OK, let's stop for a moment and give the Trail Blazers an ovation for pushing the Dallas Mavericks to a seventh game. OK, stop. That's enough. Now that it's over, it really didn't matter all that much, did it?
This never was a case of whether the Blazers would win the series Ñ it was if Dallas would lose it. And there's not much difference between losing a series in four games or seven. A first-round loss is a first-round loss.
And when you have an obscenely high payroll, yet lose in the first round of the playoffs for three years in a row and seven of nine years under the same general manager, it means changes must be made. In this case, major changes. And it worries me that because the Mavericks got a little careless and allowed Portland to hang around an extra week, people will mistakenly see this as a franchise that doesn't need a thorough housecleaning.
Of course, Bob Whitsitt needs to go. Of course, Rasheed Wallace needs to be traded. Of course, we could do without Bonzi Wells and Ruben Patterson.
Do I think anything major will happen? No, of course not. I don't think, in fact, that Whitsitt is in any trouble at all. If he could withstand the whole Shawn Kemp mess and the trade of Jermaine O'Neal, what harm will yet another first-round playoff loss do?
My belief is that most of the team will be back, too. A good many of them are untradable because of the ridiculous contracts Whitsitt has given them.
The coaching situation is easy to figure. Maurice Cheeks will most certainly be back. He works cheap, won't stand up to the front office and has gotten the team more positive publicity than anyone since Bill Schonely.
But in spite of a warm-and-fuzzy media blitz that has turned Cheeks into something just a little short of Mother Teresa, it must be pointed out that the Blazers are woefully lacking in the coaching department.
Even Cheeks' apologists had to concede that the team had a serious discipline problem. The art of coaching is to get players to do what they really don't want to do Ñ get them to work harder than they think they can, accept roles they may not like and behave themselves on and off the court. Buddying up to players, the current 'system,' never works over the long haul.
Discipline is a direct result of coaching. A lack of discipline is, quite obviously, a lack of coaching.
And all year long, the only way Cheeks managed to bump into anything resembling a solid playing rotation is when his players were either hurt or suspended. Loath to upset any of the lads he baby-sits, Cheeks was very reluctant to settle on just eight or nine players when it was easier to use 10 or 11.
The thing that got the Blazers going against Dallas was the injuries Ñ which forced the rotation to be shaved. If Derek Anderson didn't get hurt, we wouldn't have seen much of Zach Randolph. If Pippen weren't gimpy, Damon Stoudamire would have gotten puny minutes. If Dale Davis didn't go down in Game 6, Arvydas Sabonis never would have started Game 7.
Cheeks had a terrible time figuring out what most of Portland knew all along: Randolph and Sabonis should have been playing much bigger roles.
I mean, can you explain to me why Sabonis didn't make it into the starting lineup until Game 7? I assumed they were just saving his body during the regular season. But this was the postseason, and he was capable of dominating the Dallas big men and getting his teammates better shots. So why is it he barely played in the early part of the series?
It made no sense, but we're accustomed to that Ñ I mean, why was Stoudamire the only player Cheeks decided to bench for long stretches of the year?
Speaking of discipline, why did Qyntel Woods play in a game the day after his wild ride through the Terwilliger curves? Why did Pippen play so many regular-season minutes when it was obvious he needed to be healthy in the playoffs for this team to go anywhere?
A lot of questions and not many answers. That should mean a lot of changes. But I doubt if it will.