Chaos subsides, new Trail Blazers Babbitt, Johnson are introduced
PORTLAND, Ore. – Former Nevada teammates Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson are new Portland Trail Blazers and blissfully unconcerned – at least for now – about the team’s front office turnover.
Babbitt and Johnson wound up as Blazers after Portland’s surreal draft night, when general manager Kevin Pritchard was fired beforehand but stuck around to help make the team’s selections.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Babbitt said Monday when the team introduced its three new rookies. “It’s close to home and it felt like a good fit.”
Portland took Memphis guard Elliot Williams at No. 22 and Johnson at No. 34. The Blazers traded forward Martell Webster to the Minnesota Timberwolves for veteran forward Ryan Gomes and Babbitt, the 16th overall selection.
Gomes’ future with Portland remained up in the air, according to Mike Born, Portland’s director of NBA scouting who is currently sharing the general manager’s duties with Chad Buchanan, the team’s director of college scouting.
The team has until Tuesday afternoon to decide whether to waive, trade or keep him on the roster.
“Right now we’re still trying to weigh those options,” Born said.
That’s not the only decision the Blazers need to make. There’s also Pritchard’s replacement and vacancies on the coaching staff under Nate McMillan.
The Blazers hired a search firm to target candidates even before Pritchard was dismissed.
So far Portland has ruled out Denver Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien but former Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry’s name has cropped up several times as a possible replacement.
Pritchard, popular with many Portland fans who regarded him as a savior who brought the team out of the Jail Blazers era, penned a letter that was published in The Oregonian newspaper on Sunday. In it, he sought to soothe the fans’ bitter feelings toward team owner Paul Allen for the firing.
“It is, after all, a business of tough decisions,” Pritchard wrote. “So, for the sake of the players, coaches and everyone who believes in Trail Blazers basketball, let’s turn the page, move on and keep our eye on the prize.”
Meanwhile, Portland assistant Monty Williams left to become head coach in New Orleans, while former Blazer great Maurice Lucas stepped down because of health issues. And as of Monday, the Blazers had made no official announcements as to the future for assistants Dean Demopoulos and Joe Prunty.
Babbitt and Johnson were just happy to have landed with an NBA team. But they were somewhat stunned to be together. Again.
Johnson estimates the two have known each other since fifth grade. “Too long,” Babbitt jokes.
Babbitt, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound shooter, averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds for the Wolf Pack before deciding to leave school after his sophomore year. He was the highest pick out of Nevada since Kirk Snyder was selected at No. 16 in 2004.
Johnson averaged 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists with the Wolf Pack last season as a junior.
Both will play on Portland’s team for the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas next month. Williams will not because he bruised his knee during a collision with anther player while working out for teams before the draft.
Williams averaged 17.9 points, four rebounds and 3.8 assists with the Tigers last season as a sophomore after transferring from Duke.
The Blazers won 50 games last season but were beset by injuries. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns.
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