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Blazers get homework

On the NBA • Nate McMillan has some ideas for players' summer vacation
by: Sam Forencich, Blazer coach Nate McMillan held exit interviews this week with his players, giving them each a few assignments for the offseason.

On Thursday, Trail Blazer coach Nate McMillan and General Manager Kevin Pritchard held a team meeting, then went through individual exit interviews with each of the 13 players.

Each conversation - from 15 to 30 minutes long - included a review of the season, McMillan's offseason assignments for the player and expectations for next season. It was a chance for each player to ask questions and express concerns about his future with the organization, if any.

McMillan enjoys a good relationship with all of his players and never expects any adversarial discussions, but you never know.

'I've had guys in the past who didn't even show up,' he says. 'That sends you a message right there.'

In general, McMillan tells every player the same thing in regard to the offseason - stay in shape, get stronger and quicker, do a lot of shooting. The Blazers were vastly improved from a year ago in 3-point percentage (.378 after .346 in 2006-07) but slid from second in the NBA in that category to seventh over the last two months.

Portland finished virtually the same as last season in three other major categories - scoring (95.4 after 94.1 the previous season), field-goal percentage (.449 versus .450) and free-throw percentage (.768 to .769). Offense remains an issue, 'and shooting is something each player can focus on during the offseason,' McMillan says.

'You don't want these guys doing a lot of scrimmaging over the summer,' he adds. 'They play such a long season, and they need the rest.'

There will be one overriding message: The next step is the playoffs.

'We'll tell all the guys to strengthen their bodies and be ready to play 82-plus games next season,' McMillan says. 'Not 82 - 82-plus.'

• For the next couple of weeks, Brandon Roy will return with his family to their recently bought home in Renton, Wash., and rest. The All-Star guard needs to allow his body to recover from a long season and the effects of physical defense and double-teams designed to slow down the Blazers' best player.

Then Roy will begin preparing for next season.

'I want Brandon to work on the 3-point shot and on his free throws,' McMillan says, 'but mainly I want him to build his core strength. He takes a pounding during the season, and that will help him weather it next season.'

Roy has his plan mapped out.

'I'll do some strength and conditioning stuff,' he says. 'I don't want to put weight on, but I'll try to strengthen my body. I'll do a lot of shooting - midrange shooting, too, because I take a lot of bangs going to the hoop. I'll work on adjusting a little bit and do some more pull-up (jump shots) to help ease the pounding on my body.'

Roy will do that during scrimmage sessions at the University of Washington's Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

'I'll be smart with it, but I'll definitely scrimmage,' Roy says. 'I like the one-on-one part of it.'

As a rookie, Roy shot free throws at an .838 clip. This season, he dipped to .755 from the line, sometimes missing during key stretches of games. He got plenty of advice and believes his ensuing experimentation proved costly.

'I started off kind of slow and had a lot of people tell me, 'Do this, do that,' ' Roy says. 'I changed my routine a little, and that kind of messed me up. Next year, I'll work on one strategy and stick with it rather than trying three or four.'

• Greg Oden has two major missions - renew pursuit of a degree at Ohio State and continue with rehabilitation of the knee that underwent microfracture surgery last September.

'I'm going to take some summer-school classes and live in Columbus,' says the 7-foot center, who has dropped his finance major and now is undecided. 'I just want my degree. I got about three-fourths of a year in but had to drop out (spring term of 2007). Might as well start now.'

Oden says he will work out with Dave Richardson, Ohio State's strength and conditioning coach.

'I'm just trying to get the knee back - that's all I'm really worried about,' Oden says. 'Want to get back out there on the floor.'

Oden is likely to return to Portland for a training camp prior to summer league in Las Vegas, but he won't be playing any of the games. Nor does he expect to scrimmage until the Blazers open training camp in October.

The knee feels 'all right now, but it's not 100 percent,' he says. 'By training camp, I'm hoping for 90 to 95 percent.'

• LaMarcus Aldridge won over his coach with a second season that thrusts him into the conversation for the league's most improved player award.

'LaMarcus has shown the potential to become a dominant player in this league,' McMillan says. 'Very few players can dominate both ends of the floor. He has shown he can score. His defense has been average, but he has great potential there. I think he'll be able to do it defensively as well as offensively.

'Travis (Outlaw) has improved, too, but LaMarcus has taken a giant step forward.'

