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Vandeweghe's situation is the most pressing. As he shot around in Portland's Memorial Coliseum last Friday afternoon, hours before the game against the Kings in which he would play 26 minutes to Kersey's 40, it was obvious what the Blazers miss when he's not in the lineup. During one stretch, Vandeweghe made 48 of 52 jump shots, all from more than 15 feet. "He's our best offensive player," says Drexler about Vandeweghe, who was an attendant in Drexler's wedding, on Dec. 30. "I still learn moves from him. We need him to start."
Vandeweghe wants to start, as he did before his back sidelined him. "It's not that I object to being a sixth man per se," he says. "There are some good sixth-man situations, like, say, Michael Cooper's with the Lakers. But I don't want that role in this situation. Look, Mike doesn't want me here, for whatever reason. It's a detriment for a team to have an ongoing controversy like this. That being the case, it's better that I leave."
Says Schuler, "I want Kiki on this team." Maybe. But Schuler despairs of Vandeweghe's defensive and rebounding weaknesses, and he clearly prefers the slashing, physical dimension that Kersey provides to the steady offensive contributions of Vandeweghe, who has a 23.6-point career average. And Drexler's scoring average—28.1 points a game through Sunday—doesn't give him the right to make up the lineup card.
The Drexler-Schuler relationship is more complex and, ultimately, of more importance to Portland's fortunes than the Vandeweghe-Schuler relationship. No matter how well things are going on the court for Drexler—and it would behoove him to remember that his game has blossomed under Schuler's system—he finds it hard to get along with his coach. "It's not just that Mike and I are different," says Drexler. "It's that we're total opposites. It was hard for us right from the beginning, and I'd say it's getting worse, not better. The Kiki thing is part of it, but there are lots of other things, too."
Is he thinking trade?
"If the situation doesn't improve, yes, I'd say so," says Drexler. Hmm, Drexler on the Blazer Home Shopping Network? Now that would get salivary glands working overtime around the league.
For his part, Schuler studiously avoids criticizing Drexler. He's not like former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden, who fought his battles with Adrian Dantley and Kelly Tripucka in public. "I guess it's no secret that Clyde and I don't always see eye to eye about basketball matters" is all Schuler would say last week.
According to sources on the Trail Blazers, those matters include Drexler's lackadaisical practice habits, his sometimes questionable shot selection, his lack of discipline in Portland's half-court offense and his failure to assert himself as a team leader. Last week's loss to the Lakers afforded a telling snapshot. During a second-quarter timeout, 11 Blazers grouped around Schuler, while Drexler, who was out of the game at the time, remained on the bench. That's not the posture an all-star should be taking. Then again, all Drexler did while he was on the court was hang up a 33-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple double.
So who's to blame? Jim Paxson, a former Portland player who was traded to the Boston Celtics midway through last season, points a big finger at Drexler and a small one at Schuler. "Clyde is the type of player who, if he's upset, can just say, 'I'm not playing,' " says Paxson. "By the same token, Clyde can win games by himself with his talent. His attitude upset Jack [Ramsay, who was fired as Portland's coach after the 1985-86 season], and it upsets Mike now. Clyde pretty much decides when he wants to practice, too. That makes it tough on a coach, who's supposed to treat everyone the same."
Says Drexler, "I'm a guy who goes all out on the court, every minute, during games. When would you rather have it, during practices or during games?" Just a wild guess, Clyde, but most coaches would answer, "Both."