After a long, dramatic season, Blazers looking forward to rest
TUALATIN, Ore. — Less than 24 hours after the Trail Blazers’ unpredictable yet resilient season had finally come to an end, only one word rivaled injuries as the most used while the team reflected Friday on what had occurred and what was still to come: rest.
Rest for guard Brandon Roy and his surgically repaired right knee.
Rest for forward Nicolas Batum and his surgically repaired right shoulder.
Rest for forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who played through a multitude of ailments, and often carried the team when other key players were unable to take the court.
And surrounding the desire for rest was the sense that something more abstract — but just as welcomed — had also finally arrived: peace.
Portland’s dramatic and at times chaotic 2009-10 campaign drew to a close Thursday night, when the Blazers fell to Phoenix, 99-90, during Game 6 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series. With the win, the Suns claimed a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven
matchup. Meanwhile, Portland was knocked out of the first round for the second consecutive season.
A Friday morning interview session with media at the team’s practice facility officially marked the end of the Blazers’ season. Everyone from Roy and Aldridge to 16-year veteran Juwan Howard discussed the past seven months of basketball in detail.
And while Roy acknowledged that the first-round loss to Phoenix hurt, the three-time All-Star said the Blazers had no reason to hang their heads.
Only won team wins the NBA championship each year, Roy said. And he feels Portland is still on track to reach its ultimate goal, despite enduring a season that saw high expectations give way to 311 games missed due to injury, and occasional flareups caused by inner-team and front-office drama.
“I’m happy with what we did this year,” Roy said. “I think the guys did an unbelievable job of just stepping up for one another and leaving it out there on the floor. And it just wasn’t our year, I guess. But I think we made the absolute most out of it.”
No player symbolized better how far the Blazers came in 2009-10 than veteran guard Andre Miller.
Miller signed with Portland last summer as a free agent. He then competed with Steve Blake in training camp for the team’s starting point-guard position. Throughout the season, Miller fought off a series of minor injuries, while engaging in a heated verbal exchange Jan. 7 with coach Nate McMillan during practice that in many ways put the once-lost Blazers back on track.
But Miller overcame the adversity, and played in all 82 regular-season games. He scored a career high 52 points during a Jan. 30 overtime road victory over Dallas. And he tied a playoff career high with 31 points in Portland’s Game 1 road victory over Phoenix.
Friday, Miller appeared more relaxed and comfortable than he had all season. The normally reserved guard was upbeat, honest and reflective. And he said is already looking forward to his second go around with the Blazers.
“It’s my first year in 11 years winning 50 games,” Miller said. “With all the injuries, that said a lot.”
But it would not be the 2009-10 season if everything was perfect for the Blazers. And while Miller sounded excited about returning to Portland next year, guard Rudy Fernandez was far less jovial.
The reserve sharpshooter struggled with his role, playing time and shot all season. He then bottomed out in the playoffs before bouncing back to score 16 points and hit 5 of 6 3-pointers during the Blazers’ Game 6 loss to Phoenix.
Asked several times, several different ways if he wanted to play for Portland next season, Fernandez often responded by stating, “I have a contract.”
The Spanish native said he likes his teammates, and has often acknowledged the team’s devoted fans. But when he was asked Friday whether he would request a trade this summer if he knew going into 2010-11 he would face the same up-and-down situation, Fernandez did not hesitate.
“For sure I don’t want to stay in the same situation next year,” Fernandez said.
He added: “It’s a difficult year for us, for everyone. But for sure I want to play more and play happy on the court. Sometimes this year, I’m a little sad on the court.”
Roy plans to rest as much as possible this summer. He feels that by having knee surgery before the end of the regular season and then taking the court during the playoffs, he is ahead of schedule for his rehabilitation. … Howard said he plans to record his 17th season in the league next year. Howard greatly enjoyed his time playing with the Blazers, and added that he would like to remain in Portland next season if possible. He will become a free agent July 1. “I wish I could have come here early on in my career. Because this is a special place to play,” Howard said. … Batum said he expects it will take 2-3 months for his shoulder to fully heal. As a result, he is unsure whether he will play for his French national team this summer.
Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for notes, news, interviews and videos.
Coming up: Check Sunday’s Columbian for an in-depth look at the Blazers’ 2009-10 season and the year ahead.