Blazers ready for free-agent rush

Michael Born said the Portland Trail Blazers were fully prepared, completely armed and ready for the rush.

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, Born expected the Blazers to start rifling through personal directories of NBA players and agents. By 9:01 p.m., the chase would be on. Born, Portland coach Nate McMillan and Chad Buchanan, Blazers director of college scouting, were set to make a series of long-planned phone calls, as the trio attempted to make connections with and gauge the interest of free agents who could soon wear black and red.

“We’re going to call for as long as it takes to talk to the guys we have an interest in,” Born said Wednesday afternoon.

The 2010 NBA free agent gold rush opened for business Wednesday evening. Teams cannot officially sign players until July 8, one day after the 2010-11 salary cap and luxury tax are set. But Born said the first few minutes of free agency were crucial for the Blazers.

While teams such as Chicago, Miami and New Jersey have the cap space to possibly lure in big names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the Blazers have their sights set on smaller, simpler goals. To reach those goals, Born said Portland wanted to send a strong, quick message. One based in background research, scouting and gut instinct. And one founded on the tried-and-true principle of respect.

“I think ultimately at the end of the day, if I’m an agent or I’m a player, I want to sit back and find out who called and when did they call,” Born said.

The Blazers will primarily target the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions. In doing so, the team will attempt to improve its perimeter shooting and replace the departures of Martell Webster, Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw from a 2009-10 squad that finished 50-32 and was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs. Portland will also reach out to forwards and centers, although Born conceded that the team runs deep in bigs.

However, the Blazers are expected to be well above the 2010-11 salary cap and near the luxury tax. Thus, the organization’s main resource for attracting a first-choice free agent will be the team’s mid-level exception, which will likely be valued at $5.7 million and can be split among multiple players.

Veterans such as Rasheed Wallace, Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza all signed with teams via the MLE last season, while Orlando added Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes.

There is a touch of irony in Portland’s situation. Despite having deep-pocketed billionaire Paul Allen as an owner, the Blazers’ hands are somewhat tied heading into what many consider to be the deepest and most talented offseason market the league has ever seen. Players such as James, Wade and Bosh have the potential to change a franchise’s future and overall fortune, while second-tier free agents such as Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer possess the power to turn playoff contenders into NBA champions. But unless Portland is able to engage in a sign-and-trade or multi-player package deal, the Blazers will likely have to be content with adding 1-2 veteran pieces who can offer a specialized talent.

“It seems like there’s going to be a lot of dancing going on, which I’m sure there always is,” Born said. “It seems like some of those free agents … it’s going to take those guys to sign with a particular team before the trickle down starts.”

Then there is the fact that the Blazers entered the market with neither a general manager nor a vice president of basketball operations. Former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard was fired last Thursday, while ex-VP of basketball operations Tom Penn was relieved of duties March 16.

Born remained confident, though, that the Blazers were prepared for the money run. He said that Pritchard made a point to include him and Buchanan as much as possible during past decisions that involved either adding or passing on a player. And by combining forces and immediately jumping out of the gate, Born does not think Portland will miss a beat.

“I feel like we’re prepared,” Born said. “We’re in a good situation, and we’re excited to talk to some of these guys.”

The Blazers interviewed Danny Ferry on Wednesday for the team’s vacant general manager position, Portland president Larry Miller said. Ferry was employed as Cleveland’s GM from 2005 until June 4, 2010. His contract with the Cavaliers ended Wednesday. Ferry was the first candidate to officially interview for the position. … Former Mountain View High School standout Nik Raivio was among 14 players who earned a spot on the Blazers’ Summer League roster. “He loves being in the gym and appreciates the opportunity,” Born said. “I’m sure he’ll love to battle against the other guys.” Raivio, who starred at the University of Portland from 2007-10, participated June 21 in a draft workout with the Blazers. He will be joined by current Blazers Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson and Patty Mills, among others. The Blazers will play five games from July 11-18 at Cox Pavillion in Las Vegas.

Portland Trail Blazers

2010 NBA Summer League roster

Name Pos Ht Wt Birthdate NBA Yrs

Luke Babbitt F 6-9 225 6/20/89 R

Jimmy Baron G 6-3 195 5/23/86 R

Dante Cunningham F 6-8 227 4/22/87 1

Michael Fey C 7-0 270 5/29/83 R

Mike Green G 6-1 175 6/23/85 R

Ekene Ibekwe F/C 6-9 220 7/19/85 R

Armon Johnson G 6-3 195 2/23/89 R

Joe Krabbenhoft F 6-7 220 3/24/87 R

Patrick Mills G 6-0 175 8/11/88 1

Demetris Nichols G/F 6-8 211 9/4/84 2

Jeff Pendergraph F/C 6-9 240 4/29/87 1

Nik Raivio G 6-4 205 2/6/86 R

Luke Schenscher C 7-1 265 12/31/82 2

Reyshawn Terry F 6-8 222 4/7/84 R

Coach: Kaleb Canales


Date Time Opponent Venue

July 11 3 p.m. Houston Cox Pavilion

July 13 7 p.m. New Orleans Cox Pavilion

July 15 7 p.m. L.A. Clippers Cox Pavilion

July 17 7 p.m. Minnesota Cox Pavilion

July 18 3 p.m. Chicago Cox Pavilion

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