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2 Portland Trail Blazers Only whining over minutes will keep this band of All-Stars from winning it all

At first glance, Chevy Blazers haven't changed a lot in recent
years. Portland's Blazers, on the other hand, are scarcely
recognizable from one season to the next. The latest in the line
comes with the staggering sticker price of $71 million, give or
take a few bucks--Rider not included--but it's sleek, road-tested
and versatile, and it may well be purring late into June.

Portland's new, fully loaded model is largely the design of Trail
Blazers president and G.M. Bob Whitsitt, a man afflicted--or
blessed--with a sort of managerial attention deficit disorder.
Never mind that with a core of young, athletic players, Portland
won the Pacific Division and reached the Western Conference
finals last season. Whitsitt couldn't resist futzing with his
roster during the off-season. In keeping with his nickname,
Trader Bob shipped a total of eight players out of town and
imported two All-Stars. "Maybe I didn't intend to be this busy,"
says Whitsitt, who's in his sixth season with the Blazers, "but
my style is that when I see a move that can help this team, I try
to make it."

Among Whitsitt's first moves was acquiring forward Detlef
Schrempf. The Sonics' second-leading scorer and rebounder last
season, Schrempf, 36, was insulted by Seattle's offer of $1
million and signed instead with Portland for $4.2 million over
two years. Next Whitsitt committed the crime of grand theft,
shooting guard, by stealing All-Star Steve Smith (along with Ed
Gray) from the Hawks for mercurial guard Jim Jackson and the
human migraine, Isaiah Rider. The coup de grace--emphasis on
coup--came on Oct. 2, when the Blazers procured Scottie Pippen
from Houston for six reserves. "One thing you have to say about
Bob," says point guard Damon Stoudamire, "is that he's not afraid
to shuffle the deck."

Whitsitt has long been regarded as one of the NBA's savviest
executives. After starting as an intern in the Pacers' front
office in 1978, he was promoted to assistant general manager in
'81. By age 30 he was the president of the Sonics, and in the 13
years since, a team under his direction has failed to make the
postseason only once. "That team didn't even have a losing
record," Whitsitt points out, referring to the 1989-90 Sonics.
"We finished 41-41, ninth in the conference, but we got the
second lottery pick. We used it on Gary Payton, so you could say
that season actually worked out pretty well."

Whitsitt has demonstrated time and again that he's a big fan of
being able to field a team with interchangeable parts.
Consequently, Portland's lineup is a matrix of combinations that
can counteract the look of any opponent. Consider that new
additions Pippen, Schrempf and Smith each play at least two
positions, and though not one is a point guard, each has
playmaking ability. "Also," says Whitsitt, "it means that we can
weather an injury at any position." For instance, rugged power
forward Brian Grant, the Trail Blazers' best player last year, is
recovering slowly from knee surgery and may be on the shelf for
the first week of the season. Yet his absence is mitigated
because Schrempf and Rasheed Wallace are waiting in the wings.
Asked if he had ever encountered a deeper team, Smith paused for
a minute and then responded, "Are you counting the Dream Teams?"

The depth of the Blazers' roster is tied directly to the depth of
owner Paul Allen's pockets. The Microsoft cofounder's attitude
toward NBA players boils down to, Who wants to be a millionaire?
The Blazers' payroll is the highest in league history and makes a
mockery of the $34 million salary cap. Yet when you're worth an
estimated $40 billion, as the eccentric Allen is, paying Pippen
$54 million over four years is like bending down to pick up a
nickel for the rest of us. "I still haven't met the guy," said
Pippen midway through training camp. But having been embittered
by epic battles over money with Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago,
Pippen smiled before adding, "I can tell you this: He's my kind
of owner."

If there's an abiding concern in Portland, it's that the wealth
of versatile, capable bodies renders roles and substitution
patterns as cloudy as the sky. Last season coach Mike Dunleavy
kept one eye on the floor and the other on the clock, but he
still couldn't scotch complaints over playing time. Despite
logging the most minutes on the team, Stoudamire was particularly
vocal about the duration and timing of his shifts. Schrempf's
response to the arrival of Pippen and the loss of his starting
small forward spot was not encouraging either. "I'm not going to
lie and say I'm cool with it," he said. To convey the message
that whining won't be tolerated, Dunleavy brought a pacifier to
one of Portland's first practices.

Given all the talent on hand, it's small wonder that unbridled
optimism reigns in the Rose City. Even the Blazers' new marketing
slogan--The best is yet to come--implies that last season's
conference finals appearance was a mere aperitif. If by late
June, Pippen is still the only Trail Blazer in possession of an
NBA championship ring, there will be disappointment aplenty in
Portland. "Let's not kid ourselves," says Whitsitt, the man
responsible for the inflated expectations. "We've seen the top of
the mountain. Now we're trying to plant the flag." --L. Jon

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH SALARY DRIVE With Pippen, Portland's starters will make $50 million this season.


BENCH [4 stars]
COACH [3 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [4 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 35-15 (third in Western Conference)
Coach: Mike Dunleavy (third season with Trail Blazers)

AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

TRAIL BLAZERS 94.8 (5) 44.2 (13) 44.3 (3) 15.4 (15)
OPPONENTS 88.5 (10) 41.7 (6) 40.1 (6) 15.7 (11)

In Fact

Portland newcomers Scottie Pippen, Detlef Schrempf and Steve
Smith have played in 11 All-Star Games among them. No member of
the 1998-99 Trail Blazers had ever made an All-Star appearance.

Projected Lineup


SF Scottie Pippen[#] 43 14.5 ppg 6.5 rpg 5.9 apg 43.2 FG%
Member of NBA all-defensive first team in each of last eight

PF Brian Grant 80 11.5 ppg 9.8 rpg 1.4 apg 47.9 FG%
Had 24 rebounds in one game and averaged 14.8 per 48 minutes

C Arvydas Sabonis 76 12.1 ppg 7.9 rpg 2.4 apg 48.5 FG%
Ranked second among centers with 2.4 assists per game last season

SG Steve Smith[#] 38 18.7 ppg 4.2 rpg 3.3 apg 40.2 FG%
Hawks' top scorer last four years missed 14 games in '98-99 with
bad knees

PG Damon Stoudamire 54 12.6 ppg 3.3 rpg 6.2 apg 39.6 FG%
Led Blazers in assists last year, and his 629 shots were team
high, too


F Detlef Schrempf[#] 65 15.0 ppg 7.4 rpg 3.7 apg 47.2 FG%
Only player last season in top 40 in scoring, rebounding and

F-C Rasheed Wallace 101 12.8 ppg 4.9 rpg 1.2 apg 50.8 FG%
Sixth in the league in field goal percentage in 1998-99

F Jermaine O'Neal 177 2.5 ppg 2.7 rpg 0.4 apg 43.4 FG%
Bench-clearing trade for Pippen will finally clear playing time
for him

G Greg Anthony 236 6.4 ppg 1.3 rpg 2.0 apg 41.4 FG%
Hasn't started a game in more than two seasons

G-F Bonzi Wells 247 4.4 ppg 1.3 rpg 0.4 apg 55.0 FG%
As Ball State senior in '97-98, he led Division I with 3.55
steals per game

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)