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No. 3 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Tim Kurkjian
November 10, 1997
Brian Grant, the rich, new forward for the Trail Blazers, laughed in astonishment after two days of training camp. "You should see our practices," he said, shaking his head. "They're incredible to watch. Everyone on this team is big. And everyone can jump, jump, jump. The athleticism is amazing."
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November 10, 1997

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 49-33 (third in Pacific)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Trail Blazers

99.0 (11)

.464 (9)

43.3 (4)

16.5 (24)

Opponents

94.8 (11)

.436 (5)

38.4 (4)

15.1 (23)

Brian Grant, the rich, new forward for the Trail Blazers, laughed in astonishment after two days of training camp. "You should see our practices," he said, shaking his head. "They're incredible to watch. Everyone on this team is big. And everyone can jump, jump, jump. The athleticism is amazing."

The Blazers are the NBA's All-Vertical Team. They're also one of the league's tallest teams, except for point guard Kenny Anderson, who's listed at 6'1", weighs 168 pounds and has a 32-inch waist and hands so small he can't palm a basketball. It's impressive raw material for new coach Mike Dunleavy to mold. "We have talent," says Anderson. "I don't think anyone can come in and mess it up."

Grant will improve the mix. He was signed as a free agent in the off-season to a seven-year, $63 million deal, which made one Western Conference general manager wince and say, "He's a nice player, but $9 million a year?" The Blazers signed him because he's only 25 and, at 6'9" and 254 pounds, has the physique of a bodybuilder. He fits in with Portland's physical style. Over each of the last 10 seasons the Blazers have finished in the top five in the NBA in rebounding. With Grant they should finish in the top three.

The Blazers also signed Grant because he's a solid citizen. As in recent years, there are misgivings about Portland's chemistry. Shooting guard Isaiah Rider and backup forward Gary Trent have embarrassed the organization with their off-court misdeeds. Talented young power forward Rasheed Wallace has been tagged with the reputation of being difficult. Grant is tough, bright and committed, and it's unlikely the money will change him. "If I was going to a team that wasn't winning and I was going to be the player they built around, there'd be pressure," says Grant. "But I'm not. Rasheed got a big contract. Kenny got a nice contract. It's not just me."

Grant was pursued by several teams, including the Cavaliers, who reportedly offered him more money. "But it came down to, Do you really want to win?" Grant says. "Which team has the better chance of winning? Where are the teams headed?"

The Blazers are going forward under Dunleavy, who has altered Portland's deliberate, half-court style to an up-tempo approach. "I love to run," says Grant. His addition will ensure that Dunleavy won't have to rush 19-year-old forward Jermaine O'Neal, who didn't play much last year—which was one reason coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired—but is expected to see action in the first half of every game this year. At 6'11", O'Neal can play small forward. "He's an unbelievable talent," says Grant.

Grant will spend time at small forward, too, but will he be able to hit the 15-footer? As strictly a low-post player for the Kings in his first three years in the league, he rarely took a shot beyond 12 feet. That has led to some concern that Grant's game is too much like that of Wallace, whose most effective moves are made around the hoop.

The same is true for most of Portland's players. The Blazers' shooting is their weak point—their best three-point man probably is Arvydas Sabonis, their hulking 7'3" center (though last season Rider had a higher shooting percentage on three-pointers). When opposing teams double-team Grant and Wallace in the low post, the Blazers will miss 6'10" forward Cliff Robinson, an explosive scorer who left Portland after eight seasons and signed with the Suns as a free agent.

The Trail Blazers got tired of Robinson gagging during the postseason, so they let him go. Being bounced in the first round of the playoffs again would be a big disappointment for the Blazers, but given the remarkable strength of the Western Conference, it could happen. Portland is young, inexperienced and talented. However, winning in the NBA today is more about knowledge, experience and positioning, not how high you can jump. The Blazers will win by 40 one night, then lose by 40 the next. In either case, they'll be entertaining to watch.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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