Blazers continue to fill in the pieces

Felton can step in at guard, with rookie Smith as future successor

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PORTLAND — The kids at the Regence Boys and Girls Club circled around Raymond Felton and began singing “Happy Birthday” — albeit a day late.

And while there weren’t any candles for the new Trail Blazers point guard to blow out, you get the feeling he already got his wish.

For the last two and a half months of this past NBA season, Felton was relegated to a reserve role after being dealt from the Knicks to the Nuggets in the much ballyhooed Carmelo Anthony trade. But now that he has come to the Pacific Northwest, he has, as he said “the keys to the car.”

“I wanted to be in a situation where I could run a team, where I could have it be my team,” Felton said. “I’m still young in my career.”

Felton was introduced to the local media Monday alongside new Blazers draft picks Nolan Smith and Jon Diebler. The 27-year-old is coming off of arguably his best NBA season, in which he averaged 17.1 points and nine assists in 54 games in New York.

Portland acquired Felton from Denver on draft night last Thursday after shipping the much older Andre Miller (35) to Denver. But considering Felton has just one year left on his contract, the question becomes: Will he be a Blazers when he is no longer young?

Reporters posed that very query to Felton on Monday, and he expressed a desire to remain in Oregon for years to come. Then again, responding “actually, I’m more interested in becoming a Bull or a Laker” probably wouldn’t go over too well at an introductory press conference.

However, should Felton and the Blazers part ways next season for whatever reason, Portland does possess another point guard it’s hoping to groom in Smith.

The Duke product was a consensus first-team All America selection his senior year, and at No. 21, was picked ahead of where most mock drafts projected him to be. But he said the selection didn’t surprise him given how well his workout with the Blazers went earlier in the month.

“It was like walking out after you took a test knowing you did good. I had a big smile on my face.” Smith said. “It was a great feeling leaving there.”

With a lockout looming and summer league canceled, Smith may not have the chance to publicly validate his draft status for months. What he will be doing is working out at the University of Maryland, where the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Beasley and other NBA players gravitate to during the offseason for pickup ball.

“I’m going to see where I’m at,” Smith said.

Drafted directly after Smith to the Nuggets was power forward Kenneth Faried, who led the nation in rebounding last year and was considered a potential solution in shoring up Portland’s sparse frontcourt. To the chagrin of many Blazers fans, and to the condemnation of sports writers across the nation, they went with Smith instead.

Acting General Manager Chad Buchanan isn’t apologizing.

Buchanan said that he hasn’t paid attention to critics, 1) because it’s not constructive, and 2) where’s the time when he is caring for his newborn daughter?

But when pressed to defend himself, Buchanan offers up this:

“We felt like we had two needs — point guard and post. We wanted to address the point guard situation and there were two ways to do that — in the draft or free agency,” he said. “We felt like free agency was the time where we could get some guys in the frontcourt.”

And then there is Diebler, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who shot better than 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line last year for Ohio State. That said, the 51st pick in this year’s draft will need to prove he can guard his position if he wants to see ample court time.

“I’m already getting better at that,” Diebler said. “I’m already showing I can do that.”

Regardless of who’s heaving them up, the Blazers will need players who can knock down shots this year — especially if Greg Oden returns to the lineup healthy. Regardless of who’s heaving them up, the Blazers will need players who can knock down shots this year — especially if Greg Oden returns to the lineup healthy.

Buchanan, however, did not indicate whether the Blazers would tender the center’s qualifying offer, but did say the decision would come Wednesday or Thursday, and that the team is very comfortable with where they stand on the issue.

What is certain, though, is that Tanguy Ngombo, whom the Blazers selected 57th in the draft, will not be in Portland this year. He was traded to Minnesota in exchanged for a future second-round pick.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com