Kersey cant hurry up success in new job


What in the world are the Trail Blazers paying Jerome Kersey to do?

Isn't Portland's new director of player programs supposed to clean up this mess?

Kersey, on the job all of four months, has taken heat from the team's followers for recent transgressions by players, and complaints mounted this week with the arrest of Zach Randolph for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

President Steve Patterson says the criticism is a little misguided.

'I don't think you can say because a few of incidents have happened it reflects negatively on Jerome,' Patterson says. 'A lot of processes we put in place have been positive in terms of developing the players we have. Jerome is heading up that part of our operation that would develop the young guys we have on this roster in regard to a whole host of issues. Nobody is going to wave a magic wand and have it all fixed in a matter of weeks.'

Kersey is easing his way into a position of trust among the Blazer players. Understand, these are mostly young millionaires who have been coddled since their high school days. Many of them have not had strong parental guidance. Kersey can't go in and lay down the law the first day. Nor does he want to.

'I represent the establishment here, but I'm here for the players every bit as much as management,' he says. 'I'm not here to be a snitch, or to follow a player around. I want to build a relationship with them. I'm trying to learn 12, 13 different personalities at the same time. I'm learning how to go about saying things to different people, and eventually it will all get said.'

Kersey estimates that his divided role eventually will be about a 70-30 split between working with the coaching staff and players on one hand, and with the marketing and PR side of the organization on the other.

As he settles into the role, he will feel more comfortable in making suggestions to the players about professionalism and deportment. For now, he sits in on what he estimates as 95 percent of the coaches' meetings. He will accompany the team on most of the road trips, which he hopes will draw him closer to the players.

'My door is open to them,' Kersey says. 'You are not going to be able to do things for them every day. I'm there as a sounding board. I think I have made an impact with a few of the younger guys, but these are things that must be done over time.'

Kersey recently met with Rory Sparrow and Mike Bantom of the NBA office, accepting suggestions on what he can do to help players in Portland. They didn't present a foolproof formula to prevent a player from cursing out a coach, or having an unexcused absence at a shootaround or practice, or getting arrested for drug use.

'I don't know who has a great rapport with Rasheed (Wallace),' Kersey says. 'Ours is developing. You have to pick your moments with him, but that is true with most of the guys.

'I had a talk with Zach' on Tuesday morning, he says. 'He's a kid who really wants to do well, wants to be a star in this league. He's like a lot of young guys Ñ they get caught up in the cool attitude thing sometimes, and it deters them from making the right decision about where not to be and what not to do.'

In time, Kersey might be able to help.

'I feel a little pressure, because I do want to have an impact. It's frustrating to me. I can't change people. These are grown men. Hopefully, there will be things I can do to help these guys make better decisions, to get them to learn from mistakes made by their teammates. I know we're tired of our guys making the same mistakes over and over.'

Blazers aren't alone

The Blazers aren't the only team with personnel problems. Consider Houston.

Maurice Taylor recently served a six-game suspension for violation of the league's substance use policy. Eddie Griffin has been suspended since Oct. 16, originally for missing practice and skipping a road trip, which preceded his being charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon on a woman. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

And other teams have Portland's salary cap troubles, too. New Jersey invested about $30 million to buy out Dikembe Mutombo's contract and facilitate his trade to New York. And now they are stuck with Alonzo Mourning's $22.6 million, four-year contract; Mourning played 12 games for the Nets before he was forced to retire last week because of kidney disease. That is a combined loss of more than $100 million, factoring in luxury tax payouts.

Ainge pushes Celtics

New General Manager Danny Ainge is upset with the way the Boston Celtics are playing.

'I have always believed you have to be instigators and not retaliators, and I'm not even sure we're retaliators,' Ainge says. 'We have to get tougher. I would say smarter and tougher. It's not like it's all physical softness, although there is some of that. To me, it's mental. It's a state of mind. It's a confidence level. I believe the desire is there, but it takes more than desire to win.'