Aldridge will spend the summer in his native Dallas, working on strength and conditioning and, in particular, ballhandling.

'I became a low-post threat this year,' the 6-11 forward says. 'Next year, I'll want to put in more on the floor, do more (isolations) and be able to take my guy off the dribble more.'

Aldridge was 1 for 7 from 3-point range this season.

'I think I can make it, but not consistently yet,' he says. 'I'll work on that this summer, too.'

• Martell Webster missed the Blazers' last seven games after playing in each of the first 75 - 70 as a starter. Earlier this month, the third-year swing man was diagnosed with a 'viral syndrome' of the heart. Doctors don't expect it to affect his playing future, but it left the 21-year-old Seattle native sensing his mortality.

'I'm glad to be alive,' Webster says. 'They could have said I couldn't play anymore. I cherish what I have. I don't take it for granted anymore. I feel fortunate to have played in the league as long as I have.'

For the second straight year, Webster will spend most of his offseason in Los Angeles, going through a plyometrics exercise training program designed to improve quickness and working out with ex-Blazer assistant coach Bill Bayno, now head coach at Loyola-Marymount.

'I need to get quicker, to improve my agility,' Webster says.

Webster and James Jones are Portland's purest shooters, but Webster - who shot .422 from the field and .388 from 3-point range - is looking for more consistency.

'I'll play one-on-one and shoot a lot of jump shots every day,' he says. 'Repetition is the key to good shooting.'

• Webster sounds as if he won't be surprised if he is involved in an offseason trade.

'I'd love to stay with Portland for the rest of my career, but the NBA is a business,' he says. 'You can't get that attached. You always have to stay professional. You can't think about things you can't control. If draft day comes and (the Blazers) decide to do something, that's just the way the league is.

'I don't anticipate anything, but you don't want to get your hopes up, or your hopes down. Trades happen. It's nothing personal.'

Channing Frye and Jarrett Jack also have expressed sentiments that they could be involved in a deal that would take them to a new team.

'Every player goes through that paranoia,' Pritchard says. 'We'll look at every option during the offseason, and if one comes up that makes sense, we'll do it. But I'm very happy with the roster we have right now.'

• Jones can opt out of the final year of a contract that calls for him to make $3.16 million next season. Blazer management expects him to exercise that option, but Jones says he and agent Joel Bell aren't sure what he's going to do. Chances are he will be back in a Portland uniform next season.

• Little-used guard Von Wafer - who will be a free agent July 1 - probably won't return.

• Pritchard and members of his management and scouting staff leave next week for 10 days in Europe scouting talent. One of the missions will be to secure the signing of last year's first-round draft acquisition, guard Rudy Fernandez of Spain.

• Rookie forward Josh McRoberts, past draft picks Joel Freeland and Petteri Koponen and the Blazers' No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft will be the key pieces on Portland's Las Vegas Summer League entry. Oden might be on hand for some individual workouts but will not play in games.

• Darius Miles' waiver - via the medical retirement following the examination of an independent physician - amounts to a financial bonanza for the Blazers. Insurance will pay 80 percent of his $26.5 million salary from 2007-08 through 2009-10 seasons.

Miles' salary is removed from Portland's payroll, which dips below $64 million this season. It means that, rather than paying luxury tax (the threshold this season is $67.865 million), the Blazers will be the recipient of more than $3 million in tax benefit for this season.

Most important, it assures Portland of being in good position to make a major run at free agency after the 2008-09 campaign. The only Blazers with guaranteed pacts for 2009-10 are Joel Przybilla ($6.86 million), Aldridge ($5.84 million), Oden ($5.36 million), Roy ($3.9 million) and Sergio Rodriguez ($1.9 million), plus any first-round draft picks to come.

With the salary cap for 2009-10 expected to be just over $60 million, the Blazers could have as much as $35 million to spend - though they may decide to secure one or more of their own players with new deals, which would cut into that figure.

'It's what we've always wanted,' Pritchard says. 'We have our core players and the flexibility to add free agents we feel could be the missing pieces. It puts us in control of our destiny.'

• Collective-bargaining rules, incidentally, mandate that if Miles were to come back and play 10 or more games for another team over the course of his contract, his salary would go back on Portland's cap. However, the Blazers could petition the league if that happens, and the case would go to arbitration.

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