Sweet relief

Maksim Drotemko and Aren Bigler are probably the Trail Blazers’ two biggest fans. The area high-schoolers splurged on $100-level tickets for the Blazers’ season finale, a 106-103 victory over the hapless Los Angeles Lakers on “Fan Appreciation Night.”

“We’re the biggest fans, the most loyal,” Drotemko, 15, said as he waved his homemade sign.

His friend agreed. “But I wasn’t expecting so many losses,” Bigler, 17, added.

The self-described Blazer experts lamented the recent off season moves, including the bloated contracts management awarded to Darius Miles, Zach Randolph and Theo Ratliff.

Despite the blunders, the two remain optimistic, even though the Blazers “need to fire their PR guy,” according to Drotemko.

There is plenty of reason to be optimistic. The Blazers played the entire fourth quarter with three rookies, a second-year man and veteran Ruben Patterson. Sebastian Telfair led the charge with 17 points and 11 assists; supplanting veteran Damon Stoudamire in the fourth quarter in what could be Stoudamire’s last appearance in a Portland uniform.

The highlight of the game came midway through the fourth, as Telfair dove through the lane and dished a smooth no-look, behind the back pass to a waiting Ha Sung Jin for an easy dunk and a foul. The flashes of Telfair’s future potential were tempered by five turnovers and a couple of ugly shots that failed to draw iron.

The young core of Ha, Viktor Khryapa and Travis Outlaw played extremely well. Ha finished with career highs in points and rebounds, netting 13 points and five boards.

Outlaw led all Blazers with 20 points on 7-12 shooting, including the game sealing lay up with 7.1 seconds left. Khryapa played some gritty, physical defense on Kobe Bryant, drawing a pivotal charge on Kobe in the final minutes. He scored eight points and had seven rebounds in 22 meaningful minutes of action. Bryant scored a game high 37, but was ineffective at game’s end.

As the final buzzer sounded and the red and silver streamers were released from the Garden rafters, Ruben Patterson lofted the ball high into the stands. He was more subdued in the locker room.

“Whatever happens this summer happens,” Patterson said when asked about his future with the Blazers, though he may as well have been speaking for the whole team. “I’ve asked to be traded and nothing happened.”

Team veterans Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Nick Van Exel and Damon Stoudamire are not expected back. “Damon, I know for sure he isn’t coming back,” Patterson added.

Stoudamire was tight lipped about his future, though his tone seemed to indicate he already has one foot out the door. “The problem [with management] is they’ve ignored team leaders,” he said. “Let the leaders fall into place.”

If Stoudamire does leave, the team will lose its longest tenured player and homegrown star. “You build relationships,” Stoudamire said. “That’s what’s tough.”

The relationships this turbulent season has forged in the Blazer locker room brought interim head coach Kevin Pritchard to tears.

“I’m very proud of this team,” he said, fighting off emotion. “Sometimes when you’re battling you look around and say `these are the guys I want to be around.'”

This summer, it should be largely Kevin Pritchard’s job to determine who in fact it is he “wants around.” Talking like the future GM he likely is, Pritchard spoke excitedly about the new direction the Blazers are headed. “If you looked around the building tonight you saw some of our future playing out there,” he said.

Wednesday night, the Blazers “future” might have won back a few fans to enjoy it with them.