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Portland moving toward youth movement

TUALATIN, Ore. -- The changes were already evident as Kevin
Pritchard took charge of his first practice as interim coach of the
Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, one day after Maurice Cheeks
was fired.
There was now a formal practice schedule posted on the wall at
the team's suburban practice facility and Pritchard was noticeably
vocal during drills as the Blazers took the first steps of the
post-Cheeks era.
The likable Cheeks was fired a little more than 24 hours earlier
as Portland struggled to a 22-33 record, the team's worst mark this
many games into the season since 1975-76.
The 37-year-old Pritchard was hired as the team's director of
player personnel in August, after 1½ years as a scout with the San
Antonio Spurs.
The change in coaches signaled a "youth movement" for the
Blazers, with the emphasis shifting from winning games to
evaluating young talent.
That's because the Blazers started the day in 12th place in the
Western Conference with bleak chances of capturing one of the eight
playoff spots.
Pritchard reinforced the movement when he spoke about what the
team's style would be in the final 27 games of the season, singling
out 19-year-old rookie point guard Sebastian Telfair.
Telfair, the 13th overall pick in the draft out of Lincoln High
School in Brooklyn, N.Y., averaged 10.4 minutes a game under
Cheeks.
"We've changed some things. We're going to try to really run up
and down. Let Sebastian create, see what we can get out of that,
put in a little bit of a secondary break and let everything flow
from there," Pritchard said.
He said he hadn't made a decision about whether Telfair would
start Friday night when the Blazers host the Indiana Pacers.
While the players said they thought practice went well, there
was still a profound sense of sadness. Most of the veterans did not
linger on the practice courts like some did under Cheeks. Instead,
there was a quick retreat to the locker room.
Forward Zach Randolph, named the league's Most Improved Player
last year, was caught off-guard because he thought management would
wait until after the regular season to make a decision about
Cheeks.
"It's emotional, especially for me, because that's the only NBA
coach I ever had," said. "It's kind of different."
Damon Stoudamire, who was one of the closest players to Cheeks,
said he'll do what the team asks him to do -- but suggested he might
not be happy about it. Either Stoudamire or Nick Van Exel will play
off the bench if Telfair starts.
A free agent at the end of the season, Stoudamire, a Portland
native, was asked if he'd entertain returning to the team.
"Next," he replied.
And he reeled off the names of many former Blazers, including
Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Bonzi Wells and coach Mike
Dunleavey -- who Cheeks replaced.
"I look at everybody else and they're in a position to prosper
and I'm the last man standing here," Stoudamire said.
Pritchard said he understood the frustration among the veterans.
"If there was pixie dust that we could sprinkle over and make
everybody happy, we certainly would. But there isn't," he said.
"I told them I expect them to be professional.
"Some of them know that they have to make sacrifices. And that
doesn't come easy. I'm sensitive to that, trust me."
This is not Pritchard's first experience in coaching.
He also served as coach, general manager and director of player
personnel for the Kansas City Knights of the American Basketball
Association.
A guard at Kansas, Pritchard played four seasons in the NBA with
Golden State, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington. He also
played in Europe and in the CBA.
Pritchard will only serve out the season and then the team will
begin the search for a new coach in earnest. He said he doesn't
want the job permanently.
"Moving forward we need to really evaluate what we have, and
what better way to do that than for the player personnel director
to get under the hood and take a look. Our future's bright, we're
going to see what we really are, we have some young talented guys
who are fun to watch," he said.
"We don't know exactly where they are developmentally, but we
hope to figure that out in the next seven to eight weeks, and help
us build, that is what this is all about."