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5 Portland Trail Blazers One of the game's deepest benches got deeper, but with no leading man to complement a talented supporting cast, the result could be deep trouble

Anyone who thinks depth can't be a problem has never stepped in a
puddle or coached the Trail Blazers, whose second unit would make
the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The NBA's deepest team
got even deeper over the summer when 37-year-old center Arvydas
Sabonis ended his one-year sabbatical and rejoined the team.
Sabonis's return was spurred by, of all things, the Brazilian
soccer team, which won the World Cup in June. "For eight months I
disconnected from basketball," Sabonis says. "Then, the next day
[after the final] I went and practiced."

The 7'3" Lithuanian has been a fan of Brazil since childhood,
drawn to the squad by, among other things, their
well-orchestrated style of play. After watching the cohesion and
passion with which the Samba Boys played during the World Cup,
Sabonis realized how much he missed the intensity of pro
competition. If the Blazers are going to be successful, they are
going to have to play a hoops version of the Beautiful Game.
Whether that is possible will depend largely on how coach Maurice
Cheeks doles out playing time.

Cheeks has a number of delicate decisions facing him. At point
guard, for instance, the team signed free agent Jeff McInnis and
traded for Antonio Daniels to compete with the incumbent, Damon
Stoudamire, who makes more than $13 million and has intimated
that if he isn't the starter, he wants to be traded. Then there's
the small forward position, where 37-year-old Scottie Pippen is
one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all time but not one of
the 50 greatest players of the present time. Assuming that Pippen
fully recovers (as expected) from off-season surgery on his right
knee, 27-year-old Ruben Patterson will again be relegated to the
bench. "He's Scottie. He's going to play that position," says
Patterson. "I'm not mad about it, because I respect Scottie and I
learn a lot from him."

He also outplays him. The 6'5", 224-pound Patterson outscored
Pippen in nine fewer minutes per game, was seventh in the league
in field goal percentage and is one of the game's best defenders.
(He averaged 16.5 points and 5.4 boards in his 13 starts.) "The
way Ruben plays, he can get 18, 19 points a game without having a
play called for him, just because of his hustle, the way he
rebounds and the way he runs the floor," says Stoudamire. With
one year in Portland under his belt, Patterson, who signed as a
free agent from Seattle before last season, showed up at camp
displaying more leadership qualities and an all-around improved
game. "His shot looks better, he's handling the ball better, he's
not trying to force things as much," says Cheeks. "I'm looking
for great things from Ruben."

The addition of Sabonis, who reported to camp in very good shape,
gives Portland 15 to 20 minutes a night of decent offense and
someone who can lean on Shaq. But he's a supporting player, and
the Blazers have plenty of those; what they need is superstar
power. "We have a lot of pretty good players," says Cheeks. "We
don't have, like, great, great players." --Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE With hustle and efficient shooting, Patterson did more for Portland last year than Pippen did.

Scottie Pippen is 26 steals behind ex-Blazers star Clyde Drexler
(fourth alltime) and 129 behind his coach, Maurice Cheeks

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Trail Blazers

"If character wasn't an issue, I'd put their talent right up there
with the Lakers. In any case they ought to be in that second tier
with San Antonio and Dallas.... With owner Paul Allen willing to
pay top dollar, they should be able to bring in high-quality
players. So why do they go after so many head cases? A lot of us
figure it's because Bob Whitsitt relies on assistant G.M. Mark
Warkentien. He was the recruiter at UNLV for Jerry Tarkanian, who
believed in taking those kinds of players as long as they worked
hard.... They're versatile, and they're an excellent rebounding
and defensive team. The only issue is outside shooting. They
might miss Steve Kerr on those nights when they can't get
anything else going.... Their best weapons are Rasheed Wallace
and Bonzi Wells, who would be an All-Star if not for his streaky
shooting.... Wallace takes a lot of heat for his technicals, but
I think he's among the least of their problems. He's a reliable
go-to guy in crucial moments, he's a true team player, and they
say he's one of their better teammates in the locker room....
They were at their best last year when Scottie Pippen took over
the point and Damon Stoudamire moved to the two. It's going to be
hard for Stoudamire, at 5'10", to pair up with 6'4" Jeff McInnis,
because their size will be exploited.... There were times early
last year when I thought Pippen was done, so we'll have to see
how long it takes him to recover from knee surgery at 37. He
might not do much until the second half of the season.... It
isn't going to get any easier for Mo Cheeks. I saw McInnis
hollering at Alvin Gentry a lot last season. In preseason they
were making it a priority to avoid getting into it with the refs,
but that's one of those believe-it-when-you-see-it things....
Their best one-on-one player is rookie Qyntel Woods, who is
extremely talented--as well as being yet another head case."


Tough D

Fair D

No D

2001-02 record: 49-33 (third in Pacific)
Points scored: 96.6 (11th) Points allowed: 93.7 (8th)
Coach: Maurice Cheeks (second season with Trail Blazers)


SF Scottie Pippen 84 10.6 ppg 5.2 rpg 5.9 apg 1.63 spg 41.1 FG%
PF Rasheed Wallace 21 19.3 ppg 8.2 rpg 1.28 bpg 1.28 spg 46.9 FG%
C Dale Davis 103 9.5 ppg 8.8 rpg 1.2 apg 1.06 bpg 51.0 FG%
SG Bonzi Wells 38 17.0 ppg 6.0 rpg 2.8 apg 1.53 spg 46.9 FG%
PG Damon Stoudamire 76 13.5 ppg 6.5 apg 0.89 spg 40.2 FG% 35.33FG%


G Derek Anderson 130 10.8 ppg 2.7 rpg 3.1 apg 0.97 spg 40.4 FG%
F Ruben Patterson 138 11.2 ppg 4.0 rpg 1.4 apg 1.05 spg 51.5 FG%
G Jeff McInnis[1] 206 14.6 ppg 2.6 rpg 6.2 apg 0.78 spg 41.3 FG%
C Arvydas
Sabonis[1][2] 212 10.1 ppg 5.4 rpg 1.5 apg 1.02 bpg 47.9 FG%
F Zach Randolph 245 2.8 ppg 1.7 rpg 0.3 apg 44.9 FG% 66.7 FT%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
[2]2000-01 statistics
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)