The locations for the Trail Blazers’ current road trip were listed as follows: Minnesota, Boston, Washington, Indiana, New York, Chicago, and Oklahoma City.
But somewhere along the line, they detoured into the Bermuda Triangle. Half of their team, after all, never came back.
Just after Thursday’s trade deadline passed, Portland had fired Nate McMillan as coach and named assistant coach Kaleb Canales as the interim.
It had traded away Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, and released Greg Oden and Chris Johnson.
The Blazers’ hopes for a playoff run, it seemed, had already been gutted — so perhaps management saw it fitting that their roster follow suit.
“We were very displeased with our performance on the court. That was not Trail Blazer basketball,” said acting Blazers general manager Chad Buchanan, whose team sits at 20-23 while having lost four of its last five games. “We made some moves today that set our course for moving forward.”
McMillan’s ouster comes six and a half seasons after he was hired as the team’s head coach. Having previously spent five years at the Sonics’ helm, McMillan signed on with Portland before the 2005-2006 season and led the Blazers to the the playoffs in each of the past three years despite an incessant string of injury-induced lineup changes.
That said, his teams never advanced past the first round, and while Blazers president Larry Miller would not comment on recent reports of a locker-room “mutiny,” he did acknowledge that McMillan’s influence wasn’t what it once was.
“I think that he had lost some of the players. He had lost the ability to motivate players to give 100 percent,” said Miller, adding that the decision was “unavoidable.” “To me, that was the issue. You could see that players weren’t playing with that energy level.”
Miller said that McMillan fought for his job, but was not completely surprised by his firing. Miller and McMillan had several talks together over the past week, in which Nate expressed frustration in not being able to reach his team. Miller added that the conversation following the official termination was “positive,” and that he still considered McMillan a friend.
But for now, command has been turned over to Canales, a 34-year-old who started off as a video coordinator in 2005, a job he kept for four years before being named an assistant coach.
Miller said that he chose Canales over more experienced coaches (such as 68-year-old Bernie Bickerstaff, who has more than 900 games of head-coaching experience) because of his relationship with the players and the respect they have showed him.
Well, at least the players that are still around.
Less than an hour before the noon trade deadline arrived, Wallace had been traded to the Nets in exchange for center Mehmet Okur, forward Shawne Williams and a top-3 protected draft pick — meaning as long as New Jersey does not attain one of the first three selections in the 2012 Draft, the Blazers will get the pick. The pick is top-2 protected through 2013, top-1 through 2014, and unprotected after that.
Camby, meanwhile, was dealt to Houston for center Hasheem Thabeet, guard Jonny Flynn and a second-round pick.
Wallace could have opted out of his contract next year, and Camby’s expires at the end of the season. Thabeet, Flynn, Okur and Williams all have expiring contracts as well, clearly suggesting the Blazers are trying to clear cap space and rebuild.
But in order to make room the new acquisitions, Portland has waived centers Greg Oden and Chris Johnson. Buchanan discussed the possibility of buying out Williams’ contract, which has prompted many to wonder if that will lead to the return of former Blazers point guard Patty Mills. However, Buchanan declined to comment on “another player” until there is an open roster spot.
But what is certain is that Thursday, March 15, officially ended the Greg Oden saga in Portland. The former No. 1 overall pick played just 82 games since being drafted by the Blazers in 2007, endured four season-ending injuries, and did not step on the court this season.
“It is kind of closing the chapter on Greg Oden,” Buchanan said. “With him, Brandon (Roy) and LaMarcus — we built the team around these three. We lost Brandon to retirement and Greg to injury and have nothing to show for it. We don’t have an asset, we don’t have a pick or a player, and that’s hard to come back from…but we have some very attractive draft picks.”
Blazers guards Jamal Crawford were also involved in trade discussions but were never dealt. Some speculated that the roster obliteration means that Blazers owner Paul Allen was positioning the team for sale, but Miller firmly rebuffed the notion and argued that the personnel shakeup showed just the opposite — that Allen had a long-term interest in this franchise.
Allen was not available for comment Thursday, but did say via Twitter: “Some tough trades today & letting Nate go but had to face reality of how the season was going. Now (the Blazers are) focusing on future. I want to thank Nate for his years of service to the team and Portland and its fans.”
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email@example.com