Sabas decision took pressure off front office


Some realities about the Trail Blazers:

• Arvydas Sabonis knew at the end of last season that he wasn't going to be back with Portland. His wife and four children stayed in Spain during the season. He saw them only sporadically and missed them terribly.

'It is difficult to move them over here again,' Sabonis told the Tribune after the Blazers' Game 7 elimination in Dallas. 'It's not just one kid, it's four. I'm going to have to think about it before I decide.'

In June, Sabonis was quoted in a Lithuanian newspaper as saying he wouldn't return to the NBA. Chicago-based agent Herb Rudoy insisted that the 7-3 Lithuanian hadn't made up his mind, but that may have been wishful thinking, given that Rudoy stood to lose about $300,000 in commission from his client's $7 million salary.

• The new management team, President Steve Patterson and General Manager John Nash, were between a rock and a hard place. They had until today to guarantee Sabonis' contract or release him on waivers. They knew that coach Maurice Cheeks wanted Sabonis back. A $7 million price tag for 15 minutes a night seemed hefty in the Blazers' new austerity program, however. When Rudoy called Monday to say Sabonis had decided not to take his physical and wouldn't be back, it took the onus off the Blazers.

Nash says Blazer coaches convinced him that Sabonis 'is a real value to us. As we wrestled with the economics of it, I wasn't sure what our decision could be. When Herb called, it was almost a relief that we didn't have to make a tough decision. And, truthfully, it's probably the best thing for all parties.' If Sabonis 'had come back at less than 100 percent in terms of commitment,' he said, 'it wouldn't have been a good situation.'

Because of the clause in Sabonis' contract that required Portland to either guarantee it or release him, the team does not carry Larry Bird rights for future trade purposes, Nash says.

• For a coach who professes to revere Sabonis as a player, Cheeks didn't play him much. A big part of that was the advice of trainer Jay Jensen, who suggested that limiting Sabonis' minutes would preserve his health. There's truth to that, but there were times especially in the playoffs when Sabonis needed to be in the lineup. He made 24 of 36 shots in the Dallas series and simply could not be guarded, even by the great Shawn Bradley.

Sabonis will be missed and more than Patterson and Nash understand.

• Jerome Kersey's hiring as Portland's director of player programs (i.e. 'lifestyles') is part public relations move. The new management, unlike its predecessor, wants to link with the success of Blazer past, and Kersey is well-regarded by fans who remember his hustle, hard work and solid results as a player.

Kersey can be an important addition in a couple of areas. He will serve as a liaison between the front office, coaching staff and players. That should produce improved communication. And he will show the players who need it what being a professional is about.

One of his goals will be to get Rasheed Wallace, assuming he's still here, to deal with the media and the fans.

'I am going to do my damndest,' Kersey says.

And if he fails?

'I guess I will have to go to John Nash,' says Kersey, who will make some but not all of the road trips. 'Then the point system comes into effect. You have to do what is expected of you, what everybody else does. One or two people can't bump the system. It's just part of being a team member and accepting responsibility for the privilege of playing in the NBA. It creates a better environment for everybody.'

Nash says several teams have a similar position on their staff, including Otis Smith with Golden State.

'Jerome will work with players on the floor, but his duties are more all-encompassing,' Nash says. 'We wanted somebody who was a good player and citizen in the league, someone who will be able to share his experiences, give the players advice and monitor what they are doing.'

Notes: Sabonis' departure and Chris Dudley's expected retirement leaves Portland with Dale Davis and Ruben Boumtje Boumtje at center. 'All of a sudden, we become like most NBA teams, without a bona fide physical presence in the post,' Nash says. 'Dale is a prototype power forward playing center, and Rasheed is going to log some center minutes. Boom Boom will be given a serious look to see if he is ready to contribute.' Could Portland trade for a center? 'It's possible, but it is so difficult because you almost always wind up overpaying,' Nash says.

Nash says the Blazers 'have come close' to making a couple of trades. 'We are going to add a guard, either in training camp or through free agency,' says the GM, who had interest in a number of free-agent guards, including Lucious Harris and Earl Boykins. 'Now that we know Sabonis' situation, we may be able to get something done. But, frankly, I'm not wild about the guards out there.' É Nash says he would like to have made a trade or two by now but indicates that any future moves might not come till close to the start of training camp in October.