Blazers must go to work after labor deal

NBA season would begin on Christmas if deal is approved

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Based on the preceding events, it almost seems like a holiday miracle. But barring any unforeseen circumstances, it appears Christmas has, indeed, been saved in the NBA.

So now the Trail Blazers have to do what just about everyone does this time of year — hurry up and get to their shopping list.

With a tentative deal reached between the players and owners, NBA training camps are expected to open Dec. 9 with the regular season starting Christmas Day.

So what do the Blazers need to do in the meantime? Turns out quite a bit.

Priority No. 1 — Find a general manager.

It has now been more than five months since Portland shockingly fired Rich Cho, and the franchise has shown little sense of urgency in finding his replacement. Team president Larry Miller asserted early on that the Blazers would be patient in their search, but with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it offseason coming up, such patience becomes less virtuous.

Granted, Portland’s “collective” approach to trading and acquiring players may make the GM position less relevant in its organization versus others. But if the Blazers are going to make a move that could launch them into deep-playoff contention, having that frontman executive is critical.

Priority No. 2 — Figure out to do with Brandon Roy.

The most important detail of the new collective bargaining agreement for the Blazers is the Amnesty Clause, which allows teams to release one player during the duration of the CBA and not have his salary count toward the cap or the luxury tax. This creates an opportunity for Portland to waive Brandon Roy, who many feel is crippling the organization with his $82 million contract considering his knees have robbed him of his athleticism. The thing is, the Amnesty Clause allows teams to release a player at any point during his contract, and Roy’s runs through 2014-15. So do you wait a year and see if he can return somewhere close to his All-Star form? Or do you get him off the books now?

Priority No. 3 — Find a big man.

Blazers director of college scouting, Chad Buchanan, served as the interim GM after Cho’s ousting, and chose to draft Duke point guard Nolan Smith with Portland’s first-round pick. Buchanan defends the selection, but the Blazers now have four point guards and just one center who played significant minutes later year —the fragile, 37-year-old Marcus Camby.

Buchanan said that free agency would present greater opportunities to acquire size than the draft did, and given Camby’s vulnerability, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s average rebounding skills, Portland eventually needs to shore up its front court if it is to avoid a fourth straight first-round exit.

Priority No. 4 — Find a shooter.

It’s no secret that how much Portland struggled from the perimeter last year.

Its best outside shooter was Wesley Matthews, who shot 40.7 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Nobody else who played more than 13 minutes per game shot better than 35 percent from deep.

On paper, drafting Ohio State guard Jon Diebler in the second round looked as though it might help with some of the long distance woes, but considering his shortcomings defensively, Diebler may be playing from extra long distance — like Europe.

It seemed all last year Blazers coach Nate McMillan griped that “we’re just not hitting shots.” Best way to cure that? Find someone who can.

Priority No. 5 — Get Greg Oden healthy.

That might be a first: Oden and healthy in the same sentence. As most Blazers fans know, the center has played just 82 games since Portland drafted him with the first overall pick in 2007.

It’s possible that the lockout favored him more than anybody on the roster as the extra couple months off gave him more time to rehab his ever-nettling knee. However, seeing how the NBA is planning on cramming 66 games between Christmas and mid-April, teams will be playing more back-to-backs than ever — which could endanger Oden’s health should he return to the court.

Though the odds of Oden ever significantly contributing to the Blazers’ success wane with every lost season, his presence down low could still potentially play a role in Portland’s playoff ventures. If nothing else but to maintain a healthy psyche, the team should be careful not to let his season end before it starts.

Priority No. 6 — Get the players to gel.

Remember, the core of this team is still familiarizing itself with one another. Gerald Wallace played just over two months with the Blazers after being traded from Charlotte in late February. Point guard Raymond Felton has yet to log a minute with his new club since being traded from Denver on draft day. And Roy’s role within the system is still unclear as we wait to see if time off has rejuvenated his knees.

With its current lineup, a first-round exit may still be the expectation for Portland, but with perennial powers such as the Lakers and Spurs aging, hosting a first-round series is not completely out of the question. Time to learn each other’s on-court tendencies would have benefited this team greatly. Unfortunately for the Blazers, that luxury doesn’t exist.

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