GM Rich Cho has plenty of work to do with Blazers
by: Christopher Onstott The future is unclear for several Trail Blazers, including Brandon Roy, who showed his disappointment at losing Game 6 to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Trail Blazers have plenty of areas in which they need to improve as they look ahead to next season.

Always easier said than done. But somehow, Portland General Manager Rich Cho - looking ahead to his first full offseason on the job - must find a way to get it done.

Cho is congenial but keeps his thoughts close to the vest. On Monday, as he met with the media for a postseason review, Cho brought out the 'that's something we're going to evaluate' response so often, I found myself completing the sentence before he could finish it.

I've had enough discussions with Cho in recent months, though, to have a decent feel for what he, his staff and coach Nate McMillan have in mind in the upcoming months.

First, though, a comment on how a potential work stoppage might affect any Blazer decisions. With many clubs, the uncertainty of labor discord and what a new collective-bargaining agreement might entail will discourage trade activity before or at the June 23 draft. I don't see that being a factor with Portland owner Paul Allen, who has always been willing to pungle up whatever necessary to give his team an edge in a bid to land players.

Cho, mindful that the league office can fine any team representative commenting on the lockout - 'I'm very hesitant to even mention the word,' he says - won't confirm this. But I could see a Portland deal either in the days leading up to the draft or on draft day.

The Blazers, too, will be one of the teams looking to move up into the lottery (top 14) in the draft. Portland owns the 21st pick.

Some observations as the team moves ahead with 'business as usual' until the current CBA expires on July 1:

• The core of players looking to the future includes LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Brandon Roy is untradeable, given the condition of his knees and his contract ($68 million during the next four years). The other players are expendable in the mind of the Blazer brain trust.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT • LaMarcus Aldridge (second from left) is held back by teammate Wesley Matthews in a scuffle with Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki during Game 4 of their NBA playoff series.

Aldridge is close to untouchable, unless New Orleans wants to give up Chris Paul and David West, or something of like value emerges. The other three fall into the 'unlikely to be traded' category.

• McMillan said it after the season: 'We have to look at balancing the roster.'

The coach was speaking of the glut at shooting guard (Matthews, Roy and Rudy Fernandez), the presence of Wallace and Batum ('we have two starting small forwards') and the dearth at point guard, with not enough behind Andre Miller, and the bigs with only Aldridge and Marcus Camby ('we don't have a backup power forward').

Cho views Wallace and Batum at the 3 spot as not a problem but a strength. Batum can play some shooting guard, and Wallace can do the same at power forward.

Matthews, 24, played well enough in his first season in Blazer togs to merit going into training camp as the starter at 2 guard. Roy, assuming he can provide what he did on some occasions late in the regular season and in the playoffs, adds depth off the bench. Fernandez is a luxury that could be included in a trade package.

• Greg Oden remains a key piece to Portland's plans. The 7-footer, still only 23, is too precious a commodity to give up on as he rehabs from his latest knee surgery. Portland can tender him a one-year qualifying offer of $8.8 million the day after the NBA finals, offer him a multiyear extension or match any offer another team might make.

It would be naive to think multiple teams won't make offers for Oden. Maybe Utah - burned twice by Portland with the signing of Matthews and an offer to Paul Millsap, which the Jazz were forced to match - will seek revenge by offering Oden something like four years and $50 million.

Then Cho and his cohorts will have a very tough decision to make.

Short of an outlandish offer, I expect the Blazers to retain Oden.

'We're not that far away,' Cho said, 'if we can add a healthy Greg and a couple of more pieces.'

• The Blazers have until June 29 to pick up the $7.8 million option for next season on Miller's contract. Unless Cho can swing a deal for a starting point guard - or they can trade up in the draft to get a Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight - I can't imagine them not retaining Miller.

• Cho and scout Joe Cronin departed Tuesday for Europe, where they'll watch three former Blazer draft picks - forwards Joel Freeland and Victor Claver and guard Petteri Koponen - along with teams competing in the EuroLeague Final Four.

The 6-10, 250-pound Freeland, 24, and the 6-9 1/2, 235-pound Claver, 22, could fill the need as a backup 4 for the Blazers. Both are playing in Spain, Claver back after missing some time with a foot injury. It's something to watch.

• Might the Blazers sign free agents Jeff Pendergraph or Joel Przybilla, ex-Blazers rehabbing from knee surgeries this season? There would have to be evidence of good health before next season. Neither is near the top of Portland's wish list at this time.

• Much has been made about Portland's perimeter-shooting woes this season, for good reason. The Blazers finished 21st in the NBA in 3-point accuracy (.345) and 24th in field-goal percentage (.447), thanks in no small part to sub-par performances by Fernandez (.321 and .370) and Roy (.333 and .400).

What also has to improve, though, is Portland's defense.

The Blazers were 20th in opponents' field-goal percentage (.467). Of the 16 playoff teams, only New York was worse.

It's hard to understand how a team with individual defenders such as Camby, Wallace, Batum and Matthews is so poor collectively. The Blazers need to take a hard look at that during the offseason.

• The labor discord makes everything especially hazy. Plenty of important decisions become even more difficult for the Blazer brain trust at a time when missed opportunity could mean a step backward next season - if there is a season. It's why Allen is paying Cho the big bucks.

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