At least the Celtics are getting something out of Vin Baker, who is averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting .523 from the floor after his much-chronicled time in alcohol rehabilitation last summer.

Another plus has been Raef LaFrentz, the 7-footer acquired in the Antoine Walker deal with Dallas. LaFrentz, back after missing six games because of a knee problem, had 14 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench in Boston's 106-96 recent win over Milwaukee.

Blazers alums update

Is there any question that Brian Grant, who received a huge ovation before Miami's recent game at the Rose Garden, is still one of the most admired former Blazers? Grant recently purchased a house in West Linn and says he will make his home here when he retires from the sport.

There aren't many teams more devoid of talent than 9-9 Milwaukee, which suggests Terry Porter is doing a nice job in his first season as an NBA head coach.

Ex-Blazer point guard Rod Strickland, an unsigned free agent until last week, is now playing for the Magic.

Scottie Pippen is averaging 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting .390 in 23.3 minutes a game for Chicago. His ailing knee is so bad, he rarely practices anymore. Maybe the Blazers made the right call in allowing him to walk as a free agent.

Hubie's good works?

Much is being made of the new, improved Jason Williams. Williams is playing in Memphis under that sage of coaches, Hubie Brown, who said this about the much-tattooed point guard:

'I have been around basketball for a long time, coached a lot of great players. This guy has one of the highest IQs I have ever been around. He sees all 10 people; he catches every call by the opposition and relays it to the bench. He has totally been in tune with what we want since the first day I came here.'

When a reporter asked Chris Webber about his former Sacramento teammate, the Kings' star responded, 'Any coach could have gotten that out of him if they really cared for him and wanted him to succeed.' It seemed a slap at Rick Adelman, surprising since Webber has always gone out of his way to compliment the Sacramento coach.

'I don't think Chris meant anything by that, other than to try to defend Jason,' Adelman says. 'Chris and I have a very good relationship, and I did with Jason, too, until he got mad when I didn't play him in the playoffs the last year he was with us.'

As for Williams, he has improved his assist/turnover ratio, ranking second in the department last season. But he still is erratic, shoots .408 from the floor, takes ill-advised shots, plays poor defense and disappears from the game at times.

As for Brown, I watched him refuse to double-team Rasheed Wallace the entire way in a loss to Portland last season. Wallace scored a season-high 38 points on 16-of-20 shooting.

Maybe Brown is the coaching giant he is portrayed to be, but I'm not buying.


Sign of the times: Terry Stotts has been on the job at Atlanta for just under a year, which makes him the longest-tenured head coach in the Central Division. É Karl Malone, averaging 15.2 points per game for the Lakers, is on pace to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record of 38,387 points midway through next season. The Mailman, 40, became the oldest player to record a triple-double last week. É Malone's mother, Shirley, died this summer, but he says she's in his thoughts regularly. 'Not a day goes by I don't think about Mom,' he says. 'I mean, 10 to 15 times a day Ñ sometimes during games. She's the person who gave me life. She was my teacher, my best friend. I miss her. Sometimes I pick up the phone and dial her number, and don't realize until too late that she is gone.' Malone says he has taken to doing more writing in a journal he says will serve as a reference for his autobiography one day. É It is unnerving to watch Bill Laimbeer working in TV broadcasting after the way he treated the media during his years as a player in Detroit. Of course, you could say the same kind of thing about Bill Walton. É TNT's Charles Barkley, before a recent televised Clippers game: 'I don't watch the Clippers unless we have them on. I would rather watch 'The X-Files.' ' É Barkley has been critical of the Mavericks, and Dallas coach Don Nelson considers him uninformed. 'We know Charles is not sitting in front of the TV watching the games,' Nelson says. 'That's the last thing he's doing. He's on the cell phone. He is not sitting there studying.' É Nelson had one of the better malapropisms in recent years when, describing how he almost choked on a piece of food during a recent meal, he said this: 'I thought I was going to die. You could have given me the hemlock (maneuver).'

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