Does Portland care if they're the bad guys?

By Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2005

The Portland Trail Blazers told their fans they were going to clean up the organization, then they fired coach Maurice Cheeks. The same Maurice Cheeks whom the Blazers refused to allow the Philadelphia 76ers to talk to last summer about their vacant coaching position.

The same Maurice Cheeks who is one of the nicest guys on the planet.

Cheeks deserved a better fate than the one he was handed by Blazers general manager John Nash and president Steve Patterson.

"I tried to do things the right way," Cheeks said. "Even if something went wrong on the basketball floor, I tried to make sure those guys understood about playing hard and being good people."

Cheeks knew he was gone five weeks ago when - the day after the Mavericks defeated the Blazers in Portland 95-88 - Cheeks criticized forward Darius Miles before a film session. Miles responded by shouting a string of racial epithets at Cheeks.

Miles also burst into Nash's office and berated Cheeks while the coach was talking with Nash. For that tirade, Miles was only suspended for two games. A longer suspension would have sent a message that Miles wasn't more important to the organization than Cheeks.

After he was suspended, Miles read a statement apologizing to everybody but Cheeks, and later said he had no regrets for leaving Cheeks' name out of his apology.

Maybe Blazers management isn't ready to shed the Jail Blazers nickname that's followed the team since it featured bad boys Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells and Qyntel Woods.

If the Blazers are really concerned about associating themselves with good characters - as they told their fans last summer - they don't come any better than Maurice Cheeks.

"I feel really bad," said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who used to have Cheeks on his Sixers staff. "Mo is a great young coach; he was great for me when he worked for me."

KOBE EMBRACES REBUILDING: Now that he has reached a settlement in his civil suit involving a rape allegation made by a Colorado teenager, Kobe Bryant is trying to fix the Lakers.

Once a dominant force in the NBA, the Lakers have lost four in a row for the first time this season and are teetering on the brink of not making the playoffs. But Bryant sees the Lakers' fall from grace as an opportunity to accomplish something amazing.

"The fun comes from getting back to where we were," he said. "That's the fun. That's the challenge that we take.

"It's a new challenge for us because we're so used to being up at the top. But there's something about starting from the bottom and then working yourself back up to the top that's refreshing."

SAD TO GO: Matt Barnes wasn't in a good mood last week when he heard Sacramento traded Chris Webber to Philadelphia. He was especially upset when he heard he was also included in the deal.

Barnes is a hometown favorite who graduated from Del Campo High School in Sacramento, Calif. He turned down more lucrative offers from other teams last summer in order to play for the Kings, so the trade shocked him.