PORTLAND, Ore. -- To opponents and even his coach, Damon Stoudamire's attitude this week has been puzzling.
He makes $9 million a year as the starting point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. But instead of talking about Friday night's Game 3, or how he's going to bring the Blazers back from a 2-0 deficit, he's been talking about himself.
More specifically, his lack of playing time late in important games this season.
Coach Mike Dunleavy's pattern of going to the more experienced, more defensive-minded Greg Anthony in the fourth quarter has irked Stoudamire all season. But like the rest of the players on the crowded Portland roster, he has been quiet about the reduced minutes because the Blazers have been winning.
Ironically, Stoudamire didn't start openly complaining about the situation until Wednesday, two days after he factored heavily in the outcome of Game 2. Stoudamire played most of the fourth quarter, but he committed a costly turnover and missed one of two free throws with 12 seconds left. That allowed the Spurs' Sean Elliott to win the game 86-85 with a 3-pointer.
Stoudamire on Wednesday said he would never forget all the times he's watched the action from the bench in the fourth quarter.
"When I'm 55 years old, I'll sit back and remember what happened to me this year," he said. "I don't ever want to feel like this again."
Before Thursday's practice at the Rose Garden, Stoudamire, facing a mob of reporters and cameras, said too much was being made of his remarks. But he didn't take them back.
"I said what I felt," he said. "It's not like I'm not accepting it. I'm going on with it.
"I always want to play, but right now it can't really be that big of a deal. Bottom line is, if we've been doing it for this long, it's not going to change, so there's no need to complain or cry about it all the time. I'm just going to do what I can in the minutes I'm on the court."
Dunleavy said he'll stick to what has been working, and compared Anthony to a relief pitcher who comes in to spell Stoudamire, a better scorer and playmaker.
"When your starter is going good and he gets you to a certain point and you've got Goose Gossage in the bullpen, (he can) come put out the fire," Dunleavy said. "If you've got momentum and you're playing well, there's no reason to change it up. You'd be silly not to just ride what's going for you."
Dunleavy seemed perplexed at the timing of Stoudamire's comments. Asked why he thought the problem surfaced after Stoudamire had played right up to the end of Game 2, the coach said, "I'm still trying to figure that one out."
Stoudamire's teammates backed him up Wednesday, saying there's no questioning his desire to win.
"Damon's concerns are valid," shooting guard Jim Jackson said. "Here's a guy who wants to compete and wants to play. He's not taking shots at anybody else. That's a competitor who wants to play more than anything else."
Elliott said the Blazers, a young, talented group not used to being this deep in the playoffs, will learn to put aside personal goals as they mature.
"We're an older group. We've been through situations where maybe we were unhappy with our playing time or we were unhappy with the number of shots we got," said the 31-year-old Elliott. "But we're beyond that now. Guys here aren't trying to star in commercials. We're trying to win. We don't have a lot of time left on these legs, so we're trying to get it done now."
Stoudamire, 25, was Rookie of the Year with the Raptors in 1996 before being traded to the Blazers last year. He signed a seven-year, $81 million contract to stay in his hometown, but said Wednesday he's often thought that was a mistake.
One way or another, he said, things will be different next season.
"I definitely don't want to leave," he said Thursday. "I like the situation here. We'll have to see what happens when that time comes."
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