Scottie Pippen, 37 and in the final year of his contract, wants to play another couple of seasons in the NBA.

If he can contribute as he has done with the Trail Blazers this season, there's no reason his Hall of Fame career can't be extended.

Pippen is one of the game's most overpaid players this season, reaping $19.7 million, but it's a makeup for being underpaid through his 11 years in a Chicago uniform.

That said, he might be the most valuable of the Blazers. The small forward-turned-point guard can't bring it every night anymore, or even through more than stretches of most games. But he knows how to play, he commands respect from his teammates, he can still knock down the big shot, he is a savvy defender, and he isn't afraid to express an opinion Ñ usually on target.

Some day, Pippen would make a worthy member of an NBA front office. It probably won't happen in Portland as long as Bob Whitsitt is employed here. Too many on-the-mark comments by Pip for that. Or in Chicago, if Jerry Krause is around. But somewhere.

'I would probably like that more than coaching,' Pippen says. 'I like to look at talent and evaluate it.'

At the start of the season, I questioned whether Pippen could handle regular minutes at the point. Too old, I thought, and too slow to handle the quicker point guards defensively. Pippen couldn't handle Stephon Marbury in Tuesday's loss to Phoenix, but he has plenty of company around the league there.

In general, Pippen has proved me wrong. Going into Thursday's date with San Antonio, he led the Blazers by a wide margin in steals (61), was shooting a solid .461 from the field Ñ he shot .411 last season Ñ and .852 from the free-throw line. He's doing a lot of things right.

'Defending is the best part of his game,' coach Mo Cheeks says. 'He has learned to be a better point guard, but the best part of his game is his defense and rebounding.'

Pippen's presence in the lineup is crucial to the Blazers, who are 13-4 when he plays 30 or more minutes, 7-9 when he doesn't. After recuperating from knee surgery, he joined the starting rotation in the fifth game of the season and has averaged about 32 minutes a game. He's played 40 or more minutes three times, and that's a danger zone for a player his age.

'I can't play him 40 minutes, unfortunately,' Cheeks says. 'I try to keep his minutes down, but it has been tough some games. I believe I can play him 35, 36 minutes. A lot of times, he will tell me when to take him out of games.'

It's a tightrope the Blazers are walking, and Pippen knows it.

'From a competitive standpoint, it affects me,' he says of playing big minutes. 'But we kind of set this system up before the season started. For the sake of our team, I'm going to allow (the coaches) to make that judgment. I think I can play 35 minutes, but it's a gamble for our franchise. I might wind up sitting out (because of injury).'

That said, Pippen says he feels as healthy as he has been since coming to Portland in 1999. And he's enjoyed his role.

'I'm having fun,' he says. 'It's a different type of deal for me. I have always handled the ball, but now I feel like I have to control a game.'

If money is Pippen's biggest concern, he probably will be back in Portland next season, albeit with a massive pay cut. The Blazers still can pay him more than anybody else. I think he will take a look at the situation at the end of the season and then decide if wants to stay with this oft-dysfunctional franchise or, for less money, move on Ñ perhaps to the Lakers, where he could reunite with Phil Jackson and win one more championship ring.

'I would have to be loyal and say my first choice would be here,' he says. 'On the other hand, I will have to see what's best for me at this stage of my career.'

NO BEDTIME FOR BONZI: NBA Vice President Stu Jackson says he won't administer disciplinary action for three alleged incidents involving Bonzi Wells making racial comments about white players.

'We have had no formal complaints from any player or team, so we really have nothing to act on,' Jackson says. 'Bonzi was already suspended (for spitting on San Antonio's Danny Ferry), and if we get another report of something like this, we will investigate. For now, it's a non-issue.'

To refresh your memory, Wells allegedly called Ferry a 'honkie' and Golden State's Troy Murphy a 'cracker.' And after a Blazer game at Dallas last April, Maverick guard Nick Van Exel said Wells had scoffed at the Mavericks as 'a bunch of soft-assed white boys.'

I wonder if the league's reaction would be the same if a white player received several accusations of using the 'N' word during the course of a season.

NOTES: Cheeks seems perplexed that the media are questioning his guard rotation. When a reporter pointed out that statistics for Jeff McInnis, who is in the rotation, and Damon Stoudamire, who isn't, are similar, the second-year coach responded: 'If they are similar, why would it matter? Damon has gotten a chance, and I'm not saying his chance is over.' É Cheeks' main point: The Blazers have been winning, so why should anybody ask him 'negative' questions? 'I don't understand the debate about who is playing here and there,' Cheeks told reporters. 'The object of this game is to win É no matter who plays. É Maybe I need to look at the tape a little bit more. Maybe you are looking at more tape than I am. Maybe I need to figure something out. I'm serious. É If you say something to me that hasn't been in my memory, I'm not too proud to go back and look and see what I need to adjust.' É As long as a team has 12 players Ñ 15 in Portland's case Ñ there will be a debate about playing time, both inside the team and outside. Cheeks has to expect questions and be ready with answers that make sense. It's part of the job of a head coach, just as it is of the media to ask questions on behalf of the fans. Please, Mo: Go back and check that game tape one more time. McInnis is averaging 4.5 points, 2.1 assists, 0.9 turnovers and 16.3 minutes a game. Stoudamire is averaging 6.1 points, 3.0 assists and 1.2 turnovers in 22.4 minutes a game. McInnis is shooting .369 from the floor, Stoudamire .331. The biggest difference is in 3-point shooting. Stoudamire is 17 for 44 (.386); McInnis is 0 for 13.

Stu Jackson says Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan will be confirmed as members of the U.S. Olympic team this week. Three or four players will be added in June, and the rest of the team will be named in June. All will commit to playing in the World Championships this summer.

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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