TUALATIN, Ore. — Blazers general manager Rich Cho politely responded to numerous questions Monday.
Whether he actually answered them is another matter.
Chatting with media members at the team’s practice facility for the final time this season, Cho commended the Blazers for making the playoffs amid myriad, potentially devastating injuries — labeling the season an overall success.
However, when asked about issues regarding the franchise’s future, that’s when Cho became his typically vague self.
The primary topic of discussion Monday was center Greg Oden, a restricted free agent whom the Blazers can sign this offeseason should they choose to match an offer made to him by any other team in the league. To attain that right, however, they must first extend him an $8.8 million qualifying offer, which can’t me made until the NBA season concludes.
Cho didn’t say for certain that Portland would make the offer, but his tone suggested it was likely so long as Oden is doing his part to contribute to the team.
“As long as he’s working hard and his rehab is going well,” Cho said of Oden, who had season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee in mid-November. “He’ll be a priority…Greg is 23, 7-feet, 280 pounds. It’s something to consider.”
Cho said that Oden, who’s played just 82 games in four seasons with Blazers, expressed a desire to return to the team. He added he thinks Oden will come back, and if healthy, can be part of one of the NBA’s great front lines alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace. But when asked about how much interest Oden would garner from teams this offseason, Cho didn’t offer a prediction.
“I’m not sure to tell you the truth,” said Cho, adding that Oden is still “a ways away” from returning to the court. “I think teams in general like 7-foot guys that can play well.”
Though he didn’t dominate the conversation the way Oden did, point guard Andre Miller’s future also was a major talking point Monday.
Last week, the 35-year-old said “it would be nice” to see the Blazers pick up his $7.8 million team option for next year, but Cho did not say whether the team would do so. If the Blazers don’t exercise his option by June 29, Miller becomes an unrestricted free agent.
“The offseason is a time for evaluation and we’ll go from there,” said Cho, who met with each player individually after the season. “We have until June 29. It’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate and lot of different options.”
Cho did, however, exhibit an appreciation for Miller, who now ranks 14th on the NBA’s all-time assists ledger.
“He’s one of those guys that if you’re on the outside looking in, you might not appreciate him and his play as much,” Cho said. “But I think he’s a great pro, a warrior. And once I saw him day in and day out, you really get an appreciation for his game.”
Before the season began, Cho said that the Blazers were one or two moves away from contending at a championship level, although he acknowledges that the statement was made assuming a healthy Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Cho maintained Monday that the team still isn’t too far off from joining the NBA’s elite, but recognized there were copious areas for improvement.
“We need size, speed in the back court, more depth and better shooting,” he said.
How this will manifest itself is unclear.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan said last week that there was a lot of “duplication” at certain spots on the roster — pointing that players such as Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews fulfilled similar needs while Miller was the only true point guard earning significant minutes.
Cho agreed that the roster needs better balance, and hopes to improve through both the draft and free agency. When one reporter asked how much Portland could really bolster the team with the 21st pick in the draft, Cho cited players such as Nicolas Batum, who was selected 25th, and Wesley Matthews, who went undrafted.
“There are players out there,” said Cho, adding that he thinks this year’s draft is a bit weaker than those of previous years.
Last offseason, Fernandez made public his desire to be released from the roster and return home to Spain. But Cho said that the 25-year-old recently told him that he wants to come back.
Cho also said that he expects Blazers guard Elliiot Williams, who sat out his rookie campaign due to a November knee surgery, “to be a player in this league,” and that “his athleticism is off the charts.” He added that he foresees contributions from Luke Babbitt down the road, and that the team will evaluate center Jeff Pendergraph, who was released from the Blazers at the beginning of the 2010-2011 after tearing his ACL in a preseason game.
And while Cho wouldn’t grade his own performance, saying that’s more a job for the media and Blazers owner Paul Allen, he said that he does “love being here.”
“There’s lots of reasons for optimism,” Cho said.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org