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Inside Portland.  Great things come in small packages.


With a new coach and exciting young players, the Portland Trail Blazers are moving in the right direction



Photo by Anita Murrin

Blazers fans are optimistic about the coming season, sensing a renewed commitment from team management to honor the traditions of the franchise.

Story by Christopher Vetter

n the November 2003 debut issue of Portland Monthly Magazine, writer Adam Van Loom profiled the marketing and public relations staff of the Portland Trail Blazers.  His article detailed the challenges facing executives as they sought to restore confidence in the team.  The story is familiar.  Players behaved badly.  Mistakes happened.  Charity efforts and positive contributions the Blazers made to the community were overlooked.  Oppressive publicity diminished confidence in the franchise.  For the past two seasons, consultants and managers explored strategies to recapture public support. 

The summer of 2005 is the turning point for the team.  Blazers executives hired a new coach, drafted capable players, overhauled the roster, and attracted a new corporate sponsor.  Few predict a playoff run, but the team has a plan for restoring the faith of disgruntled fans. 

“I think Blazer brass has done a nice job cleaning out the rubbish that tainted its image,” said Portland Tribune sports writer Kerry Eggers in an August 25 interview.  “It's going to be on Zach Randolph and Darius Miles to lead this team, and I'm not sure they're ready.  In the deep and talented West, the Blazers will struggle and not make the playoffs.  But at least Blazer brass seems to have a plan, one that could reach fruition in a couple of years.”

"I believe the Blazers are headed in the right direction,” wrote Portland Tribune Executive Editor Dwight Jaynes in an August 12 sports column.  “I believe they have cleaned out most of the miscreants.  I believe they’ve drafted some talented young players.  I also think it may be fun to watch these kids develop.”

The summer of 2005 will be remembered as the turning point for the team.  Blazers executives hired a new coach, drafted capable players, overhauled the roster, and attracted a new corporate sponsor.

 

On July 6, the Blazers lured Coach Nate McMillan away from the Sonics, shocking Seattle owner Howard Schultz.  McMillan spent 19 years with the Sonics as a player, assistant coach and head coach.  McMillan allegedly left the team because Sonics executives low-balled their proposed contract renewal.  Blazers owner Paul Allen persuaded the former Seattle coach to change his NBA address, offering McMillan a five-year, $26 million contract.  The new coach was introduced to the city in a ceremony held at the Washington Park Amphitheatre on July 7.  Allen, McMillan, and Blazers General Manager John Nash welcomed hundreds of fans as broadcasters and print journalists covered the event.

“People in Portland have an inferiority complex about our sister city up north,” said Portland native and NBA fan Denise Cousineau, “Losing Nate was a punch to the gut for the people of Seattle.  They think of Portland as some backwater pond.  McMillan was on the short list of vacancies in several NBA cities.  LeBron James asked Cleveland to hire Nate for the Cavaliers.  The fact that he chose Portland was delightful.”

Before he agreed to guide the team, McMillan made certain Blazers management had realistic expectations for the upcoming season.  “Nate McMillan's first question to Paul Allen when he was interviewing was, ‘Are we really rebuilding or just talking about rebuilding?’ because he didn't want Allen coming to him 45 games into the season and asking why the team wasn't successful,” said Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano.  “This team is going to lose next season. It's going to be more exciting to watch, but it's going to suffer.  As long as management is being up front with fans and ticket holders about what's in front of the team, I think that's a good move.”

Last season, McMillan shocked the league with a 52-30 record and an appearance in the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.  McMillan enjoys a reputation as a no-nonsense disciplinarian who respects the game and demands excellence from his players.  “Portland should have a better defensive team this season, simply because Nate McMillan will insist on it,” said Jaynes.  “He’ll have a system in place where players know their responsibilities and expectations. That alone will make the Blazers better than they were last year.”

On August 1, five-time All-Star Maurice Lucas joined the franchise as an assistant coach.  As a member of the 1977 Blazers championship team, Lucas remains popular with fans. “It’s a great opportunity to be back on the bench again,” said Lucas.  “I feel I can share my experiences in the NBA with the youthful personnel that we have.”  McMillan met Lucas in his debut year with the Sonics.  “Maurice Lucas was an established veteran in Seattle my rookie season,” said McMillan.  “I gained immediate respect for his ability to communicate and mentor young NBA players.  From that season we’ve formed a lifelong friendship.  I look forward to watching him work with our young team and sharing his expertise with the post players.”

"I like some of the moves the Blazers have made this summer particularly in the area of coaching,” said KEX Radio Sports Director Scott Lynn in a September 8 interview.  “I think the hiring of Nate McMillan was an excellent move.  Armed with his long-term, big-money contract, McMillan will have the ‘juice’ to deal with any problems that might come up with the players.  [Former Blazers Coach] Maurice Cheeks lost credibility with the players by being a little too chummy and then trying too late to become a disciplinarian.  McMillan will be able to make the rules and make certain the players abide by those rules.  I am also pleased the Blazers brought Maurice Lucas back into the fold as an assistant coach.  The ‘enforcer’ on Portland's only NBA Championship team, Luke's mere presence will add strength and credibility to the coaching staff.  I'm sure many long time fans will be glad to see a former Blazer star working within the organization.”

The Blazers Youth Movement

   



Photo from the Associated Press

Blazers General Manager John Nash, Head Coach Nate McMillan, and Owner Paul Allen at Washington Park press conference on July 7.  Hundreds of fans turned out to welcome the new coach.
 
 

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Inside Portland is an online entertainment magazine covering life in the Portland Metropolitan area.   We explore news and trends that impact the Pacific Northwest.   Inside Portland offers concert information, relationship advice, movie showtimes, links to Portland publications, and insightful articles on local events and personalities.   This publication is not affiliated with any of the publications, personalities, or organizations featured in Web links and articles.   All rights reserved.   ©2005