conducting a one-week children's camp in Portland and also helping his children - Jamelle and Brittany - get situated. Jamelle, who graduated from Arizona State last spring, has been hired to the coaching staff at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Brittany will begin her sophomore year in the fall, studying fashion at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

'It has been a fairly busy summer,' McMillan said.

Each of the Blazer assistants, along with player development director Dean Cooper, has been rehired for another year. As I understand it, that's if there is a season or not.

'I expect all of my staff to be back, to sign their contracts,' said McMillan, who is under contract for two more seasons. 'I was happy with them (last season). They did a good job. I'm looking forward to working with them again.'

So Buchanan and his scouting staff, and McMillan and his coaching staff, will return to Portland in early September. They'll watch game video of last season and edit them into cuts of what worked and what didn't. They'll look at how to improve an offense that still doesn't produce enough easy baskets, and they'll make adjustments to a defense that still wasn't among the NBA's upper crust.

'We'll put some thoughts in place with Coach (McMillan) and get ready for when this thing happens,' said Ociepka, tiptoeing carefully in his verbage so as to not mention the lockout.

'We'll get together and talk basketball,' said Bickerstaff, following Ociepka's lead. 'You make plans as if you're getting ready to do your job.'

All of them crave desperately a 2011-12 campaign that, in all likelihood, will not get off the ground in late October as the schedule released by the NBA would suggest.

After Labor Day weekend, they'll go about it business as usual, even though it is anything but.