The NBA Draft is complete and the free agent wars have begun. The Blazers have a new coach along with two new players from the draft. The recruiting of high priced free agents will start, and July 18 is the first day any free agents can be signed. That���s right, the off-season frenzy has begun.
You have to wonder sometimes, is the off-season more exciting than the regular season? Sometimes it seems that way. This is when everybody becomes a general manager. Trades are made, home teams sign free agents, and new excitement creates a winning feeling. It���s just a fun time of year to follow what the home team does.
With that said, Portland���s home team has cracked the headlines more than once already. Last week, the Blazers hired Maurice Cheeks as the 10th coach in franchise history. Cheeks was an assistant coach in Philadelphia for seven years with the last four coming under Sixers head coach Larry Brown. Cheeks was instrumental in the development of Allen Iverson on not only the physical side, but also the mental side. He was given high praise from not only Brown on the coaching end, but Sixers General Manager Billy King. He���s an easy-going guy who doesn���t seem to be a yeller, but he also demands respect from his players. He strongly believes in defense and effort, and if anything, his teams will give their all on every night, reminiscent of the Sixers teams this season.
How will he fit with this team? If anything, the lack of experience on the coaching side may benefit Cheeks and this team. Last season when Mike Dunleavy was told during a team meeting to let the team play and not coach so much, the Blazers won 10 straight. Dunleavy then reverted back to his coaching style after a couple of losses and the rest is history. Cheeks has already stated he will let this team play. With a veteran group of players like the Blazers have now, all Cheeks may have to do is call a timeout every now and then.
How will he fit in with Rasheed Wallace? Nobody has an answer to this question, but Cheeks is from Philadelphia. Wallace is also from Philadelphia, so the two may have a much better relationship than Dunleavy and Wallace did. Wallace is the only one who can bottle up his anger. No coach can prevent it from happening, but Cheeks may have the best shot. Cheeks has said he loves the emotion Wallace displays, but keeping him in the game will be the most important thing.
Draft Picks: Some people questioned the pick of Zach Randolph in the first round by the Blazers. Randolph is a 6-foot-9 power forward from Michigan State who comes to a team with a logjam at power forward spot already. The Blazers needed a center. Will he find minutes behind Wallace and Shawn Kemp? Probably not. This is more of an insurance policy for injury than anything. Randolph can play though. He weighs 270 lbs., but he has quick feet. Some say he has the best hands in the entire draft. He���s a great scorer around the basket and rebounds very well, particularly on the offensive end. His weight has been an issue in the past, as has his lack of college experience. But, being on a team with veterans like the Blazers have could be a blessing in disguise for this kid.
The Blazers second pick was Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. Boumtje-Boumtje is a 7-foot center from Georgetown with a pretty good upside. Draft experts have called him the ���poor man’s Dikembe Mutombo,���� but if he has anything close to a career like Mutombo has had, the Blazers stole a good one at pick number 50. Boumtje-Boumtje is fourth all-time in block shots at Georgetown behind Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing, and was named the Big East Men���s Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year in math this season. With a defensive minded coach like Cheeks, his chances of making the team are better, but he won���t see a lot of playing time behind the big frontline the Blazers already boost.
Overall, the Blazers chose to stay big in the draft, which is always a safe bet. Randolph and Boumtje-Boumtje give the Blazers more versatility on the frontline. Cheeks gives the Blazers a guy who will fit in well with the players. Dunleavy was known as a player���s coach, but Cheeks is even more than that. Dunleavy didn���t enforce rules and he lost his team. Cheeks demands respect from his players and at the same time will let them play.
Maybe now, this team will hit the potential we���ve heard about for two years. Maybe now, the team will determine what happens on the floor and not the coach. Or, maybe, it���s just the off-season. See how the excitement starts?