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Wallace bought his own ticket out of town

Even if the Trail Blazers lose every game the rest of the season, even if Damon Stoudamire never talks to the media again, even if Maurice Cheeks slips off to Philadelphia to take the 76ers' coaching job after the season, the Rasheed Wallace trade was one of the best moves in the history of the franchise.

The enigmatic former Blazer Ñ ah, it feels good to say that Ñ isn't the only reason a once-proud franchise has slipped to its lowest point since its expansion days. But Wallace is the biggest reason for the decay, and he was an albatross that had to go.

Wallace was an embarrassment to a city that once had a love affair nonpareil with its only major-league team. Talented and competitive, he could have been one of the most popular players in franchise history. Instead, he undermined Cheeks and his teammates, not caring enough to give in to the need for professionalism from the team's best player.

Did you know that in recent years Wallace has been fined $50,000 a month during the season because he refused to take part in the weight-lifting sessions mandatory for all players? Didn't bother him a bit. As he would say, 'Just CTC,' cut the check, baby.

Did you know Wallace, who led the league in technical fouls for three straight years Ñ piling up 106 regular-season T's from 1999-2002 Ñ is tied for the league lead this season with Houston's Steve Francis at 12 apiece? And with that, has gotten away with more whining to officials than any player has a right to? Here's hoping Mr. T finishes strong in Atlanta and picks up his fourth league technicals title. It would be a fitting addition to his rŽsumŽ.

Wallace has his defenders, including ex-teammates such as Stoudamire. They think the Blazers had things going their way, winning seven of eight before the trade (never mind the soft schedule over that period) and that management has screwed it all up. They liked Wallace, who participated in horseplay with a zeal he never showed in the weight room, who cackled after wins or losses. They blame management, and probably the media, for robbing them of their volatile co-captain at a crucial point in the season.

Truth is, Wallace wrote his own ticket out of town. And it doesn't matter that the Blazers might have moved up to the seventh or eighth spot in the West with a finishing run. That still adds up to another first-round elimination. This move was about the team's future, and about a reconnection to the public, as promised by owner Paul Allen with his declaration last summer that character matters.

That Portland reaped such players as Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff for Wallace is astonishing. They will become crowd favorites, and they will help the Blazers win in ways that Wallace never could. Steve Patterson and John Nash couldn't have dreamed of such good fortune, and neither could fans of this team who were willing to part with Wallace for almost anything in return.

Even Cheeks, who buddied up to Wallace and defended him to the end, realized the need to cut bait.

'There comes a time when an organization needs to make a change for the organization's sake, and for the player's sake,' Cheeks says. 'This was one of those times.'

Even if? It was a bold move, one of the best ever for a franchise that needed it. Bonzi Wells is gone. Rasheed Wallace is gone. The integrity of the Trail Blazer franchise is back.