Damons summer of discontent
Stoudamire wants out if Blazers don't play him next year
There are plenty of reasons why Damon Stoudamire is spending his summer in the classroom, working toward a degree in media arts (with a minor in sports broadcasting) at the University of Arizona, for the first time since he left for the NBA in 1995.
Sportscasting is a potential career once his playing days end. He promised his mother, Liz Washington, that he would get his degree when he left school two terms short of graduation. And it was an excuse to get out of town.
A couple of weeks after the Trail Blazer season ended, Stoudamire arrived in Tucson. Once summer school ends in late July, he will head for Houston. A few days before training camp begins in October, he will fly home.
'I ain't coming back to Portland till it's time to play basketball,' the Wilson High graduate says. 'I ain't having no fun in Portland no more. I like Portland, I'm from Portland, but it's best if I get out of there.
'It's crazy, but I feel more embraced in other cities. They still got a lot of love for me down here in Tucson. They are the truest fans I've ever been around. Whether you do good or bad, they back you 110 percent.'
Stoudamire feels underappreciated by the fans, but the focus of his disdain lies in the way the team has used him since he came to Portland from Toronto in 1998. With the Raptors, he averaged nearly 20 points a game in 2 1/2 seasons as a water-bug-quick, volume-shooting point guard who won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award for 1995-96.
First Mike Dunleavy, then Maurice Cheeks wanted him to play the more traditional role of a setup guy for the Blazers, who had much more talent than Toronto.
Stoudamire struggled to find a balance but remained the starter, then hit rock bottom last season as Cheeks went full time with Scottie Pippen at the point. For the first time in his life, Stoudamire became a bench warmer, with 22 DNP-CDs (did not play/coach's decision) and career lows in field goal percentage (.376) and scoring (6.9 points per game).
When Derek Anderson went out because of an ankle injury, Stoudamire returned to the starting lineup in the playoffs against Dallas, averaging 15.3 points while shooting .456 from the field and an outstanding .487 (15 of 31) from
3-point range. The fast-paced game pushed by the Mavericks was a big reason for his resurrection, Stoudamire says.
'I played good, but the opponent was Dallas, and I was going to have to play that style for us to be successful,' he says. 'You have to put players in places where they can succeed.'
Stoudamire says that hasn't happened for him since he joined the Blazers.
'My whole thing with Portland is, when you traded for me, you knew what kind of guard I was,' Stoudamire says. 'I played fast, I pushed the ball in transition, I shot transition 3-pointers. Then you bring me in and change my game. You know my game. Embrace my strengths, help my weaknesses, but don't try to change me.
'Hey, every player in the league has strengths and weaknesses. You don't see (Dallas coach) Don Nelson bitching about Steve Nash when he's getting beat off the dribble all the time. Don't nobody nitpick their point guard like Portland does me. I have felt at times that nobody has my back. Just embrace what I do well, let me play the way I am capable of playing, and everything will be all right.'
Stoudamire, who turns 30 in September, has two years left on the seven-year, $81 million contract he signed after his first season in Toronto. He will make $14.6 million next season and $15.75 million in 2004-05. Those are franchise player-type dollars, not those normally paid to a middle-aged, undersized guard who sat a good portion of last season. They aren't untradable numbers, but they make it difficult unless Stoudamire accepts a Shawn Kemp-like buyout, which is unlikely.
Stoudamire and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, will be watching with interest as the Blazers select their general manager. They aren't asking for a trade, but Goodwin will request a sit-down with Cheeks, President Steve Patterson and the new GM to discuss Stoudamire's future.
'At the end of the day, I just want to know how Damon Stoudamire is going to be used,' Stoudamire says. 'If I am there in Portland next season, fine. If I'm not, fine. If you're not going to use me the way I should be used, then work out a trade. I want to be in a position where I'm loved by management and my coach, and they ride with my accomplishments.'
Stoudamire didn't complain as he rode the bench last season. He doesn't want to have to play the role of good soldier again next season.
'If you ain't going to play me, I want to be out of here,' he says. 'If you are going to play me, let's talk about it.'