Don't worry about how Travis Outlaw will represent Portland as a rookie for the Trail Blazers next season.

There's much more reason for concern about who the Blazers will have around him.

Travis' father, John, is assistant chief of the Starkville, Miss., police department. He and other members of the family are expected to be on hand at times to help the talented but raw teenager with his transition to the NBA and the big city.

But they can't control the influence that Blazer veterans will have on him.

Character was a major ingredient of the San Antonio Spurs' run to the NBA championship last month. It began with players such as David Robinson showing Tim Duncan the way to conduct himself en route to a title in 1999.

This time, it was Robinson, Duncan, Steve Kerr and friends showing youngsters such as Stephen Jackson that class is ultimately every bit as important as skill.

Portland has not had such an element since the mid-'90s, when Bob Whitsitt began to dismantle the Clyde Drexler-led group that made appearances in the NBA Finals in 1990 and '92. Whitsitt liked to say he never majored in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and he evidently flunked every course in character along the way. Some of the players he brought in were good people, but it was all coincidental, and the mix was never quite right.

Bonzi Wells came upon the scene with a nice little history of transgressions, and in his first couple of seasons in Portland his avowed role models were J.R. Rider and Rasheed Wallace. 'They taught me the ropes,' Wells said a couple of years ago.

Had Wells been able to shadow locker-room leaders who had more integrity, he might not have displayed the behavior that put him on the suspended list three times last season.

During the past season, Blazer youngsters Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods spirited around a locker room that includes among its leaders Wallace and Wells. You get the picture. This is not a good thing.

Steve Patterson understands the situation he has inherited. The Blazers' new president will do what he can to surround Outlaw with teammates who know what it means to be a professional. There's probably no quick fix.

'We have some decisions to make regarding player personnel,' Patterson said last weekend. 'We have to deal with some character issues. By that, I don't mean somebody gets traded É (but) guys need to comport themselves in a proper fashion.'

Near the top of Patterson's to-do list is Wallace, who has a season left on a contract that calls for him to make $18 million next season. The volatile forward is Portland's most talented commodity, and Patterson has a balancing act to accomplish. He understands the community's disgust with Wallace and its desires to move him and get on with a new era of Blazer basketball.

But Patterson, like any good executive, wants to experience Wallace's behavior firsthand before making any decisions. In the early '90s, Patterson dealt with a period of insubordination by Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. Maybe, the Blazer president thinks now, Wallace can be turned around, too.

If not, Patterson must try to get the most value in return. It may mean that Wallace isn't dealt until before the February trade deadline. Or perhaps the Blazers will play out the season and allow him to go into free agency next summer, swapping player value in return for the deduction of $18 million in payroll.

Outlaw probably will like Wallace, as do most of his teammates. Many of the same players enjoyed Rider during his time in Portland. Which creates a problem that has endured too long in P-town. With luck, Patterson will find a way to jettison Wallace before he has time to make much of an impression on the cop's kid from Starkville.

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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