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If the Blazers were a college team, coach P.J. Carlesimo would
have been especially busy on the recruiting trail last summer.
He probably would have scoured the country for a more agreeable
point guard, a less ego-driven small forward, a more
well-rounded center and a younger power forward, among other
things. But unfortunately for Carlesimo, he can't rebuild the
declining Blazers the way he constructed his teams at Seton
Hall, which is why Portland, 44-38 and a first-round playoff
loser to the Suns last year, appears destined for an even more
disappointing season.

That doesn't mean Carlesimo and team president Bob Whitsitt,
both of whom came to Portland last season, are going to stand
pat, particularly after a year marred by internal strife. "We
had too many personal agendas," Carlesimo says. "And we had
horrible chemistry." Whitsitt says no Blazer is untouchable, and
he has talked with several teams about dealing two of his most
talented and troublesome players, Rod Strickland and Clifford

The strained relationship between Carlesimo and Strickland was
the most obvious problem. It came to a head in March when the
two argued during the halftime of a game at Philadelphia.
Strickland, being disciplined for missing a team flight, played
only four minutes. "I don't like him," Strickland told reporters
afterward, referring to his coach, "and you can print that."

The Blazers entered training camp still willing to listen to
offers for Strickland, but it appeared likely that he and
Carlesimo were going to give it another try. "Next to Chris
Webber and Don Nelson, it was the most publicized [player-coach
feud] of the season," Carlesimo says. "If you think Rod and I
had the worst relationship of any player and coach outside of
Webber and Nelson, you're out of your mind. I'm not saying it's
great, but everything went public in Philly and never went away."

It's no wonder Carlesimo wants to make peace with Strickland.
The 29-year-old point guard is emerging as one of the best in
the NBA, and the Blazers are playing in a division loaded with
outstanding players at the point, including Kevin Johnson, Gary
Payton, Tim Hardaway and Nick Van Exel. "He's one of the
premier guys in the league at his position," Carlesimo says.
"We're a better team with him out there. It's as simple as that."

Strickland may have a more long-term future in Portland than
Robinson. The good news about Robinson is that his scoring
average has risen in each of his six seasons, from 9.1 as a
rookie to 21.3 last year, but the bad news is that his trademark
headband may not be big enough to go around his swelled head.
Robinson wants to be clearly acknowledged as the Blazers' top
player, and he held out last season, lobbying for a contract
extension and star status in the team's marketing efforts. He
was unsuccessful on both counts, and the Blazers may not be
inclined to spend much time waiting to see if he will be more
concerned with the team or with his own statistics this season.

Buck Williams, the president of the NBA Players Association,
spent most of his summer involved in the labor dispute with the
league, but the Blazers are hoping he has had enough time to get
ready to wring at least one more season out of his 35-year-old
body. They also hope rookie Gary Trent is capable of taking over
for either Robinson or Williams if necessary. Portland may have
even bigger plans for rookie Randolph Childress, acquired from
Detroit in a trade for power forward Otis Thorpe. If the
Carlesimo-Strickland relationship doesn't smooth out, Childress
could find himself getting a great deal of playing time.

Like several other Pacific Division teams, the Blazers will try
to piece the center position together like a quilt. Chris
Dudley, a fine rebounder and defender with a stone-hard shooting
touch, will split time with 7'3" Arvydas Sabonis, a Lithuanian
who finally left the European leagues and joined the team nine
years after the Blazers drafted him. After several operations on
his legs, Sabonis has little mobility, but he's still a fine
shooter, and his offensive game is light-years ahead of
Dudley's. "One of the best passing big men of all time,"
Carlesimo says.

The Blazers are clearly a team in transition, but at least in
Whitsitt, who turned the SuperSonics into an elite team before
coming to Portland, they have an experienced architect. Whether
they make the playoffs is not the important thing for the
Blazers. What they will find out this season is whether they are
already on the rebound or if things have to get worse before
they get better.


COLOR PHOTO: JON SOOHOO/NBA PHOTOS A spot near the top seems out of reach for Dudley and the Trail Blazers. [Chris Dudley]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 103.1 (10) .451 (20)
DEFENSE 99.2 (9) .456 (10)


Chris Dudley, a graduate of Yale, ranks fifth among all former
Ivy Leaguers in career NBA games played. Last year Dudley was
one of only two centers to start all 82 games (Dikembe Mutombo
of the Nuggets was the other), and he ranked fourth in the
league in offensive rebounds per game (4). While Dudley may
someday overtake Princeton grad Bill Bradley as the Ivy League's
alltime NBA leader in games played, he will never match the New
Jersey senator in lifetime free throw efficiency. Bradley, one
of his generation's premier free throw shooters, made 84% of his
foul shots. Dudley's career free throw percentage is 45.3, the
lowest for any player in league history with a minimum of 1,000

Alltime NBA Leaders Among Former Ivy Leaguers

Most games played

Bill Bradley (Princeton '65) 742
Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth '59) 736
Jim McMillian (Columbia '70) 631
Corky Calhoun (Penn '72) 542
Chris Dudley (Yale '87) 482

Most rebounds

Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth '59) 6,936
Jim McMillian (Columbia '70) 3,319
Chris Dudley (Yale '87) 3,275
Bill Bradley (Princeton '65) 2,354
Corky Calhoun (Penn '72) 1,962

Shooting guard Aaron McKie, all but chained to the bench during
the first half of last season, got a chance to start soon after
the Blazers traded Clyde Drexler in February. McKie answered the
challenge, scoring in double figures in nine of his first 11
games. But by season's end he was back on the bench, playing
behind 6'9" Harvey Grant. However, Grant is a small forward by
nature and a suspect ball handler, so the Blazers will give
McKie every opportunity to win the job. At 6'5", he is the only
Blazer whose size and skills fit the position. As a starter or a
reserve, his role this year will be a bigger one. "The first
couple of games maybe you're surprising people, but it's beyond
that now," says coach P.J. Carlesimo. "Now people doing scouting
reports are addressing him very seriously."



SF Clifford Robinson 21.3 ppg 5.6 rpg 2.6 apg
PF Buck Williams 9.2 ppg 8.2 rpg 51.2 FG%
C Chris Dudley 5.5 ppg 9.3 rpg 46.4 FT%
PG Rod Strickland 18.9 ppg 8.8 apg 1.92 spg
SG Aaron McKie 6.5 ppg 2.9 rpg 2.0 apg


F-G Harvey Grant 9.1 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.1 apg
F Gary Trent Rookie; 11th overall pick, from Ohio U.
C Arvydas Sabonis Rookie; played for Real Madrid (Spain)