Player Mentor Says There Is 'Definitely Some Kind of Problem Here'

So, do the Portland Trail Blazers have a pot problem on their
hands?

Nearly everyone agrees that they do, considering that four players --
including Zach Randolph, arrested this week on charges including
driving under the influence of intoxicants -- have been booked on
marijuana charges during the last 13 months.

Team management begs to differ. President Steve Patterson was very
careful Wednesday when he responded to questions about the Blazers and
marijuana.

"In all fairness, there is a cultural marijuana issue in the United
States and in youth culture for the last 40 years in this country,"
Patterson said. "We are also living in a state that has some of the
most liberal laws in the country, so we have a considerable mixed
message in this whole thing.

"Even so, our efforts have been toward enforcing a stricter policy on
our players than the collective bargaining agreement (between the NBA
and the players association) would lead you to believe is
permissible."

Patterson said the team can't administer punitive measures on its
own:

"It's a collectively bargained issue between the union and the league.
We can't just go out and suspend Zach at this time, with the lack of
information that we have."

Randolph was arrested early Tuesday in Northeast Portland while
driving his 2003 Cadillac Escalade. He was stopped for a traffic
violation, and the officer said he smelled burning marijuana coming
from the vehicle.

Randolph also was charged with not having an Oregon driver's license
and driving while uninsured. The results of a urinalysis test are
expected to be released next week.

He apologized to his teammates and fans in a brief statement Wednesday
but said nothing about his arrest or behavior.

Jerome Kersey, the former Blazer who was hired earlier this year as
director of player programs, acknowledged that the team has a problem
and said it probably stems from a lack of leadership.

"Judging by the redundancy, there is definitely some kind of problem
here, and probably has been since the J.R. Rider days" (1996-99), he
said. It would help if there weren't a dearth of veteran leadership to
show young players the way, he said.

"When I played with the Blazers, we had guys to keep us in line,
players like Jim Paxson, Kenny Carr, Mychal Thompson, Caldwell Jones,"
Kersey said. "Then when Clyde (Drexler), Terry (Porter) and Buck
(Williams) were with us as veteran players, we policed the young guys.
We probably have a shortage of veteran leadership on the (current)
team."

Still, Patterson said, there have been some positives involving
Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire, both of whom had one or more
marijuana arrests since November 2002.

"Rasheed has fulfilled his obligations in the Washington case," he
said. "We worked very hard with Damon to have him go to a rehab
program that was far more extensive than what would have been required
under the NBA's program. He did his aftercare, and he has been very
mature and clear-eyed and done a good job. The outcome there has been
a success.

"We await the tests with Zach to find out what happens
there."

Patterson wouldn't say specifically whether the team had discussed
marijuana use with the players since his arrival last summer.

"We have had a lot of discussions this fall -- media issues, legal
issues, financial issues, community service issues, all kinds of
things to put in place an infrastructure that gets guys to comport
themselves as adults and the way we expect," he said.

In a reference to the team's trade of guard Bonzi Wells, he said: "If
guys aren't willing to do that, we'll do things like we did today."

When asked again about marijuana, Patterson said: "It's a part of the
league's presentation every year. We have talked about all kinds of
off-the-court issues and what our needs are."

Stoudamire was suspended indefinitely and fined $100,000 by the team
after being arrested on a marijuana possession charge at Tucson
International Airport last July. The suspension and fine were dropped
after he underwent a drug rehabilitation course in Houston later in
the summer.

"David Stern (NBA president) and the people in the league office were
very helpful and cooperative with us this summer in Damon's case,"
Patterson said. "The league was willing to be more cooperative because
it was a third time for Damon, and his representatives were willing to
work with us. We can't just go out and suspend Zach at this time, with
the lack of information that we have."

Marta Monetti, vice president of marketing and communications for the
team, echoed Patterson's statement that there's not much the Blazers
can do because of the union:

"The players are represented by a strong union, and the contract
prohibits us from imposing strong discipline when it comes to
marijuana. Unfortunately, our brand is tarnished. It took us a long
time to get there, and it's going to take more than a couple of months
to get out of it."

She said the off-court problems have been especially frustrating, even
as owner Paul Allen "laid down a hard line in April that we were going
to turn things around. ... We feel we've got a lot of good people
working here, and we do a lot of good things in the community, but a
single transgression will become big news and set us back 10 steps."

Local public relations executives agreed that the drug problems will
be difficult to overcome.

