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Forward march

• Two good players, one big position: What should the Blazers do?

Let's play Bob Whitsitt for a second. You have two talented power forwards: Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph. As the months and years roll by, both players need to, and will want to, play big minutes. Which player do you base your future on?

The man who runs the Trail Blazers will tell you both of them Ñ that there are enough minutes for both, that both can be kept happy and be integral to the team's success.

Beg to differ, boss.

Wallace has one more season on his contract, at $18 million. After that, the Blazers should let him walk and turn the power-forward position over to Randolph Ñ or trade Wallace before it reaches that point.

Here is why:

Wallace turns 29 in September. He is one of the better players at his position in the NBA and will want to be paid accordingly. Under salary-cap restrictions, Wallace could receive a maximum of 105 percent of his last salary in the first year of a new deal, with 12.5 percent increases in each successive year. That would mean Portland could start Wallace at $18.9 million in 2004-05 and give him a seven-year deal worth $150.2 million, topping out at $24.3 million in the final season (2010-11).

Sure, Wallace could accept less, and probably would. But even at an average of $18 million annually, he would still be paid $126 million over seven years. If owner Paul Allen doesn't mind losing $100 million a year on his team, as he will this season, that's fine. If he wants to cut his losses to something a little more reasonable, he should seriously consider jettisoning the man who has earned the moniker of 'Mr. T.'

Randolph is 21. Had he stayed at Michigan State, he would have been a junior this season. At 6-9 and 250, he is developing into one of the best young inside talents in the game. Coach Maurice Cheeks loves him and raves about his post moves, potential and work ethic. Randolph already is one of the best in the business at rebounding his own missed shot and getting the ball in the basket. That is a rare talent and one of immeasurable value.

The biggest problem is finding him enough minutes, because the Blazers are better with Randolph on the floor. Cheeks will use more of Randolph and Wallace together the rest of the season, with Wallace guarding the small forward. It is a good plan over the short haul but won't work in the long run, because both are starting power forwards in the NBA.

As a second-year pro, Randolph's earning power is limited severely by the collective-bargaining agreement Ñ and the Blazers have him tied up for three more years after this season. He is making $1.1 million this season and will make $1.2 million next year and $1.8 million in 2004-05. Portland can make him a qualifying offer of $2.6 million in 2005-06 or redo his contract. By that time, he would be one of the most underpaid players in the game.

Who would you rather have as your starting power forward during the 2004-05 season Ñ Wallace at $18.9 million or Randolph at $1.8 million? Factor in that Wallace doesn't want to be the Blazers' No. 1 player and leader Ñ never has and never will, despite a salary that calls for that. And that he has been an embarrassment to the franchise and the city with the way he treats referees, the media, the team's fans and, at times, even his teammates. When sports fans throughout the country think Portland, they think Rasheed Wallace. Where is J.R. Rider when you need him?

Randolph has been a good soldier, accepting limited minutes with occasional discontent but never becoming a problem. That will be harder for him as time goes on. He is too good a player to sit, but with Wallace on board, available playing time is insufficient.

The time isn't now, but it is coming. The decision seems basic, even for a GM who didn't major in chemistry.

Sorrow for a leader

Last month was a rough one for Sacramento center Vlade Divac, a native Serb. His country's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, was killed by assassins in his homeland.

Divac and Djindjic were friends.

'I knew him very well,' Divac says. 'He liked sports a lot. He was a very positive guy. I visited him last summer three or four times, and once ate dinner with him and his family at their home.'

It was at Djindjic's behest that Divac chose to represent his country in the World Championships last summer in Indianapolis. Divac had participated in many international competitions through his career and, after a long NBA season, could have used a rest over the summer.

'I talked to (Djindjic), and he told me it would be great if I could play (for Yugoslavia) one more time,' Divac says. 'He thought we had a good chance to win. Maybe so did I.'

Against the heavily favored Americans in the quarterfinals, Divac had 16 points and 11 rebounds to spearhead a monumental 81-78 upset. After the Yugoslavs upended Argentina to win the title, Divac and countryman (and King teammate) Peja Stojakovic returned home to a heroes' welcome. A crowd of 100,000 filled Belgrade's center square to celebrate an unprecedented accomplishment.

'I don't worry about my country now,' Divac says. 'I know the people there understand (Djindjic) paid the price for everybody. It looks like the result will be, they will clean the country of the criminal element Ñ the Mafia and everybody. It is just too bad the price he had to pay was his life.'

Notes: Kudos to the Blazer scouting department, which came up with Randolph as the 19th pick in the 2002 draft, then plucked Qyntel Woods at No. 21 last year. Both are going to be players in this league and will make other teams' drafts look very, very unwise. É When the Washington Wizards were in town last week, a huge throng of fans congregated by the team bus in the Rose Garden loading dock after the game, hoping for an autograph of Michael Jordan. Jordan walked straight onto the bus and didn't sign. The most frequent signers among Blazer players, according to autograph-seeking regulars: Randolph, Woods and Derek Anderson.

Sacramento GM Geoff Petrie went to Europe to look at 7-foot Serb Darko Milicic, who won't turn 18 until June but likely will be the second pick in the draft. Petrie's appraisal: 'He is a lefty, very mobile, quick off his feet. They play him as a center, but he is more suited to be a power forward in our league. He has some skills facing the basket. He runs all day, with a decent skill level already. Physically, he is not going to have any trouble competing. It is hard to find guys that big with that kind of mobility and quickness. The GM who doesn't draft LeBron James No. 1 is going to be run out of town. Milicic is probably going to go next.'

Ed Rush, the NBA's supervisor of officials, would neither confirm nor deny an ESPN.com report claiming that referees Derrick Stafford (two-game suspension) and Steve Javie ($1,000 fine) were disciplined for run-ins with Miami coach Pat Riley. Stafford was the lead official in the Feb. 5 Miami-Portland game after which Riley unloaded on the refs chumming it up with the Blazers. Riley was consequently fined $20,000. He said in December that Javie had told him, 'It gives us absolute delight to watch your team die.' Rush told the Tribune, 'The commissioner has made it clear that any disciplinary action will remain internal.'

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