GM, 'Sheed were 'mates

Fair Game

Rasheed Wallace broke into the NBA in 1995-96 with the Washington Bullets. One of his teammates that season was none other than … Kevin Pritchard.

'Isn't that crazy?' asks the Trail Blazers' general manager, who played two games for the Bullets that season on a 10-day contract. 'Small world.'

Pritchard remembers the 6-11 rookie as 'a hard worker. Competed his tail off. Green, but his talent was unbelievable.'

The Bullets that season were an interesting group, with Chris Webber (who missed most of the season with a shoulder injury), Juwan Howard, ex-Blazers Robert Pack (he averaged 18.1 points in 31 games) and Mitchell Butler, Brent and Mark Price (the latter for only seven games because of injury), Tim Legler, Calbert Cheaney and the great Gheorghe Muresan.

The coach: Jimmy Lynam. The general manager: John Nash. The record: 39-43.

• In discussing offseason possibilities, it's important to note that the Blazers' 2006-07 payroll was about $73.7 million, fifth in the NBA behind New York (an unbelievable $139.4 million), Dallas ($92.5 million), Philadelphia ($88.6 million) and the Lakers ($77.4 million). The luxury tax, to be announced in July, is expected to be between $68 million and $69 million, meaning Portland would be paying maybe $5 million.

If you remember, the marching orders from owner Paul Allen for Nash and former President Steve Patterson were to slash a payroll that peaked at a then-NBA record $105 million in 2002-03. The Blazers, even though they'll be losing Derek Anderson's $9.74 million salary, have $55.4 million committed for next season. And that's not counting free agents Ime Udoka, Travis Outlaw and Jamaal Magloire, along with a first-round draft choice that would command close to $3 million.

How much freedom will Pritchard have in signing a free agent or making a deal that might include Magloire in a sign-and-trade?

'It's all circumstantial,' Pritchard says. 'We still have to be very (budget) conscious. But if we feel like we can make a quantum leap, there's a chance we could go into the luxury tax. The big key is, when it's time to make the leap, we will make the leap.'

• Busy offseason for at least two members of the Blazer family: center/forward Raef LaFrentz and his wife, Joie, are expecting their first child in mid-May. Assistant coach Monty Williams and wife Ingrid, parents of three daughters, are expecting their first son in September.

• Udoka isn't the only Blazer who is sponsoring a prep AAU team. Freddy Jones' squad - appropriately called 'Team Jones' - features the likes of Oregon City's Brad Tinsley, Grant's Paul McCoy, North Eugene's Brian Conklin, South Medford's E.J. Singler and Jones' nephew, Barlow guard Dustin Jones. Former Oregon State guard Pat Strickland serves as coach.

'I'm going to be in the thick of it,' says Jones, who accompanied the team to a tournament in Houston last weekend.