Around the NBA: Trail Blazers’ potential should surprise no one

Chris Beaven

They surprised many around the NBA with their sudden surge last December. It will be less surprising this season if the Portland Trail Blazers reel off a 13-game winning streak and become a playoff team out West.

Last season’s youngest team has a year of experience together and two big additions -- a healthy Greg Oden and an impact import in guard Rudy Fernandez.

Oden recently took part in his first 5-on-5, full-court scrimmages for Portland, which even owner Paul Allen watched. The 7-footer from Ohio State missed his rookie season after microfracture knee surgery last September.

Oden’s return alone would have Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan fired up. But his enthusiasm for the season is increased further by Fernandez, one of Spain’s stars in the Olympics.

McMillan watched Fernandez firsthand as an assistant coach for Team USA.

“I was so impressed with him that it was to the point where after the second time I saw him, I didn’t sleep that night because I was moving my rotations around,” McMillan told The Oregonian. “I’m saying, ‘We can put him here, do this with him, do that with him and Brandon (Roy), and do this ...’ So he’s playing for us. Oh yeah. I see that right now.”

The 6-foot-5 Fernandez scored 22 points against the U.S. in the gold medal game. He hit 5-of-9 3-pointers. He also threw down an impressive dunk over Dwight Howard.

Bynum on the mend

Another young big man coming off a knee injury is Andrew Bynum of the Lakers. He was enjoying a breakout season before suffering a partially dislocated left kneecap Jan. 13. The Lakers hope to have him at full strength by the start of camp in a month.

“Andrew has dedicated another summer to getting into the best possible shape,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak told the Orange County Register. “A month ago he was cleared from the knee surgery he had, and at that point he began working on conditioning and getting into shape, and I thought he looked like he has made progress.”

Back for more

It’s unclear how much of the U.S. Olympic team will return for the 2012 London Olympics. But expect to see point guard Chris Paul.

“We want to defend it,” he told Hornets media once he returned home. “It was so much fun. All of us were talking in the locker room afterward about (how) we’ve got to get back together in 2012.”

Nice touch

One of the best scenes from the U.S. win over Spain in the gold medal game came as soon as the game ended. LeBron James immediately ran across the court, hopped a barrier and hugged Doug Collins. Other players, soon made their way over to hug or high-five Collins, who worked all the U.S. games as a TV analyst.

Collins was one of the stars of the 1972 U.S. team cheated out of a gold medal.

“We all know his story and what he went through ... and having a win and basically have it taken away from him,” James said. “He’s as important to this as we are to this. This is a gold for him also, not just us.”

24-second clock

- Jason Kidd ends his Team USA career with two Olympic gold medals and a 46-0 record in international games.

- The Warriors expect guard Monta Ellis to miss at least three months after ankle surgery. That’s a big blow to the Warriors who already are trying to retool themselves after the loss of Baron Davis to free agency. Marcus Williams will be the in-house replacement at point guard, but unsigned free agent Shaun Livingston could be an option.

- The Knicks’ quest to clear cap space for the summer of 2010 -- when James can opt out -- has them continuing to explore ways to unload Zach Randolph.

The latest rumor has them sending the talented but enigmatic big man to Memphis for Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic. Randolph is owed $48 million over the next three years.

- Oklahoma City announces its logo and colors this week.

- Patrick Ewing Jr. has yet to play an NBA game but he’s already matched his dad for number of teams he’s been with since getting drafted in June. The 6-foot-8 forward got traded to the Knicks this week, his third team in two months after being traded by the Kings and then Rockets.

- Memphis signed Hamed Haddadi of Iran. Once he takes the floor, the 23-year-old will become the first Iranian to play in the NBA. The 7-foot-2 Haddadi averaged 16.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in the Olympics.

He led the tournament in rebounding and blocks.

The Repository