Blazers make major draft-day moves

TUALATIN, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard was fired Thursday.

Longtime Blazers guard Martell Webster was traded away.

And there are four new players who will soon be wearing black and red.

For some teams, it would have been chaos. But for the Blazers, it was just another NBA Draft.

“We have to make tough decisions,” said Portland coach Nate McMillan, during a post-draft press conference at the team’s practice facility. “That’s a part of our jobs. What you’re always trying to do is work in the best interest of the organization, and seeing if you can make it better. And that is the focus of everyone here.”

While news of Pritchard’s unexpected dismissal largely overshadowed Portland’s draft-day efforts — news broke less than an hour before the No. 1 overall pick was made that Pritchard’s time as a Blazer had expired — the team continued to make major changes during what has already been a very busy, controversy-filled offseason.

Despite the distraction, Portland scouts Michael Born and Chad Buchanan praised the focus and dedication of Pritchard, who remained in the war room with the team despite knowing it would be his final hours as a Blazer.

“Kevin was absolutely spectacular,” said Born, Portland director of NBA scouting.

Buchanan said the three players Portland drafted were all at the top of the team’s wish list, and predicted each could make an immediate impact.

The Blazers obtained former Memphis guard Elliot Williams with the No. 22 overall pick during the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The 6-foot-5, 180-pound Williams spent two seasons as a Tiger, averaging 17.9 points and 3.8 assists while starting all 34 of Memphis’ games.

Williams participated in an individual workout with the Blazers during the days leading up to the draft, impressing Portland’s scouts with his innate talent and untapped potential. Buchanan said Williams is an exceptional athlete who can do things no one else on Portland’s roster can accomplish.

Meanwhile, Webster was traded to Minnesota in exchange for veteran forward Ryan Gomes and the draft rights to former Nevada forward Luke Babbitt, who was originally chosen by the Timberwolves with No. 16 overall pick in the first round.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Babbitt averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds during his sophomore season. And his stellar all-around game convinced McMillan that the loss of Webster was a risk worth taking.

“Babbitt was a guy our guys really liked,” McMillan said.

But while Babbitt and Gomes are expected to be assets, McMillan acknowledged that Webster’s departure will linger.

The Seattle native averaged 9.4 points and 3.3 rebounds last season, starting 49 games while playing in all 82 regular-season contests. But the fifth-year small forward lost his starting spot to Nicolas Batum in February, and spent the latter part of the season frustrated with his lack of playing team and decreased role.

Webster was originally selected by the Blazers with No. 6 overall pick of the 2005 draft. He struggled during his first two seasons, but evolved into one of Portland’s premier outside shooters and a strong defender.

“That is always a hard call to let your guys go,” McMillan said. “But we have to make tough decisions.”

The Blazers later obtained Armon Johnson with the No. 34 overall selection in the second round. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard from Nevada averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 assists during his junior season.

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New Blazers

The following players were obtained by the Portland Trail Blazers during Thursday’s 2010 NBA Draft

Name: Elliot Williams

Position: Guard

College: Memphis

Vitals: 6-foot-5, 180 pounds

Age: 21

Numbers: 17.9 points, 3.8 assists during sophomore season

Acquired: Selected by Blazers with No. 22 overall pick during first round

Name: Luke Babbitt

Position: Forward

College: Nevada

Vitals: 6-foot-9, 225 pounds

Age: 21

Numbers: 21.9 points, 8.9 rebounds during sophomore season

Acquired: First-round trade with Minnesota

Name: Ryan Gomes

Position: Forward

College: Providence

Vitals: 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

Age: 27

Numbers: 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds during five NBA seasons

Acquired: First-round trade with Minnesota

Name: Armon Johnson

Position: Guard

College: Nevada

Vitals: 6-foot-4, 195 pounds

Age: 21

Numbers: 15.7 points, 9.6 assists during junior season

Acquired: Selected by Blazers with No. 34 overall pick during second round

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