Blazers continue working to find GM, free agents

Holiday weekend no time for Portland front office to relax

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller said he spent part of the Fourth of July weekend in San Diego, enjoying a reunion with his grandchildren.

But Miller spent most of his brief two-day getaway working, balancing the Blazers’ search for a new general manager with the ongoing process of evaluating potential free-agent acquisitions.

Thus, Miller acknowledged Tuesday that he was surprised to return to Portland and learn that a brief holiday planned months in advance had to some become a demonstration that the Blazers are not taking seriously the effort to replace former GM Kevin Pritchard.

It is just the opposite, Miller said.

Miller was on the phone with Blazers owner Paul Allen at 1 a.m. during his time in San Diego, as the two discussed the organization’s future.

And after speaking with GM candidates via phone during recent days, Miller said Portland plans this week to meet in person with potential new hires.

“We’re looking at taking some next steps with people, in terms of actually connecting,” Miller said.

Former Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry has thus far been the only candidate to meet with the Blazers.

Miller said last week that Portland did not offer Ferry a contract after he interviewed last Wednesday with the team.

However, sources with knowledge of the search process said Tuesday that Ferry is still considered to be a viable candidate, and that a deal between him and Portland is not dead.

“But I also haven’t heard that something is imminent,” a league source said.

Meanwhile, a team source said that the Blazers could wrap up the search this week, but added that a two-week timeline was more likely.

Former Miami GM Randy Pfund is expected to meet next with Portland. But when asked about Pfund’s status or names of other potential candidates, Miller said he could not be more specific.

“Everybody knows we talked to Danny, and I’ve talked to some additional folks, as well,” Miller said.

Pfund is expected to meet next with Portland, while former Blazer Kiki Vandeweghe is also a top choice.

As for the free-agent process, Miller said the Blazers are exactly where the team needs to be at this stage in the game.

Portland spent the days following the July 1 opening of the market reaching out to players whose salaries fall within the $5.7 million provided to the organization via the mid-level exception.

Now, the team is in a holding pattern.

The Blazers cannot sign a player until July 8. And even then, Portland still needs big-name stars such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to make decisions about their futures, so the remainder of the market can filter out.

“For us from a free-agency perspective — and this is what I think is not clear out there for a lot of people — we can’t be looking at some of the major guys right now,” Miller said. “Just because we don’t have the (salary) cap space to do it.”

However, Miller stated that the Blazers will approach the opportunity to acquire an All-Star talent with eyes wide open.

“We’re looking at all the options that are out there,” Miller said. “For us, if we’re going to sign somebody major, it’s got to be a sign-and-trade deal. And we’re exploring those, as well. But for us, what we have open to us right now are the exceptions. And we’re looking at people who would fit within those for us.”

Babbitt signs

The Blazers signed rookie forward Luke Babbitt on Tuesday. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are extremely excited to officially call Luke a Trail Blazer, and feel like he will be a valuable member of our team and the Portland community,” said Chad Buchanan, Blazers director of college scouting. “He personifies what we value most in our players: hard work, unselfishness and character.”

Portland acquired the rights to Babbitt, the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, in a draft-day trade with Minnesota on June 24.

The 21-year-old averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists during two seasons with Nevada from 2008-10. He shot 50 percent from the field and 41.6 percent behind the 3-point line as a Wolfpack sophomore in 2009-10, earning player of the year honors in the Western Athletic Conference.

Summer league starts

The Blazers begin practice today for the 2010 NBA Summer League.

Former Mountain View High School standout Nik Raivio joins Portland rookies Babbitt and Armon Johnson on the team, which will practice four consecutive days before traveling to Las Vegas.

The Blazers’ first Summer League game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday against Houston at Cox Pavilion.

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