TUALATIN, Ore. — As the media cluster formed a half circle around the Trail Blazers' backdrop at the team's practice facility, a writer quipped "All this for Joel Przybilla? We must live in Portland or something."
That about sums it up, because had the 7-foot-1 center who averaged 1.8 points per game last year signed with any of the other 29 NBA franchises over the weekend, it's doubtful the interest would be so high.
But Przybilla means something to Portland, and the city means something to him. So despite garnering interest from title-contending teams such as the Bulls or Heat, the 32-year-old chose to return to the place he felt most welcomed.
"Sometimes you make decisions with your head, and sometimes you make decisions with your heart," said Przybilla, who signed with the Blazers after passing his physical Sunday. "This is me. Portland is me. What this city represents, it's what I'm all about."
Przybilla played with the Blazers for six and a half seasons before being traded away to Charlotte in a muti-player deal that brought Gerald Wallace to Portland last February. He also owns a house in Tualatin, which made the Blazers the only team he could join if he wanted to bring his family with him.
Joel said Monday that whether he plays 10 minutes or zero minutes, he just wants to help Portland advance to the playoffs and "be a voice on this team." And it's still to be determined what kind of condition he's in.
Przybilla said that he still might be a couple of weeks away from being in true game shape, but added that he thinks he'd be ready to go if Blazers coach Nate McMillan called his number during Wednesday's game vs. the Nuggets. He also said that his knee feels as good as it has in a long time.
"Some friends I've been working out with tell me I look back to my old self," said Przybilla, whose ruptured right patellar tendon limited him to 36 games last year and 30 the previous season. "I don't want to be what I was last year, playing on one knee and not playing to my capability."
Przybilla said that he did not harbor any ill feelings toward the Blazers for dealing him last year. In fact, he said Monday that "I would have done the same thing, trade me for Gerald Wallace."
He did, however, ask that he get his corner locker back, a request management honored at the expense of Nicolas Batum. But despite his departure last season, Przybilla has remained a fan favorite, and even though he's downplaying it, that affection is likely to lead to a deafening reception when he steps back on the court.
"For me, it would just probably be a small little cheer," Przybilla said. "I will be happy to be back out there....It will be something I'll probably remember for the rest of my life."
ARMON JOHNSON WAIVED
In order to make room for Przybilla, the Blazers released second-year point guard Armon Johnson. Johnson, 23, appeared in just one game this season, and has averaged 2.9 points and 1.2 assists in 39 games for his career.
The 34th pick of the 2010 draft, Johnson starred in summer league but ultimately found himself filtered out of the rotation.
The Blazers could have released center Greg Oden, the incessantly injured center whose microfracture surgery will keep him out for the rest of the season. However, Oden' $1.5 million contract could prove valuable for Portland should they want to make a trade, as the Blazers can use it to help make the salaries match in a potential deal.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org