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Original Issue

Lousy at a Luxury Price Scottie Pippen sees a grim season for the overpaid, disaffected Blazers

They have the highest payroll in NBA history, yet all too often
the Trail Blazers act like a CBA team going nowhere. After a
103--88 loss to the visiting Mavericks on Dec. 4, which dropped
Portland to 7--9, co-captain Rasheed Wallace and two other
Blazers were whooping it up in the locker room as they watched a
game on TV, "acting like we had won," says co-captain Scottie
Pippen, who, in a wordless expression of contempt, strode past
the players, flipped off the set and shut the TV cabinet doors.

"We'll get better, but we ain't going to make it a total
turnaround," the 37-year-old Pippen says. "It's impossible
because of the makeup of our team. It's always new personnel;
it's always, now we've got to see how this guy plays and how
we're going to fit him in. You can't keep doing that."

He blames the team's woes on owner Paul Allen and president Bob
Whitsitt, arguing that they have assembled the deepest roster in
the league with little regard for team chemistry. When the luxury
tax makes its long-anticipated debut this summer, Allen will owe
the league some $50 million for his $105 million payroll. That
means he'll be paying $155 million for a team that's touch-and-go
to make the playoffs. After losing more than $40 million last
year, tops in the NBA, the Blazers could be $100 million in the
red this season. But instead of getting any credit for their free
spending, says Whitsitt, "we're getting beat up for it."

At the same time, Whitsitt empathizes with fans turned off by the
so-called Jail Blazers. Last Friday, Wallace and Damon Stoudamire
entered not guilty pleas to misdemeanor possession of marijuana,
even though the police report states that both players admitted
they had been smoking pot in a car on Nov. 22. Charges of felony
domestic assault against Ruben Patterson were dropped last week
after his wife refused to cooperate with the prosecution, though
she had told the 911 dispatcher that her husband "tried to
f------choke me." Whitsitt fined Patterson $100,000 and
threatened additional fines of $10,000 for every day that he
fails to receive "appropriate counseling" (penalties that the
players' association is likely to appeal).

While Whitsitt's primary goal is to bring down the payroll by
letting Pippen's contract run out at a savings of $39.4 million
in salary and luxury taxes next season, he says he might move
Pippen for promising young players to try to take Portland in a
new direction. But who would the Blazers turn to then for
leadership--Rasheed Wallace?

COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Though he is Portland's leader, Pippen's huge contract makes him trade bait.

around the Rim

Players warned Brian Grant two years ago that he would break down
under Pat Riley, but the 6'9" Heat center has found the opposite
to be true. "He gets you in better shape, not only physically but
mentally, and that discipline is what I needed," says Grant, who
at week's end was third in the NBA with 12.2 rebounds per
game.... Shooting percentages and scoring are down slightly from
this time last year, which may be attributable to the increased
deployment of zone defenses. "I have yet to see a game this
season when zone wasn't played," says Rockets coach Rudy
Tomjanovich.... Faced with the prospect of paying the luxury tax
for a .500 team, Suns G.M. Bryan Colangelo is looking to unload a
salary or two, though league sources say that Stephon Marbury
isn't on the block--yet.