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Thursday, March 25, 2010
Qyntel Woods: From Portland To Poland

By Marc Stein

It'll take three wins in the next four games against a big-spending European powerhouse that can double-team him with Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza.

That's how near and far away Qyntel Woods is from getting back to one of basketball's biggest stages.

Getting to the prestigious Euroleague Final Four will require Woods to rally his Asseco Prokom team out of a 1-0 deficit in the Polish champions' best-of-five series with mighty Olympiacos, which had the financial resources to convince Childress and Kleiza to leave the NBA and which threw its riches in recent years at Chris Webber and Allen Iverson to try to lure them to Greece.

Getting to the Euroleague Final Four, though, first required Woods to lead unheralded Prokom to the Euroleague quarterfinals for the first time in the club's history. Which pretty much no one expected.

Last seen on these shores in 2005-06, Woods is quietly rebuilding his career in Poland as one of the most successful Americans in Europe. Olympiacos is heavily favored in this series, which continues Thursday with Game 2 in Greece, but Prokom nearly stole Game 1 on the road, led by 23 points and 11 rebounds from the former Trail Blazers first-round pick with the troubled past.

So ...

The obvious question: Is Woods, at 29, playing his way back to the NBA?

The answer: Yes and no.

Talk to NBA personnel folks about Woods and you get a mixed response. Some are quick to say that Woods' baggage -- after pleading guilty to an animal-abuse charge involving dogs in October 2004 that ended his career with the Blazers -- outweighs any potential payoff from giving him another shot.

Said one Western Conference general manager: "Samsonite."

Yet Woods has also won a few admirers around the league for his willingness to go to Poland and keep refining his game after his own unsuccessful stint with Olympiacos and a stop in Italy with Fortitudo Bologna.

"He's been playing great for Prokom," one veteran personnel man said. "He's been solid overseas. I think someone will take a chance on him."

Said another GM out West: "He's an NBA talent for sure. And he's grown by leaps and bounds as a person."

The reality Woods faces is that the only two teams to employ him domestically since his NBA demise in Portland are Miami and New York, where he was brought in by two of the league's few bulletproof names: Pat Riley and Larry Brown. But even Brown proved not to be bulletproof with the Knicks, as both he and Woods were swiftly ousted after New York's disastrous 2005-06 season.

Another factor likely to keep Woods abroad is money: He's a seven-figure player for Prokom as he enters free agency this summer. Not only does Prokom hope to re-sign him, but Woods, according to one well-connected source in the European market, is already attracting interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid for next season.

Because of the current risk-averse financial climate in the NBA and the potential PR hit any team faces by signing him if things go wrong, Woods would almost certainly be asked by any interested NBA team to play summer-league ball and/or come to training camp on a contract that isn't fully guaranteed. Which wouldn't be an easy call for Woods given the financial level he's reached in Europe.

"I think I'm closer [to the NBA] than I was," Woods said in a phone interview this week. "But mostly I don't even think about [the NBA]. It doesn't help to think about it. I try to focus on the season over here.

"I want the best situation for me. I would love to play in the NBA again, but if I'm not going to be a productive player and just be there, I don't want to be there. I'd rather be somewhere playing [regularly]."

Asked if he thinks NBA teams are prepared to finally pardon him for his Portland transgressions and lack of off-court discipline in his younger days, Woods said: "So far they haven't let go, but I think they should let go in my opinion. A lot of people make mistakes. Mistakes are made and people get wiser and get older and get better as a person."

There's little doubt that the 6-foot-8, 230-pound swingman has improved his game in multiple areas (ballhandling, rebounding, shot selection) since we last saw him as a Knick. There's likewise little doubt that he'd be an NBA rotation player if talent were the lone consideration. But Woods insists he'll cope just fine if he ends up staying in Poland or moving to another Euroleague club.

"It's definitely different," Woods said of life in the Polish city of Gdynia, where Prokom plays in a 5,000-seat arena.

"It's OK. It's not as bad as people would think. The weather is cold, but it's not bad at all. ... Everybody [in Poland] accepts me. They're behind me. They support me."

Woods says that he mostly stay indoors in his spare time, dodging the cold by watching movies or connecting with friends back in the States on Skype.

The 5,000-plus miles that separate Poland from Portland, furthermore, provide a different kind of insulation.

"The past never comes up over here," he said.