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Evilmav2
08-03-2004, 02:17 PM
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Blazers' deals set Cheeks up for a .500 fall

The Oregonian
Tuesday, August 03, 2004

It is a real stretch to fit Nick Van Exel under the character cap that Blazers management has adopted in the post-Whitsitt era.

Since taking over, team president Steve Patterson and general manager John Nash repeatedly have said character was a priority in reshaping the Blazers, which became a league laughingstock under the tenure of former president Bob Whitsitt.

They were true to their word in trading Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace and acquiring stand-up players such as Theo Ratliff and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who was named the NBA's No. 1 Good Guy by The Sporting News this summer.

But the Van Exel move is a risky step backward. The 11-year veteran has quarreled with coaches and had problems at his previous four NBA stops.

Van Exel arrived in town and said all the right things to the media, but talk -- especially during the summer -- is easy. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, a look at his career statistics punches holes in the perception of him as a precise shooter and clutch performer.

The numbers say Van Exel is the third-best shooter in the Blazers' backcourt. In 11 seasons, he has shot under 40 percent from the field four times, including last season when he shot 39 percent in 39 games with the Golden State Warriors.

Van Exel's career field goal percentage is 40.6, which is lower than either Derek Anderson (41.3) or Damon Stoudamire (41.1).

Still, Van Exel is a scorer and has made big shots, especially with Dallas two seasons ago in the playoffs against Portland. But he also will be 33 this season and has a bad left knee, which caused him to miss 43 games last season.

The Van Exel move is just one piece of a potential mess for coach Maurice Cheeks.

The way the roster is shaping up, the Blazers will be thin underneath, but they might lead the league in pouting.

Suddenly, the backcourt is stacked. If Minnesota doesn't match the contract Portland offered Trenton Hassell, the backcourt will be deep but mercurial. My guess is Hassell eventually will start at shooting guard, largely because Cheeks is a defensive-oriented coach and Hassell is a better defender than Anderson.

Anderson won't swallow this demotion lightly, especially since Van Exel will be the first guard off the bench. As for No. 1 draft pick Sebastian Telfair, the Brooklyn point guard will be lucky if he plays more than five minutes a game. So much for developing the future. NBA coaches are not into the future anyway; they need to win tonight to keep their jobs.

The potential drama won't be confined to the perimeter.

Abdur-Rahim already is unhappy and threatening not to report to training camp. If Abdur-Rahim does show, he probably will play more at small forward or backup center than at his natural position of power forward.

Ruben Patterson is not a player who can abide too much time on the bench, but that is what he is looking at this season. If he is around come fall, the unhappiness quotient will soar.

The Blazers did strengthen their backcourt, provided Hassell is in uniform, but their front line is diminished with the departure of Dale Davis. And the positive atmosphere that the moves last season generated is threatened.

The front office has dug a big hole for Cheeks. Managing this group and forging a team attitude seems a daunting task. Winning does smooth over many problems, but this group will not be a dominant team. It appears to be a .500 ballclub at best. There will be losing streaks and adversity will fan the flames of unhappiness. With so many potential malcontents on the roster, Cheeks might quickly find himself in trouble.

Perhaps Nash and Patterson are not finished adjusting this roster. For Cheeks' sake, I sure hope not. If they take this group into the regular season, they are just setting up the coach to fail.

Brian Meehan, 503-221-4341; brianmeehan@news.oregonian.com

u2sarajevo
08-04-2004, 09:08 AM
But the Van Exel move is a risky step backward. The 11-year veteran has quarreled with coaches and had problems at his previous four NBA stops.Huh? I don't remember Van Exel having problems in Dallas. He did in GS but that was because he was pissed that he got traded and wanted to win.