Blazers winning now, but aim for future
The Portland Trail Blazers are making a playoff run this season, but are aiming for the future with a young team under coach Nate McMillan.
Seattle Times staff columnist
PORTLAND — As the trade deadline passed Thursday, general manager Kevin Pritchard gathered his nervous team around him for the breaking news.
Pritchard told the players who encircled him that the Portland Trail Blazers weren't making a deadline deal. No Vince Carter. No Richard Jefferson. No Gerald Wallace. The breaking news was no news.
Pritchard had resisted the temptation to trade forward Travis Outlaw, or rookie guard Rudy Fernandez, deciding to stand pat and push toward the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2003 with the guys he had.
Cheers erupted when the players heard the no-news.
"There was a feeling of relief," third-year forward LaMarcus Aldridge said after Friday's win over Atlanta. "We've been together, and we've built chemistry. Guys wanted to keep this together. I think we feel comfortable with that, and we didn't want to deal with bringing someone else in."
Any deal Pritchard makes, and you can be sure he'll make one, will come in the offseason.
"I'm happy with the team we have," Blazers All-Star guard Brandon Roy said. "If there had been a way for us to improve, then I would have liked a trade. But after hearing all the trades that were out there, I think we did the right thing by staying with what we have.
"That doesn't mean I'm not open to us improving because there is room for our team to grow. I think it's in the area of adding a little experience, but if it's not the right experience, then it won't work."
These are tricky times in the slow growth of the Blazers. They are in contention for the Northwest Division championship, 2-½ games behind Denver.
They are in fourth place in the Western Conference but, entering Saturday's games, only three games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
Impatience is the enemy of a rebuilding team. The secret is to avoid the temptation to make a move that could help in the short term, but not into the future. And, as hungry as this city and the Blazers are to get back into the playoffs, the ultimate goals stretch beyond this season.
Even at 34-20, the Blazers remain a work in progress. The team is building for a championship run next season or in 2011.
"I don't think anybody thinks that we've arrived," coach Nate McMillan said. "Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make the playoffs. That, for us, is the next step.
"We've done a pretty good job in drafting some players and putting this team together. After we make the playoffs, then we can look at what we need to do to continue and eventually win a championship."
Pritchard and McMillan did the right thing. They should see how this young team reacts to the pressures of April and May before making any dramatic personnel changes.
"This year, even though it's my fourth year here, it's almost like my first year because we've added a lot of youth to our lineup," McMillan said. "There's still a lot of unknowns with us.
"We're sitting here with Greg [Oden], Rudy, Nicolas [Batum] and Jerryd Bayless, who are all rookies. We still haven't really seen our core Brandon, LaMarcus, Oden — play together for a long time and show what they're capable of."
This interesting, exciting, mercurial team will make its playoff run on young legs and with young minds.
"I think the biggest thing that can hurt our team in these last games is our inexperience," Roy said. "We have a deep team, but it's a young team."
The conference has been shaken by a series of serious injuries. Houston lost Tracy McGrady for the year. Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire probably is out for the season. Manu Ginobili in San Antonio and Andrew Bynum with the Lakers are out.
Even Portland will wait nervously for the results of Monday's tests on center Oden, who will miss his third straight game Sunday because of swelling and tightness in his left knee.
"If we can Greg back within this next week," Roy said, "then I think we can build toward something. A lot of teams are having injuries, and if we can get healthy and our youth can come through, we can do something special."
The secret — for the organization and for the players — is not getting ahead of themselves.
"The one thing we don't want to do is put all this pressure on ourselves and start looking at the standings like it's the stock market," McMillan said.
It's a complicated game the Blazers are playing. Wanting to win now, while planning to win much more later.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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