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Going green (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday January 8, 2008 2:27PM; Updated: Tuesday January 8, 2008 3:29PM
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Fifth-year forward Travis Outlaw, 23, is a veritable graybeard on this Blazers team.
Fifth-year forward Travis Outlaw, 23, is a veritable graybeard on this Blazers team.
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The Blazers' best player is Brandon Roy, 23; he's the one Portland got in its 2006 draft switcheroo with the Wolves for now-injured Randy Foye. LaMarcus Aldridge is 22, Travis Outlaw is 23, Martell Webster is 21 and Greg Oden, who hasn't played a minute, is 19. When Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard shipped forward Zach Randolph, 25 at the time, to New York in June, his team actually got younger (once he bought out Steve Francis). Most of them soon will vote in their first or second presidential election.

"We're young, but we weren't going to let them use that as an excuse,'' Blazers assistant coach Maurice Lucas said last week in Minneapolis, after helping some of the kids through pre-game warm-ups. "Same thing with Oden. Why should that stop these guys from getting better?''

Oden, the league's No. 1 draft pick, is out this season after knee surgery. The city of Portland initially sagged with the news and the Blazers started 5-12, but finally accepted that the cavalry wasn't coming.

"Why shouldn't you be able to play when you're young?'' Lucas said. "When we won, we were the youngest championship team ever.''

That Portland club that won the 1977 NBA title was built around Bill Walton, 24; Lucas, 25; Lionel Hollins, 23; Bob Gross, 23; and Johnny Davis, 21. The franchise itself was only seven years old, never finishing above .500 prior to that season. Jack Ramsay, its coach, felt the team's youth made it malleable, willing to accept his system and share the ball.

"This is a young bloods' league,'' Lucas said. "They were all the best in college or high school, why shouldn't they be good here? We talked to them [about Oden] and told them we wouldn't accept that as an excuse.''

Farther down the court, Wolves coach Randy Wittman -- 16-59 since taking over for Dwane Casey last January, with the first loss coming at Portland last winter -- admired the Blazers' turnaround.

"We need to really look at what they're doing,'' Wittman said. "They went through a period, the last couple of years, of trying to figure out which direction they were going to go in -- which young guys they were going to keep, which ones they were going to move.

"That's kind of what we're doing. We're evaluating which guys we want to move forward with, where we need help, in the draft and in the offseason. We're still a long way away.''

With not a lot of time, and even less patience from fans and critics, at least in terms of individual job security. Being too young can get old quickly.

"These guys need to know, the NBA can go so fast,'' veteran Wolves guard Marko Jaric said. "You can be here one day and then out of the league. Players think they have time [to prove themselves], and then I get a call, 'Marko, where is a good place to eat in Belgium?' ''

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.

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