Freeland climbs on board as Batum waits

Portland reaches deal with '06 pick

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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If Nicolas Batum does not end up in Portland next season, by no means will the Trail Blazers be short on foreign Blazers.

One day after announcing the signing of Spanish big man Victor Claver, the Blazers signed British forward Joel Freeland on Friday to a deal reportedly worth $9 million over three years.

That came on the same day the Minnesota Timberwolves made two deals designed to clear space under the salary cap and make room for Batum. Minnesota is expected to officially sign the forward to an offer sheet Sunday, at which point the Blazers will have three days to match the offer and retain the 23-year-old.

That all is much more complicated than the Blazers' acquisition of Freeland.

Portland selected Freeland with the 30th pick of the 2006 Draft. He has spent the past three seasons playing for Unicaja Malaga of the Spanish basketball league, where he averaged 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 55.3 percent from the field.

Now, he is ready to show that his skills translate to the grandest basketball stage of all.

"I'm a very established player over there," said Freeland, who hails from Farnbrough, a town about 25 miles outside of London. "I just feel this is the next step in my career just to test myself and try to be the best that I can."

As it appears more and more likely that the Blazers will not acquire a big-time center this offseason, Freeland could see sometime at the 5. While he's a trim 225 pounds, he does stand 6-foot-11 and said that up until a couple years ago, center was the only position he played.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said that Freeland was someone he can see being in the rotation, but when asked how much playing time he'd receive, Olshey said that was not his decision.

"It's going to be the head coach's call, not mine," Olshey said. "My job is just to accumulate talent, and it's his job how to use it."

Sloan says no

But who is that head coach going to be?

Olshey said Friday that he sat down with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan earlier in the week and offered him the job. After mulling it over, however, Sloan told Olshey that he was not ready to get back into coaching yet.

So for now, the search continues. Olshey said the interviewing process will begin Sunday, although he has said repeatedly that he does not plan on naming his candidates until the decision is final. He did, however, say Monday that most of the candidates are currently on other staffs.

But is there one on Portland's staff?

Wesley Matthews was working out with the Blazers summer league squad Friday and reiterated what he's been saying since the end of the season — that he wants to play for the same coach he finished with last year: Kaleb Canales.

"I think I speak on behalf of the team when I say that we all feel Kaleb is the one for us," Matthews said. "Every single player, top to bottom, wants to be coached by this guy."