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Old 05-29-2001, 09:07 PM   #1
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Default Blazers Coaching Job Coveted

Some times history passes judgment before all the facts become known, and so it has been with the current Portland TrailBlazer season. Although pundits and fans mocked the Blazers for their first round exit sweep to the Lakers, bad trades that brought Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp for Jermaine O'Neal and Brian Grant, the Blazers 90 million payroll and the end of season collapse, the Blazers may still be the second best team in the league. The GM, Bob Whitsitt, accepted responsibility for the disappointing season and summarily fired the coach, Mike Dunleavy. And now the Blazers face the bleak possibility that no new coach will be hired prior to the draft, and the GM will be left alone to decide the draft without input from a new coach and coaching staff. Even after all the disappointment, the Blazers may still have been the second best team behind the Los Angeles Lakers as incredulous as it appears and with it comes a coaching vacancy that does not carry rebuilding or losing team.

Guess who provided the greatest challenge to the Lakers during the playoffs? The Blazers. The first two games in LA were close until the Blazers imploded during the fourth quarter, while the Kings and Spurs did not provide the same amount of competition or drama. The Blazers kept in check both Shaq and Kobe during the first two games for the first three quarters, something the Kings and Spurs could not duplicate. If the Blazers had faced any other team, they could have been going to the Western Conference Finals, where they would have then lost to the Lakers, but at least the nation would have been spared from the embarrassment that the Spurs demonstrated in being blown out all four games, early and often.

Although clearly something went wrong between the players and coach for the Blazers, and the coach needed to fired, since the team can not be released, the first round performance against the Lakers showed that the Blazers continue to have plenty of talent and why there has been a plethora of coaching candidates desiring the job. Fans and pundits missed how well the Blazers actually performed during the playoffs because of the level that the Lakers were playing had not been diagnosed yet. People who have been coaches and judge talent, Magic Johnson and Lionel Hollins for example, recognized that the performance on the court did not represent the complete package the team could bring and that more talent and wins existed than were had during the season.

The Blazers represent an opportunity that rarely occurs, a team that has the talent to go far in the playoffs and maybe win a championship, instead of team that has no chance of winning a playoff spot or a winning season. Who want to coach the Cavaliers, or Clippers or Grizzlies or.... when there exists a team that could win now? The Blazers have good players, not superstars, but they have shown the consistent ability to beat teams and compete against any team in the league, including the Lakers. The next coach must already realize with some minor tweaking, the team could play at a higher level than they showed at the end of the season and instead revert to their early and mid-season form when they appeared headed for a title shot.

Their does exist two big negatives for the Blazer job, first a meddling GM and second an over abundance of veterans. No coach appreciates a GM who does not understand separation of powers, and continues to meddle into the coaching area and ignoring coaches input. Dunleavy did not approve of the trading of O'Neal or Grant, and had to endure Whitsitt ensuring certain players playing time. The latter might have been the supreme factor in Dunleavy losing the confidence of the players. Having an abundance of veteran players creates a different set of challenges than a young team, but also a better chance of winning with players who understand the pressure and perform at a even level instead of erratic high and lows.

The top positives of the Blazers include, talent, fan support, the owner, Rasheed Wallace, and a small market. The Blazers have many former all-stars, who now play superior to role players, but below still a shell of their former selves. And fan support has been a long tradition in Portland, and with no other show in town, the Blazers receive all the adoration and attention. The owner, has proven to operate with an open wallet, albeit not with a sense of understanding the difference between top talent and paying for good players. And the media does not have the intensity of large markets that scrutinize every win and loss and every move the team makes. Instead the media supports most things that occurs and supports the only team in town. The coach who harnesses Wallace's ability will gain genius status. If a coaching job could have less stress than most, Portland represents that opportunity.

So the Blazers lost to Lakers, so has the Kings and Spurs, but at least the Blazers showed heart for three quarters in both games 1 and 2 of their series, something that would have been welcomed from Kings and Spurs by all people in the TV audience who watched the latter teams. The Blazer job remains the plumb coaching vacancy, with the only major problem being a GM which does not recognize job boundaries and the importance of coaches input when creating trades and evaluating talent, traits the GM will need to suppress to acquire a top coach. Rarely does the opening for what may be the second best team in the league have a vacancy and low expectation, hence the Blazers need not beg for a coach as have other who have groveled for a chance to coach the Blazers.

Louis Sears
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