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Blazers wont find answers at camp
SALT LAKE CITY Ñ Questions. That's what summer leagues are all about Ñ questions. There are always many more questions than answers as teams send off their collection of rookies and free agents to compete for a couple of weeks.
The Trail Blazers, here for their annual run in the Rocky Mountain Revue, have more questions than they've had in years: Where is this team headed? What is the future? Who, really, will be on this team when the season starts?
The mandate from owner Paul Allen has been to clean up the stench of previous seasons É to brighten up this franchise's image. But since that announcement, the team has said goodbye to two free agents, Scottie Pippen and Antonio Daniels, and probably won't bring back another, Arvydas Sabonis.
Sorry, but those aren't the bad apples we're talking about. Geesh, they were some of the good guys. The team knows that, of course. But it appears that chopping payroll is at least as high a priority as cleaning up the mess. And those three are free agents, so letting them go is the quickest way to dump salaries.
New General Manager John Nash is here, and his cell phone rings frequently. He thought he was close to a deal of some sort early in the week, but that cooled. There are things he'd like to do, but he's stuck with a lot of players whose ability doesn't match their salary, making them tough to trade.
'I would like to get another big player,' he said. 'But it won't be easy.'
The summer league is supposed to address the future, and the Blazers are certainly doing what they can to try to prepare for next year. They're using Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods and Ruben Boumtje Boumtje for extensive minutes and trying to figure how they'll fit into the puzzle that is next season.
Randolph is a likely candidate to increase his playing time. He's a relentless offensive player, handy around the basket and with an instinct for the ball. He plays with an exuberance, a certain joy that leads you to believe he's very fond of his job. He's here for his third season, and a lot of players wouldn't do that. They'd be on vacation.
Woods, on the other hand, plays with a visible scowl on his face and an invisible chip on his shoulder. He's leading the summer league in scoring, he's young and he has a bright future Ñ and yet he plays with all the verve of a man suffering from jock rash.
Ask scouts, who gather here in droves, about Woods and you get a wide range of opinion Ñ from 'He's got great talent' to 'I wouldn't want him on my team.'
He's going to be an interesting player to watch develop. He's got obvious offensive skills and wants to be a great player. He may already think he's a great player. But he's going to be a very big challenge to coach because he's pouty and may never be quite as talented as he thinks he is. And right now, he's absolutely horrible on defense Ñ which is usually nothing to be alarmed about, since most young players have problems in that department.
Randolph can't guard anyone, either Ñ but at least he appears to be trying. Woods watches people drive past him with a total lack of interest. I mean, if you can't guard people in summer league, you won't guard anyone during the regular season.
Boumtje is getting better. After two totally wasted seasons languishing on Portland's injured list, he's approaching his make-or-break year. He's useless on offense but can rebound and block shots. His instincts at the defensive end are good, and he's a very smart young man. He's got a chance, especially for a team that looks as if it may be pretty weak in the middle, to play a little bit.
This year's first-round pick, Travis Outlaw, seems like a nice kid. But he's so frail, he has no chance to contribute for quite a while. I suggested to one NBA scout that perhaps Outlaw was three years away from being able to play. The scout nodded his head and said, 'Yeah, three light-years.'
Nash believes that Woods and Randolph will play bigger roles this season. But again, there's the big question of how much playing time will be available.
Are there trades ahead? A free agent? Obviously, it's too early to tell. But as you may have expected, other than Randolph's ability to score, there won't be a lot of immediate help for the 2003-04 Trail Blazers on this summer league team.