Blazers talented, but young


The Portland Trail Blazers' season was crazy before it started.

The jubilation over landing the top draft pick and taking 7-foot Greg Oden was unexpectedly snuffed when Oden went in for a scope of his knee and came out with season-ending microfracture surgery.

Then the Blazers got a scare when last season's Rookie of the Year guard, Brandon Roy, hurt an ankle in the team's first fall practice and an MRI revealed the same inflammation to the heel that kept him out of 20 games last season.

Oden is still out for the season, but Roy appears on the mend as Portland embarks on a season that at first had fans thinking playoffs. Now, they're thinking, well, maybe.

There is one thing in their favor: The Blazers appear to be having a good time. The moodiness that set in at times last season has dissipated.

"We're a young running team, but we're smart. We have a lot of intelligent players on our team, and coach gave us the confidence to go out there and to be able to run without calling any sets," forward Martell Webster said. "So when we get in transition we're just looking to find it, and knocking down some open shots."

The idea, said Roy, is to pick up on the same kind of can-do, nothing-to-lose spirit the team had at the end of last season when forward Zach Randolph was out with a hand injury. Randolph, the team's highest scorer with 23.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, was later dealt to the New York Knicks on draft day.

"With losing Greg, guys have to focus even more, because now it's like we're thin and we need everyone in this locker room to be focused in shootaround and focused in practice," said Roy. "We can't take a minute off, because if we do, we'll look bad."

The young Blazers are a markedly different team from last year's, which finished 32-50.

With Oden out, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla will handle the frontcourt. Aldridge was an all-rookie selection last season, but Przybilla, the second-oldest Blazer at 27, is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he averaged just 2.0 points and 3.9 rebounds a game.

The Blazers added Channing Frye, an athletic power forward with a game similar to Aldridge's. Frye came from the Knicks in the deal that sent Randolph east. Along with veteran Raef LaFrentz, he should provide insurance.

McMillan said he will give athletic Travis Outlaw a chance to win the job at small forward, but he could get competition from James Jones, a pickup from Phoenix, and Webster, the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Webster, going into his third year with the team, was impressive in the preseason, averaging 18 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Free agent Steve Blake signed in the offseason for his second stint with the Blazers and will compete with Jarrett Jack at point guard. Sergio Rodriguez is also in the mix.

Roy is all set at shooting guard and has taken over leadership of the team.

"I try to lead by example. I'm not a big 'Rah! Rah!' guy before game," Roy said. "At halftime I may come in and say 'Look fellas, we need to step it up in these areas.' (But) my example is on the court."

The Blazers open the season tonight at San Antonio.

While Oden is out, he has still been a key figure at Blazers functions and even advertising. A wall across from the Rose Garden Arena is plastered with a huge billboard proclaiming "The Road Back to Rip City," with larger-than-life images of Oden, Roy and Aldridge.

Portland was nicknamed Rip City back when the Blazers won the NBA championship in 1977. Thirty years later, the city went wild when the team landed the No. — pick in the draft. When the Blazers chose Oden over Kevin Durant of Texas, a crowd watching the announcement at the Rose Garden dogpiled at center court.

Then came word that Oden needed to have an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, and what followed was the deflating news that he required microfracture surgery and would be out for the season.

Oden, who played a year at Ohio State, did his best to encourage Blazers fans not to give up hope.

"You know, it is a setback," Oden said in his first public appearance after the surgery. "But I'm excited that I'm going to be able to scout the NBA for a whole year. ... And just know that next year when I come in, I'm going to be very mature, and I'm going to be ready to play."

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