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Trail Blazers face tough decisions

The Sports Xchange

The Trail Blazers had way more questions than answers as they finished the 2011-12 season with a 96-94 loss at Utah Thursday night.

It was the seventh straight loss for Portland (28-38), the longest such streak since the Blazers lost their last eight and 19 of the last 20 games of 2005-06 season, when they finished a league-worst 21-61.

The season began with optimism and hopes that, after reaching the first round of the playoffs the previous three seasons, they would make it to at least the second round this year.

Along the way, Portland saw the end of Nate McMillan's 6-1/2-year run as coach, with his team not nearly reaching expectations.

The Blazers have gone all season with an interim general manager -- Chad Buchanan -- and have had an interim head coach, Kaleb Canales, since McMillan's firing in mid-March.

Now that the season is over, they'll need to decide whether to remove the interim tag from Buchanan's title, or Canales' title, or both. They are currently in the interview process for a GM, but consider Buchanan a candidate.

It's likely the hiring of a coach will soon follow. Then the Blazers must turn to player personnel issues. They'll build around returnees LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews and will have as much as $24 million in salary-cap room to sign free agents this summer.

Point guard Raymond Felton, who becomes a free agent on July 1, is unlikely to return. Same with combo guard Jamal Crawford, who can exercise an option out of his contract.

Decisions on restricted free agents Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson, both forwards, must be reached by the Blazers, too. And the club will probably hold a pair of lottery draft picks -- its own as well as New Jersey's, unless the Nets get one of the top three selections.

A 7-2 start to the season, with victories over Philadelphia, Denver, the L.A. Clippers and at Oklahoma City. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge made the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in his six seasons with the club.

The Blazers were 14-10 overall and 11-1 at home when they lost to Oklahoma City 111-107 in overtime. Portland led 103-101 in the final seconds of regulation when LaMarcus Aldridge was called for goaltending on a shot by the Thunder's Kevin Durant, sending the game into the extra session. The next day, the NBA office issued a statement saying that referee Scott Foster's call was erroneous. It didn't change the game's outcome, however. The Blazers went into a tailspin after that, going 7-15 over the next 22 games, and never really recovered.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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