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Bucks coach borrows from his Blazer past Terry Porter's eighth-place team puts focus on defense, rebounding
When Terry Porter was in his prime with the Trail Blazers, Portland played basketball the way it's supposed to be played. The Blazers defended and rebounded, which got them into the open court for a transition game that helped spring them to the NBA Finals in 1990 and '92.
So it's no great surprise that in his first year as head coach at Milwaukee, Porter has the Bucks playing the way he liked to play.
'We make defense and rebounding a priority,' says Porter, who leads the Bucks into action tonight at the Rose Garden.
'The halfcourt offense is important, but we want to get our fast-break opportunities, too. We want to get guys into sets that are structured but also have some freedom. That's the way we played in Portland, and that's the way I always enjoyed playing.'
Milwaukee (11-13) is averaging 95.9 points, six more than the Blazers. And the Bucks would have come to Portland at .500 if not for blowing an 18-point second-quarter lead and losing at Seattle on Sunday.
'We have played pretty well,' says Porter, twice an All-Star point guard during his outstanding 10-year run in Portland. 'We have had some injuries, but we have set a tone, an attitude, a style I think is important for us to play to be successful.'
Porter, 40, retired in 2002 after a stellar 17-year playing career. After serving last year as an assistant with Sacramento under his old Portland coach Rick Adelman, he was hired by the team in his hometown, Milwaukee. Skeptics said he needed to serve a longer apprenticeship.
'I don't know if there's a perfect time frame,' Porter says. 'Some say three to five years. But there are a lot of guys in this league who got head jobs without any coaching experience. Really, is anybody ready until they actually get into this position? I played 17 years in this league with mostly playoff teams. I learned under a lot of great coaches. That has to count for something.'
Most experts predicted Milwaukee would win 30 to 35 games this season. The Bucks have a payroll of about $45 million, just over the salary cap of $43.8 million and well under teams such as Portland, which will pay about $82 million to players this season.
'We don't have great talent, but our personnel is good enough to compete,' Porter says. 'It doesn't matter what the number on the salary cap is. Spending more money doesn't guarantee wins. We have some very good pieces, and I can't say enough about the guys I have. They are hard workers who want to be successful in this league.'
The leader is Michael Redd, runner-up to Sacramento's Bobby Jackson for the NBA's Most Improved Player award last season. The 6-6 shooting guard, 24, is eighth in the league in scoring at 22.6 points per game, just ahead of Portland's Zach Randolph at 22.5.
'Michael has come into his own,' Porter says. 'He's an excellent perimeter shooter, and he's done some other things with his game we have asked him to do. My college coach (Dick Bennett, now at Washington State) always stressed being a complete player, and I try to do that.'
The Bucks stand in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Porter would like his club to stay at least that high, to get into the playoffs.
'When I took this job, I wanted to be in position in April to be fighting for a playoff spot,' Porter says. 'I don't know if that will be 38, 40, 41 wins, but we are in position to do that. I like our team, and I like our chances.'
Like many players who spent a good deal of time with Portland, Porter has observed the Blazers' eroding fan base. He applauds new President Steve Patterson and General Manager John Nash for their efforts.
'They have come to the conclusion that they need to clean some things up, and I wish them the best,' Porter says. ' 'Disturbed' might be too harsh a word, but I am definitely disappointed the way things have gone the last few years. The Portland community and the state of Oregon have been unbelievable in their support of this team. Winning games is important, but it goes beyond that with them, and it has always gone beyond that there.
'Those are the issues that need to be corrected. Fault the players for behavior problems, but you also have to fault management for bringing the players in.'
Damon Stoudamire was amused to learn that coach Maurice Cheeks considers their relationship close. 'It hasn't always been that way,' the point guard says. He recalls how Cheeks at first tried to convert him into a set-up point guard as Cheeks had been during his playing days, then benched him for much of last season. 'But you know, we do have a tight relationship now, and it feels good,' Stoudamire says. 'I think he looks at me as kind of that leader like Scottie (Pippen) was the last couple of years. Our relationship has come a long way. And on the court, the coaches are letting me be me for the first time since I got traded to Portland (in 1998). I took 22 shots (against the Lakers) and, most importantly, I didn't worry about missing. Before, you were always looking for the hook if you missed a few shots.'
Cheeks was able to watch his son Eddie, a 5-8 sophomore, play for Houston's Westview High junior varsity before the Blazer-Rocket game last week. 'They started at 4:30, so I got to see the whole game,' he says. 'He played pretty good Ñ 3 for 6 from the field, 2 for 2 on foul shots. But he stands around on the perimeter too much. He doesn't drive and make moves. He's playing '2' guard, but I'm going to change that. I would like to see him play the point.' Eddie lives in Houston with his mother but visits his father in Portland regularly.
Derek Anderson is progressing. The veteran shooting guard has been out the entire season because of a herniated disk, but he's now doing shooting drills before games and participating in part of the practice sessions. He still hopes to return by the end of the month. É Shortly after joining the Blazers, Wesley Person took 18-year-old rookie Travis Outlaw under his wing. Person has spent time with Outlaw before games and after practice. 'He has helped me get down my footwork, my jumper, some of the things I need to stay in the league,' Outlaw says. 'He offered, and ain't nothing wrong with listening. The coaches have been teaching me a lot.' But Person, he says, 'has taken me past what they had taught me. It makes me feel really good that he would think enough of me to do that.'