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Blazers sign backup center
 
Jason Quick, The Oregonian Newspaper
 
Ask anybody on the Trail Blazers what they need for the fast-approaching NBA season, and to a man, they would say a proven backup center.
 
Not anymore.
 
Vladimir Stepania, a 7-foot, 236-pound center with five years of NBA service as a backup, signed with the Blazers on Wednesday before Portland defeated Phoenix 109-98 in an exhibition in front of 13,527 at the Rose Garden. His contract is for one year, with a one-year player option.

"I think this team needs me," Stepania said. "This team needs a big guy, this team has a need to rebound the ball, this team needed some toughness, and this team needs defensive stops on big guys like Tim Duncan and Shaq, and I think I will do my best to do that."

Stepania played in 79 games last season for Miami, averaging 5.6 points and 7.0 rebounds in 20.2 minutes a game, and coach Maurice Cheeks said he immediately becomes the team's No. 2 center behind veteran Dale Davis.

"I think he is a proven backup center," Cheeks said. "I think he will add something to our team. He's a hard-nosed rebounder and he rebounds at a high rate per minute. He can make a 15-footer, is not a very good foul shooter (53 percent last season), but his main assets are defense and rebounding."

Stepania replaces Ruben Boumtje Boumtje as the top backup to Davis, but Cheeks said he still envisions Boumtje Boumtje making the final roster, which has to be determined by Monday.

The question now, however, is how soon Stepania can get in shape and learn the Blazers' system. Stepania said he has been working out twice a day, but he and Cheeks acknowledged that there is a difference between being in shape and being able to maintain stamina in a game.

Cheeks said Stepania will accompany the team to Phoenix today and take part in the team's practice. He probably won't play in the final exhibition Friday in Phoenix, but Cheeks figures he will be ready to play sparingly in the season opener Wednesday at Utah.

Although the signing shores up a glaring weakness on the team, considering that Boumtje Boumtje didn't awe anybody in training camp, Stepania's arrival did little to raise eyebrows in the Blazers locker room. Most players reacted with a shrug of the shoulders, or a nonchalant "hmm."

"You wouldn't do jumping jacks over him because he is not that kind of player," Cheeks said. "I mean, there was a reason he was sitting out (as a free agent) for that long. But he is a guy who rebounds and who can make a 15-footer and he has been around. I don't think he will stand out right away, but he is a 7-footer, and you can't make up for height. And he can rebound and that's exactly what we need."

Stepania, who grew up in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia, usually wears No. 50, but since Zach Randolph has that number, Stepania said he made a big decision and asked for No. 11, the former number of Arvydas Sabonis.