July 18, 2008 - 9:00 pm
It wasn’t that long ago that the NBA had a large presence in the Pacific Northwest.
As late as 2001, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver had franchises. Today, only the Trail Blazers remain as the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis for the 2001-02 season and the SuperSonics recently bolted for Oklahoma City.
Suddenly, the Blazers have an opportunity to become a regional franchise. Perhaps they can cater to the disenfranchised Sonics fans and the remaining NBA fans in British Columbia who miss the Grizzlies.
Whether those who supported the Sonics will switch allegiances to their archrival remains to be seen. But if they do, they’ll be getting behind a team that appears to be on the way back with roster full of young, talented, exciting players.
Led by Greg Oden, the first pick in the 2007 draft, LaMarcus Aldridge, who was taken No. 2 in 2006, Brandon Roy, the 2007 NBA Rookie of the Year, and Martell Webster, the Blazers have built a solid nucleus.
The latest piece of the puzzle seems to be guard Jerryd Bayless, who was drafted No. 11 by Indiana and traded to Portland. Bayless has been terrorizing opponents in the NBA Summer League at Cox Pavilion, averaging 27.7 points a game.
"I’m not surprised," Bayless said after scoring 29 points Thursday in the Blazers’ 88-78 loss to Minnesota. "I know what I can do. I came here to show people I can play."
General manager Kevin Pritchard didn’t need any convincing.
The architect of the Blazers’ revival, Pritchard has put together a winning team through smart drafting and deft trades.
Portland — 21-61 three seasons ago and 32-50 in 2006-07 — finished 41-41 last season after naming Pritchard GM in March 2007.
"Our culture is a journey," Pritchard said of the organization’s transformation. "It’s about working at it every day. You just don’t suddenly arrive. You’re constantly working at it.
"People are excited, and they’re proud. This is an easy team to root for. They play hard and the right way. The most rewarding thing is to walk into our practice facility and see the people we have pulling for us."
Two of those people are Larry and Georgia Muller, who came from Portland to watch the Blazers in Las Vegas. The Mullers have been season-ticket holders for 16 years, and they like what they’re seeing.
"He has a plan to win a championship, and he’s working his way toward it," Larry Muller said of Pritchard.
"It’s exciting again. It was hard to hear people talk about the team the last few years," Georgia Muller said. "Kevin has really made a big difference."
The other key is players want to play in Portland again.
Oden, whom many people see as the face of the franchise, loves it there. Bayless said when he found out he was joining the Blazers, he was ecstatic.
Pritchard doesn’t know if the rest of the Pacific Northwest will join Oregon in embracing the Blazers. He was sad to see the Sonics leave.
"We had a great rivalry with them," he said. "I think it’s going to hurt to not have them.
"Hopefully we can gain some more fans. I think we have a good team and a bunch of guys people can really root for."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2913.Slideshow THURSDAY’S RESULTS At Cox Pavilion • Dallas 79, Detroit 73 • New Orleans 80, L.A. Clippers 76, OT • Philadelphia 87, Toronto 85 • Minnesota 88, Portland 78 At Thomas & Mack Center • Phoenix 98, San Antonio 74 • Milwaukee 79, Denver 67 TODAY’S GAMES At Cox Pavilion • Phoenix vs. New York, 1 p.m. • Charlotte vs. Detroit, 3 p.m. • Cleveland vs. Washington, 5 p.m. • Sacramento vs. Golden State, 7 p.m. At Thomas & Mack Center • L.A. Lakers vs. Toronto, 5:30 p.m. • Houston vs. Denver, 7:30 p.m.