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Wholl be next in line for Blazers?

• Erin Hubert? Clyde Drexler? Jim Paxson? They could be wise choices for Paul Allen

The Trail Blazers say they will hire two people to replace Bob Whitsitt. What, you thought only one employee could possibly fill the man's shoes?

Whitsitt, who Wednesday announced his 'retirement' as the Blazers' president and general manager after nine years in the job, never moved from his home in Seattle to Portland after his hiring in 1994.

'Don't need to,' Whitsitt was fond of saying. 'My office is my cell phone.'

Now, Whitsitt and owner Paul Allen are singing a different tune, stressing the importance of acquiring new leadership 'based in Portland.' Presumably, that means actually owning a home in the Portland area, having a finger on the pulse of the community and understanding what the fans want from their team and its players.

Allen says he's launched a national search for a new president and a new GM, without providing explicit job requirements and responsibilities for each position. (By the way, 'vice chairman' Bert Kolde will lead the search. Last time we heard from Kolde, he was hiring Brad Greenberg as director of player personnel, then trimming half the club's public-relations department to save a few bucks. Welcome back, Bert.) We'll guess that the president will oversee both the basketball and business sides of the franchise, serving in some ways as a figurehead for the organization as it relates to the community.

Erin Hubert, the team's popular executive vice president, would be a logical candidate for the president's position. So, too, would Clyde Drexler, the Hall of Fame-bound guard of Blazer fame who already is planning to move his family back to Portland permanently this summer.

As for the GM post, consider Jim Paxson as a lead candidate.

Paxson, 45, was an All-Star guard for the Blazers in the early '80s and served three seasons as Whitsitt's assistant GM from 1995-98. For the last four years, Paxson has been GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Paxson's wife, Candice, continues to run a business, Paxson & Associates, in Portland.

While the Cavaliers have been a disaster under Paxson's watch, he inherited a bad situation, and the Cleveland organization has little financial wherewithal to improve things quickly. Paxson is bright and savvy to the nuances of the job and the Portland situation.

'Whitsitt brought Paxson along,' says one NBA source. 'Hiring Jim would be one way for Bob to keep his finger in the whole thing.'

A look at other potential GM candidates:

GEOFF PETRIE: For three years, Petrie ran basketball operations in Portland, presiding over the run to the NBA Finals in 1992. He resigned after Allen chose to fire Rick Adelman in 1994. In the nine years since, Petrie has turned the Sacramento Kings into the NBA's model franchise, twice earning Executive of the Year honors.

Petrie, 55, is happy in Sacramento and has three more years on his contract. It is unlikely he would return to Portland, but he would be the ideal choice. Maybe a megamillion-dollar offer, along with a dual president-GM title and a buyout of his Sacramento contract, would persuade the first draft choice of the Blazers to return.

WAYNE COOPER: The personable former Blazer center currently is Sacramento's vice president of basketball operations, primarily in charge of the Kings' draft. Cooper, 46, recently was named one of America's 100 most influential minorities in sport by Sports Illustrated. He is bright, well-schooled under Petrie and would be interested in the job.

DANNY AINGE: The Eugene native and ex-Blazer guard, now working as an NBA analyst for Turner Network Television, has been offered the chance to run basketball operations for the Boston Celtics. He is working the Celtics' game Friday against New Jersey, and his wife, Michelle, will be there, too.

'We'll talk it over this weekend and then decide,' Ainge says. 'I have a lot of things to consider Ñ lifestyle, family, the move (from Phoenix) and so on.'

Ainge, 44, probably will wind up accepting the Boston job.

CLYDE DREXLER: Drexler, 40, is interested and enjoys a good relationship with Allen. He would seem to be better suited for the president's position than for GM, where the grind would be considerable.

'That job would be perfect for me,' said Drexler, who is moving his family back to Portland full time after the school year ends in June. 'That's the position I have wanted. But I don't want to say anything until I talk to Paul.'

DAVID KAHN: The former Portland sports columnist and Indiana Pacers GM recently moved back to Portland, where he heads up the Oregon Stadium Campaign. The Wilson High grad is young and cerebral and could be a nice fit.

DAVE TWARDZIK: Twardzik's star fell dramatically when he was dumped after only two years as GM of the Golden State Warriors in 1997, and he has done mostly scouting since. But the guard on Portland's 1977 championship team has an excellent basketball mind and would be a popular choice among longtime Blazer fans.

MICHAEL JORDAN: One would think that Portland would be more attractive than Charlotte, N.C., where, from all indications, Jordan is headed. There is his continuing relationship with Nike and the opportunity to win immediately. But off results from his two years running the Wizards, you have to wonder whether he can run an NBA team.

JERRY KRAUSE: Don't laugh. Whitsitt's alter ego during his years as an NBA general manager was Krause, recently deposed in Chicago. If Whitsitt still has pull, the man known as 'Crumbs' might get consideration.

MARK WARKENTIEN: Whitsitt's loyal assistant since Paxson departed, Warkentien is the man responsible for taking Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods in the last two drafts. And he surely would keep an open ear pointed in Whitsitt's direction.

MAURICE CHEEKS: Hey, Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich also has GM duties in San Antonio.

Allen is said to be considering hiring Chris Dudley, the veteran center who is retiring as a player, for a front-office position under the GM. It would be a smart move. Allen also would be wise to find a role for another ex-Blazer, Steve Kerr, who also is ending his playing career this spring. Like Dudley, Kerr is the stuff of which any front office could benefit.