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For Homesick Blazers Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills, Misery Loves Company

Oct 20, 2010 – 9:10 AM
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Sam Amick

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Neither man was happy.

Portland swingman Rudy Fernandez wanted to be back in his homeland of Spain, to be closer to his family while landing with a team that might appreciate his services more than his current club. Australian teammate Patty Mills was homesick, too, some 10,000 miles away from his country and without any NBA playing time to show for it.

Misery loves company, international style.

"We've been hanging out a lot and doing stuff, just trying to keep (Fernandez's) mind off things; we enjoy each other's company," Mills told FanHouse this week. "I think it'd be much harder if he was here by himself or I was here by myself. I'm just trying to be with him and have fun, help him out which ever way I can."

And as anyone in the Lake Oswego area knows, Mills and Fernandez are hardly miserable all of the time.

When they're not bowling or channel-surfing at Mills' apartment, they're taking their singing talents to the local bar for some good, old-fashioned karaoke. It's a scene that is begging for a Twitvid (both players are active Twitter users), with no musical genre off limits and certainly no attempt to hide their thick accents.

"We love doing that," Mills said with a proud laugh. "He's gotten me into Spanish songs. I'm about to download them on my iPod. There's no shame in my game. I'm out there doing it, and he has that flair, just being the typical Spanish guy who everyone loves."

Neither player loves their current plight, of course.

Fernandez's situation has been highly-publicized, as he badly wants Portland to cut him loose of all NBA ties and allow him to return to Europe. Predictably, Portland has been unwilling to do so, and the third-year player who has played very well during the preseason appears resigned to the recent reality that he's going nowhere.

Mills' case is different, as he has been stuck in a professional holding pattern since being taken in the second round out of St. Mary's last year. The player often compared to San Antonio's Tony Parker was never expected to make the roster last season, as Mills -- whose hand injury late in his last collegiate season led to a drop in his draft stock -- fractured his right foot during summer league in July 2009 and seemed certain to be cut.

Rudy FernandezBut owner Paul Allen made his affinity for the 22-year-old point guard known, and he was retained despite a glut of guards on the Blazers roster. Now Mills finds himself in a no-man's land of sorts, with the very real possibility that he'll be cut soon and the deadline to set regular season rosters looming on Monday.

Yet that hasn't kept him from having a good time every now and then, typically with Fernandez at his side. When the entire team cavorted on Allen's yacht on Sunday night, Fernandez, Mills and Frenchman Nicolas Batum broke free to pose for a snapshot with each holding their respective country's flag for a most-fitting Twitpic.

And while so many NBA types, fans and media have rolled their eyes at the notion of well-paid men lamenting how they long for home, Fernandez and Mills find comfort in the fact that at least someone understands.

"We're international players and we miss our families, so we stick together," Fernandez said after the Blazers' loss at Golden State on Monday. "I have fun with him."

More importantly for the Blazers, Fernandez -- who is set to earn $1.2 million this season -- is having fun playing again too. He has averaged 12.5 points on 48.9 percent shooting overall and shot 58.8 percent from three-point range in six exhibition games (including an NBA-high 20 threes). Off the floor, he is making the best of what he has deemed a bad situation with the help of his kindred spirit.

Only he knows how much of his recent shift in demeanor should be attributed to the obvious revelation that he's going nowhere soon. It's not just the combined $75,000 in league fines Fernandez has accrued as a result of public requests to be released by either him or his agents. It's the hard line stance that new general manager Rich Cho has taken, sending a clear message that he doesn't plan on losing Fernandez for nothing in return.

"I'm a professional player and I'll stay here with these guys and help wherever I can. I'm not negative. Right now it's focusing on my work."
-- Rudy Fernandez
Nonetheless, Fernandez is once again a contributing member of the Blazers and is expected to be vital off the bench this season.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel good in my shots, in my role, and day by day. I work for every day. I'm a professional player and I'll stay here with these guys and help wherever I can. I'm not negative. Right now it's focusing on my work. I'm a professional player. I have a contract here. Day by day working and helping my teammates."

Meanwhile, Mills may have increased his in-house value by way of his relationship with Fernandez. Guard Brandon Roy has certainly helped as well, setting the tone at the start of training camp by telling all involved to welcome Fernandez back with open arms.

"I knew early on it was going to be a little tough," Roy said of Fernandez's situation. "But I knew being around the guys, just playing and practicing every day and just doing team things, that (Fernandez) would get a little more open to coming back and being a part of this team. Nobody wants to let the team down. He's been playing really well, and showing why we need him. For the most part, he's doing a really good job. I'm happy he's here.

"I think he put up more of a front in the media because he was trying to force their hand, but now he's kind of like, 'I'm going to be here, and I'm going to do the best I can.' I'd say it's a non-issue. We've done some team things, and he's opened up and he's ready to be here."

Blazers coach Nate McMillan isn't quite ready to say this saga is behind the Blazers, but the matter has clearly improved.

"Well we haven't gotten into the regular season," he said. "It's a long season, so we have to wait and see what happens. I know how he feels. We've talked. The organization knows where he's at, and to his credit he has come in professionally.

"There are situations all the time where someone is upset about their contract or situation, and they stop playing. He hasn't done that. He has expressed how he feels and what he would like to happen. But he has continued to come in and work, and that is how we're coaching him."

For Mills' part, the numbers clearly aren't in his favor. Portland has a league-maximum of 15 guaranteed contracts already, and the Blazers are plenty packed with guards (Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and newly-signed rookie point guard Armon Johnson, to name more than a few). That much has been clear in the preseason, as Mills -- who played in just 10 games for a combined 37 minutes last season -- has played a combined 13 minutes in three games while sitting in the other three.

Patty MillsWhat's more, the unrelenting wave of injuries to their centers -- from Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla to Jeff Pendergraph -- might mean another roster spot is opened (by way of a waiving) to make way for more frontcourt help. But the Blazers, who would have Mills by way of his $937,000 qualifying offer if he survives until Tuesday and beyond, have also invested significant time and money into Mills and might still be tempted to keep him around.

His skills don't appear to have eroded, as he averaged 13.8 points (47.2 percent shooting, 31.4 percent from three-point range), 4.2 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game for the Australian national team this summer as it went 3-3 in the FIBA World Championship. And as nice as it has been to grow closer with Fernandez and more comfortable in the process, he won't be truly content until he's playing consistently again.

"My desire is to play, and wherever I have a chance to play I would love to be," said Mills, who spent three weeks with the D-League's Idaho Stampede last season and averaged 25.6 points, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals in five games. "I've loved the guys on the team, loved the area, the people in Portland. I've loved it (all), so you've got to kind of wait it out. But at the end of the day, I'm here to play basketball, and it's looking like here in preseason that it's going to be a hard place to play given the number of spots that are on the team. Every now and again, you've got to think about yourself first."

E-mail Sam at amick.sam@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @samickAOL
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