Raising Hell – From the desk of Nathan Hellman

Ime Udoka watched the Blazers summer league action in Las Vegas over the weekend from Cox Pavilion’s upper-most row.

Ime Udoka watched the Blazers summer league action in Las Vegas over the weekend from Cox Pavilion’s upper-most row.

Udoka witnessed the draft’s first selection Greg Oden foul and finish monster dunks, and saw the results of LaMarcus Aldridge’s work ethic, as the forward knocked down 15-foot jumpers and pounded the paint for hoards of boards. On the court below him, Channing Frye, recently acquired from New York, and Rookie-of-the-Year Brandon Roy sat in street clothes on Portland’s bench, watching like Udoka.

But they watched from a much different vantage point. They aren’t viewing the same game, because they are part of the team. Udoka isn’t. The Blazers are Udoka’s hometown team, and for the moment he isn’t on the bandwagon.

Udoka, a former Portland State Vikings star, sat far away from the team he fell in love with at a young age and enjoyed a successful one-year employment with.

Watching his team from the stands, his face should sting. It should feel like he’s been slapped–he has. Udoka’s been slapped despite love and loyalty. He’s been slapped by the Blazers.

The Blazers have made every right move since General Manager Kevin Prichard arrived. Even before he was officially the GM, Prichard orchestrated a six-trade draft day that landed Roy, Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez. He was granted the No. 1 pick and took Oden. In many ways, he’s revamped the Blazers with his basketball genius.

Prichard has yet to solve one equation, though. The genius has been unable to find a way to resign Udoka, which is why Udoka sits away from the team.

Everyone has been patting Prichard on the back for his draft maneuvering, for getting rid of Zach Randolph and bringing in talent. During all of this back-patting, he seems to have forgotten about Udoka.

Last season, Udoka averaged 8.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a 40.6% three-point percentage as a Blazer. Stellar numbers, but they only tell half the story.

The former Viking was the Blazers’ best lock-down defender, guarding LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant with moderate ease. He started 75 games, every night matching up with the opponent’s most potent offensive talent.

Udoka, 29, was also an elder statesman on a squad caulked full of youngsters. More than any other player, Nate McMillan gushed about Udoka’s leadership skills and behavior. He was deemed an on-court coach.

Apparently, the Blazers and Udoka are about as far apart in contract negotiations as he was from Portland’s bench. A year ago, Udoka was a bargain at $744,551, giving the Blazers a hometown discount. After a season where his services came for mere pennies in Paul Allen’s pocket, Udoka wants to be paid his worth. Is that so bad? The Blazers think so.

It seems Portland will re-sign forward Travis Outlaw, instead. Outlaw, 22, is an athletic, springy kid who has yet to mature on or off the court. He hasn’t been troubled. No Randolph-like problems. But he is Udoka’s opposite.

Udoka is poised. Outlaw is shy. Udoka is consistent. Outlaw is hit-or-miss. Udoka is a leader. Outlaw is a follower. The choice seems pretty clear to me: Udoka.

According to Udoka’s agent, there are six other teams interested in him, teams that are not located in his home town, but teams that do see his value. A couple of these teams might be in the Western Conference, or the Northwest Division, even. That means Udoka would face the Blazers regularly.

I guess then we’ll see if he returns the favor and slaps the Blazers back.