Allen needs to make bold moves and be prepared for a long struggle to
turn his team around, said Pierre Ouellette, who works for
Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, formerly KVO Public
Relations

Ouellette said while there's no doubt that all NBA teams have
marijuana-related problems, he'd like to see Allen and his managers
launch a crusade to reform the entire league.

"Marijuana use is endemic in the NBA," he said. "The Blazers are just
the worst-case scenario. But that gives Allen the opportunity to
propose a radical solution."

As Ouellette sees it, all teams are prevented from cracking down on
problem players by contract restrictions and by the willingness of
other teams to pick them up.

The only answer, he said, is new rules that prohibit players convicted
of drug-related crimes from playing for any team.

"As things stand now, even if the Blazers could fire some of these
players, they'd just sign up with other teams and end up playing
against the Blazers," he said.

According to Ouellette, Allen should draft new contract language for
all teams and publicly push for the NBA to adopt it.

"There's no sense trying to spin these problems," he said. "If it was
just one player, you could say he was just an isolated case. But with
the Blazers, it's a pattern, and everyone can see that."

Veteran public affairs consultant Darrell Buttice, a partner with
Conklin Fiskum & McCormick, said Allen has already made a number of
significant decisions, including replacing unpopular President Bob
Whitsitt and trading Bonzi Wells.

"Allen has made it clear he is committed to reconnecting the Blazers
with Portland's values," Buttice said. "The coach and managers have
gotten the message, but the culture of the players hasn't changed yet.
Trading Wells should them a strong message, but they aren't going to
change overnight. Allen needs to be prepared for the long haul."

Attendance has declined sharply at Blazer home games this season,
falling from an average of 19,419 tickets sold or distributed last
year to 16,522 through the first six games of this season.

[sidebar]

BLAZER RAP SHEET REVEALS CRIMES LARGE AND SMALL

The Blazers' laundry list of marijuana arrests includes:

Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace were cited on marijuana possession
charges in Centralia, Wash., on Nov. 21, 2002. Prosecutors agreed to drop
the charges against both players if they did not break any law within a year.

Wallace made it, but Stoudamire was arrested July 3 with approximately 40
grams of marijuana wrapped in tinfoil at the Tucson International Airport.
If convicted in Arizona of possession charges, he could serve up to six
months in jail in Lewis County, Wash.

Stoudamire also was charged in February 2002 with possession of a pound of
marijuana found in his Lake Oswego home. But the charges were eventually
dismissed when a judge ruled that police searched his home illegally and
the evidence was suppressed. The ruling has been appealed.

According to Portland police reports, Qyntel Woods told an officer he was
addicted to marijuana when he was being cited for possession of less than
an ounce of the drug, violating the basic rule, and driving without a valid
license or insurance on April 3.

This week's arrest was not Zach Randolph's first brush with the law. While
attending high school in Marion, Ind., he reportedly was convicted of
shoplifting, battery and possession of stolen guns.

The arrest also came approximately 18 months after Randolph was arrested
for being a minor in possession of alcohol in Marion, where police said his
blood alcohol level was 0.08 percent when he was pulled over while driving
May 23, 2002.

And then there are Ruben Patterson and Bonzi Wells, neither of whom has
been busted for pot. But both have had their share of run-ins with authorities.

Patterson was convicted of attempted rape of his family's nanny while
playing with the Seattle SuperSonics and of misdemeanor assault for
breaking a man's jaw outside a Cleveland nightclub. In November 2002, he
was arrested on a felony domestic abuse charge; the charge was dropped
after his wife, Shannon, later declined to press charges.

Wells, who was traded to Memphis on Wednesday, also had run-ins with the
law in both Portland and Indiana. After his sophomore season at Ball State
University, he was arrested for domestic battery after a woman accused him
of striking her when she refused to have sex with him. Wells was jailed
briefly, posted $2,000 bond and was released.

And in September 2001, Wells and another former Blazer, Erick Barkley, were
cited by Portland police for criminal trespass after allegedly refusing to
leave the scene of a fight near a downtown nightclub. Portland police Sgt.
Brian Schmautz said the two shouted profanities at officers who asked them
to leave. No charges were filed.


Pubdate: Fri, 05 Dec 2003
Source: Portland Tribune (OR)
Copyright: 2003 Portland Tribune
Contact: letters@portlandtribune.com
Website: http://www.portlandtribune.com/