Portland Trail Blazers
There may be new management, but old habits are hard to break
By L. Jon Wertheim
Team Page | Conference ranking: 8 | Overall ranking: 12
When Steve Patterson relocated from Houston to Portland this summer, he got an unexpected break: three months of unremitting sunshine. In his new job as president of the team known as the Jail Blazers, however, Patterson faced a cloudier picture. He had barely gotten his business cards from the printer when point guard Damon Stoudamire was arrested for marijuana possession after allegedly trying to smuggle a stash of pot wrapped in tinfoil through an airport metal detector. (A judge has yet to rule on whether the search was constitutional.) Patterson responded with immediate force, fining him a whopping $250,000 and saying that Stoudamire's trade value was so minimal that he couldn't be traded "for a chair."
A respected sports executive who oversaw the Rockets' minidynasty a decade ago and, more recently, helped engineer the successful launch of the NFL's Houston Texans, Patterson, 45, was hired by the Blazers with a clear (if not explicitly stated) job description: Clean up the mess left by his predecessor, Bob Whitsitt, whose talented players outdid one another at getting into trouble. Though Stoudamire's fine was later rescinded -- he'll now submit to drug testing and give $100,000 to a Portland charity -- Patterson conveyed a strong message to the team and, more important, to a community of disenchanted fans. As he puts it, "There has been a dramatic philosophical change."
Patterson has even promulgated a 25-point "mission statement" that included a pledge to sign players with character as well as talent. The Blazers may or may not sustain their redoubtable 21-year streak of making the playoffs, but as long as the franchise regains the community's affection and the players steer clear of the law, Patterson will consider it progress.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Blazers
"For the first time in years they're not especially big, they're not as deep or athletic, and they're not a lock for the playoffs. Even if everything goes right, I don't see how they can finish higher than sixth in the West.... The only improvement might come at power forward, where Zach Randolph should become a bona fide low-post threat this season. That will liberate Rasheed Wallace to play even more on the perimeter.... Though Scottie Pippen received a lot of credit for organizing the offense as their point guard over the last two years, his departure is going to hurt them most on defense. Damon Stoudamire isn't known for locking up defensively, and it has as much to do with lack of effort as lack of size. Neither he nor Jeff McInnis likes to fight through screens or fight to contain pick-and-rolls.... Because the Blazers aren't as deep as they have been, the roles and rotation will be more clearly defined. At the two and three positions the minutes will be divided among Derek Anderson, Bonzi Wells and Ruben Patterson, who takes pride in his D though he's not as good as he thinks he is.... Wells is their second scoring option after Wallace. He's strong, gets his points in a variety of ways and tries to get into guys' heads. He'll talk to his opponent the entire game, even lean against him during dead-ball situations and tell him sweet nothings. Some nights it's intimidating, and other nights it backfires, which is when Wells loses his composure.... They're perennially one of the best offensive rebounding teams, but that means you can beat them downcourt in transition -- and that's exactly what you have to do: score before they can take advantage of their length and athleticism in the half-court defense."
Issue date: October 27, 2003