Try, try again
Bonzi Wells addresses his oops-I-did-it-again behavior, says he regrets his actions
Five weeks ago, in an interview with the Tribune, Bonzi Wells laid out his plan to be a better Bonzi.
'I want to get away from all that happened the first five years of Bonzi in Portland,' the Trail Blazer guard said. 'I know I can't just talk about it. I have to be it.'
This week, Wells took a step back. Team management fined him $10,000 for his obscene gesture at two fans heckling Rasheed Wallace late in Monday's loss to Philadelphia at the Rose Garden.
Tuesday, in a mass interview with the media, Wells denied making the obscene gesture, saying with a wink that he didn't remember what happened because he sometimes 'blacks out.'
Later that day, in a meeting with President Steve Patterson, General Manager John Nash and coach Maurice Cheeks, Wells admitted his part in the incident and accepted the fine. On Wednesday, before the Blazers' victory over Memphis, he told the Tribune why he had not acknowledged guilt the day before.
The media were 'all around me, baiting me, trying to get me to talk about something they knew was on (videotape),' Wells says. 'Everybody knew, and I wasn't going to play along with that, so I played with them a little bit.'
'Probably,' he says. 'I would handle it differently if I had it to do over again.'
The same goes for his gesture to the fans, who were hurling some pretty nasty Ñ though not obscene, according to observers who witnessed the incident Ñ insults at Wallace.
'I stepped over the line,' Wells says, 'and I was wrong for that. But those (fans) were over the line, too. They went overboard. 'Sheed and Damon (Stoudamire) were doing a good job of ignoring it, but I wanted to come to their defense. They are my teammates, the guys I go to war with.'
Problem is, Wells has used up any cushion he might have with his actions in recent seasons, actions that earned him three separate suspensions a year ago.
He is apologetic Ñto a point.
'It's a little setback, but I hope not that much,' he says. 'Look, I'm not going to be 100 percent perfect. There are things you go through as a player that are hard for people on the outside to understand. Still, I can't be doing those things. I slipped across the line, and I'm going to do my best to do right from now on.'
Frustration with his own play had something to do with his part in the incident. Wells came into the season hoping to earn All-Star acclaim for the first time, but the sixth-year pro was subpar in the first three games, shooting .326 from the field while averaging 11.7 points. He was better in Wednesday's 93-87 win over the Grizzlies, scoring 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting in a solid 38-minute performance.
'Just needed to get back to doing what I can do,' Wells says. 'I've been in this league long enough to know I can play the game. It's just like riding a bicycle. I ain't ever going to lose it.'
Wells took the ball to the basket early, then sank three jump shots from the perimeter. He still missed several open shots with his floating knuckleball, but it was an improvement over the first three games.
'I didn't want to take a whole lot of shots, but I still wanted to do my thing, get myself going,' Wells says. 'My game is going to the hole and shooting jumpers sometimes when I have (isolation) spot-ups. I just played my game and figured out a way to help the team.'
Wells leads Portland in steals, is second in assists and is averaging five rebounds per game, statistics that accentuate his overall game and at least partially offset his inconsistent shooting touch.
'I'm not a shooter Ñ I'm a shotmaker,' he says. 'I can get to the basket and score on post-ups and overpower (defenders) sometimes. I'll hit my share of shots, but I have to make sure I do the other things, too.'
Cheeks says he has come to the conclusion that he has to finally put his foot down with the Blazer players.
'It is to the point where you have to say, 'No more,' ' the third-year coach says. 'That's intolerable. This stuff shouldn't happen anymore.' Cheeks says he will meet with the team.
'I don't know when I will do it,' he says. 'I don't think it will be something I will plan. It will be impromptu, but it's going to come. I hope it comes before another incident.'
Monday's crowd of 16,218 was the smallest in the Blazers' eight-year history at the Rose Garden. But it was was large compared with Wednesday's announced attendance of 14,634, which includes no-shows. Last year's season ticket base was less than 12,000, and Patterson acknowledges that this year's season ticket sales will be down 'in the range of 10 percent' from a year ago. 'When I got here, we had a disconnect between the franchise and the fans,' he says. 'We are trying to fix that. Add to that the challenged economy and the fact that this market probably has outperformed most of the other NBA franchises for years, and it is a problem. It's going to take some work, but we will get it back up there.'