Trail Blazers lost in space

So here it is, the stretch run has arrived and the Blazers are nowhere to be found.

That’s the feeling around the NBA world the last two weeks as the Trail Blazers continue to puzzle the critics. This is the team that has all the talent anybody could ask for. This is the team who has the highest payroll in NBA history. This is the team with more All Stars on their bench than most teams have in their starting rotation. This is also the team standing in fifth place in the Western Conference and third in the Pacific Division with eight games to go.

What is anybody supposed to think about this team? The consensus is that most people would like to see them fail. They have an owner who has no payroll limit. They have a general manager who doesn’t seem to be liked by most opposing general managers. They have a player who sets records for technical fouls and ejections. They are a team who complains to the officials more than anybody. Why would anyone wish success on a team like that?

That may be the big question mark, but how much trouble is this team really in? I don’t know if you can say the team is in trouble. Sure, as long as Whitsitt is around, no player’s job is safe. But in this go around, I think the blame and the trouble will land on Mike Dunleavy. Let’s just say the highlight for the Dunleavy family this season has been Mike Dunleavy Jr. winning a national championship with Duke. Unfortunately for Dunleavy, that may be the only highlight for the family this season.

A lot of the talk in the last two weeks has been about how Milwaukee coach George Karl was headed to Portland, and Dunleavy was on his way out at season end. Karl had the biggest coaching contract in professional sports history on the table, and he hadn’t signed it. But he ended all speculation last week when he finally did sign.So how does the blame land on Dunleavy? I think in a small way there should be some blame on the coach for the Blazers’ sudden falter. But at the same time, how many coaches can deal with 12 All-Star egos, a star player who flips out every other game and a team who, I feel, is old? Not to mention they’re playing in the loaded Western Conference where no game is a gimme.

I don’t think you can blame Dunleavy for the “collapse” as some people call it. I think you have to blame it on the lack of chemistry. This is a team who looks lost on offense.

You have Damon Stoudamire, obviously affected by the addition of Rod Strickland, who wants to score. You have Arvydas Sabonis, who obviously is getting to the point where he can barely get up the court for 25 minutes. You have Dale Davis, who obviously doesn’t know his role on this team. You have Steve Smith, who obviously isn’t real happy about being on the bench anymore. All this and Dunleavy isn’t even sure if he’ll have Rasheed Wallace around to finish a game. How do you coach that?

You can’t. For all the faults Dunleavy will face in the off season, he has been dealt a deck of cards that can’t be put in order. Will he be around if the Blazers lose in the first round? I doubt it. Will he be around if they lose in the second round? I doubt that. Can anybody else, other than George Karl, deal with these egos the way Dunleavy, a psychology major at South Carolina, can? Probably not.

It’s unfortunate Dunleavy will take the blame for what happens to the Blazers in the postseason this year. But I think most people understand where the blame should be dealt.