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Sabonis disses Blazers, Dunleavy

KAUNAS, Lithuania — Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis had harsh words for his teammates and said coach Mike Dunleavy should have been fired much earlier for failing to control his players.

"There aren't players on the Portland team, just names earning millions," Sabonis said Thursday while visiting his hometown.

Dunleavy was fired Monday after the Blazers were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Suspensions, injuries and internal bickering plagued the team, which lost 17 of its last 25 games despite an NBA-record payroll of $89.7 million.

Sabonis said Dunleavy didn't "bring the team's stars down to planet Earth, and should have been fired midseason."

Sabonis' remarks were widely reported in newspapers and replayed on the radio Friday.

Five Blazers made at least $11.2 million last season, including Sabonis, who earned $11.25 million in the last year of a three-year contract. The 7-foot-3 center averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, but missed 16 games because of various injuries.

Sabonis would not speculate about his future with the team.

"I've gotten used to being in Portland and would like to stay there, but I don't know how things will turn out," he said.

If Sabonis decides not to return to the Blazers, he certainly would have good reason. During a game against the Lakers in Los Angeles on April 15, teammate Rasheed Wallace threw a towel into his face, angry that Sabonis accidentally smacked Wallace in the face with his hand.

The language barrier also was a persistent problem, and Sabonis struggled to understand what his teammates and Dunleavy wanted from him. In one game, Sabonis shouted to the bench, "I've got five people telling me different things!"

Sabonis didn't exclude the possibility that he might end his career playing for Lithuania's Zalgiris Kaunas, a top team in Europe and one that Sabonis partly owns.

"Someday I might play with them, if they'll take me," he said, joking.

Sabonis, who turns 37 in December, might be the greatest player to ever come out of the former Soviet Union. He was drafted by the Blazers in 1986 but stayed in Europe to play professionally. He helped the Soviet Union win the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, and led Lithuania to bronze medals in 1992 and 1996.