Line up for roll call, you Portland Trail Blazers. O.K., guys, is ev-ree-body un-happy?
Kiki Vandeweghe, small forward. Unhappy. No. 1 on the Trail Blazers' Miffed Parade. Vandeweghe is unhappy with what he perceives to be management's insensitivity to his aching back, which sidelined him for 45 games at different times last season and for the first 27 games in '88-89. Now that he's playing again, he's unhappy with his role, or lack thereof, in coach Mike Schuler's rotation. Vandeweghe wants to be traded.
Clyde Drexler, all-star shooting guard. Unhappy. He has never seen eye to eye with Schuler and is also unhappy that Vandeweghe, his best buddy, is unhappy. Last week Drexler didn't rule out the possibility that he'll ask to be traded if circumstances don't change.
Steve Johnson, center—power forward. Unhappy. He's concerned that his minutes have shrunk to 22.3 per game now that rookie Mark Bryant from Seton Hall is starting. What's more, Johnson faces the prospect of even less playing time once center Sam Bowie—remember him?—returns to action, which could happen as early as next week. Johnson hasn't uttered the T-word to the press, but he has expressed his disenchantment in strong terms to teammates and friends.
Jerome Kersey, small forward. Unhappy. Kersey, who starts ahead of the high-scoring Vandeweghe, is unhappy because the Vandeweghe flap is affecting team chemistry. Kersey said last week that management should trade one of them. You can bet Portland won't get rid of Kersey. Kersey also must be unhappy—though he has yet to say so publicly—that Drexler would prefer Vandeweghe to start.
Bucky Buckwalter, vice-president, basketball operations. Unhappy. Even though Buckwalter appears to be his normal smiling self, the daily exercise of trying to deal Vandeweghe while also professing that Vandeweghe isn't trade bait has become a strain. Last week The Oregonian, the Portland daily paper, revealed that Buckwalter sent a videotape of Vandeweghe practicing to the San Antonio Spurs, who had requested it to see if Vandeweghe's back was in good shape. Dwight Jaynes, a reporter for The Oregonian, dubbed the tape "the Blazers' own version of the Home Shopping Network."
Schuler, the third-year coach. Unhappy. He's unhappy that this talented team is wading in a pool bubbling with dissension and backbiting. A tightly wound man who resembles a televangelist with his stylish threads, his earnest and intense face, and his well-trained hair, Schuler hardly relaxes in the calmest of times, so the ongoing turmoil must be broasting his insides.
So the turmoil goes, which only serves to make other Blazers unhappy too. Another fine season by point guard Terry Porter is being overshadowed by the disturbances. And does Bowie, the star-crossed seven-footer who hasn't played a regular-season game since November 1986 because of a broken right tibia, really want to come back to this?
Some observers picked Portland to win the Western Conference championship, and in anyone's talent roundup the Trail Blazers would have to rank among the NBA's top half-dozen teams. At week's end, Portland was 18-13—three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers and two behind the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division—but it was an anemic 18-13. Consider last week's 2-2 showing: The Blazers won two home games they were expected to win—119-95 over the Miami Heat, and 147-142 in double overtime over the Sacramento Kings thanks to a career-high 50 points from Drexler—and dropped two road games they needed to win to make a real statement. They lost 133-120 to the Lakers and 129-123 to the Seattle SuperSonics. Some statement.
Those four games fit the pattern of last season's Trail Blazers, who went 34-4 against teams with losing records and 19-25 against those with winning records. (Of Portland's 18 victories this season, only five have come against teams with winning records.) The Lakers have recently been making like a big, soft mattress—through Sunday they had lost seven straight on the road—and Portland should have jumped on them. Instead, the Blazers engaged each other in pillow fights. On two occasions in recent weeks—at Sacramento on Dec. 27 and at Los Angeles on Jan. 4—Portland could have tied for first in the division with a victory but lost. "Maybe we just don't have the maturity, have what it takes to handle that situation," said Schuler after the rout at the hands of the Lakers. "It hurts like hell to say that, but maybe it's true."