April 18, 2001 11:00 pm

Whats happened to Oregons team?

The Portland Trail Blazers are but a shadow of what they were a year ago. When the NBA playoffs started last year, fans of Oregons only major pro sports franchise had high hopes that their team would go far in the playoffs. This year fans have abandoned the team in droves.

The chance that the Blazers will do much in the playoffs is about as good as banking on tech stocks these days. You just cant count on them.

The Blazers problems start at the top with team president Bob Whitsitt. Hes responsible for the cast of characters, many of whom have no concept of team play or team pride.

Oregons team is selfish and childish witness Rasheed Wallaces recent immature act of throwing a towel in the face of teammate Arvydis Sabonis. Team owner Paul Allen has the highest payroll in the league, yet he gets selfish play and temper tantrums from some of his stars.

Oregon LONGS for a successful pro sports franchise that it could take pride in, that lives up to its potential. The Blazers current cast of high-paid stars needs to quit worrying, for once, about the minutes they play and the points they score. They need to think about what a great achievement it would be to bring a second NBA title to the Rose City and to Oregon. But the chance that will happen isnt good. The team doesnt have the leaders that are critical to winning in the playoffs.

Whitsitt has assembled a cast of talented players. But he hasnt given coach Mike Dunleavy the authority to be a coach and deal with the ongoing problems that have plagued the team. The Blazers potential amounts to diddly if a coach cant coach.

Rasheed is one of the most talented players in the NBA. But his greatness and effectiveness are nullified by his own immaturity. The fact that he threw a towel at a teammate last weekend proves that hes not ready for prime time. He might never be. His suspension should have extended to, at the very least, the first game of the playoffs just to prove to him that actions have consequences.

Sheeds selfishness is representative of a group of players who have no understanding about what it means to be a team. The Blazers are a product of Whitsitt. When will Allen see that his team is a product of its executive leadership?

Sheeds behavioral problems arent new. That the team doesnt have a floor leader is a surprise only to Whitsitt.

If Paul Allen wants to bring a championship to Portland, hes going to have to rebuild his team. And the reconstruction will have to start with the team president, who should take Sheed with him.

Allen needs to fire Whitsitt let him concentrate his efforts on Allens NFL Seahawks and build a team that cares about its accomplishments and its place in NBA history.