Scottie Pippen has settled it in his mind: He wants to be a Trail Blazer again.

The ball is in the Blazers' hands.

Pippen, a free agent, hasn't been contacted by Steve Patterson in the month since Patterson became president of the Blazers. Pippen has spoken with coach Maurice Cheeks, with whom he enjoys a good relationship.

'I won't say Maurice is in control of the organization, but I know we have been on good talking terms,' Pippen says. 'I feel pretty comfortable they are going to offer me something when the time comes.

'Right now, I'm kind of sitting back, curious about what Portland has in mind. I don't know how long I'll be able to sit back and wait on that.'

Donny Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks' president of basketball operations, called to offer the $1.5 million veteran's minimum. That didn't appeal to Pippen, who made $19.7 million last season with Portland.

'I don't think that's a possibility,' says Pippen, who turns 38 in September. 'It's not that important for me to go to Dallas and try to get a championship.'

San Antonio, rebuffed in its bid to add free agents Jason Kidd and Jermaine O'Neal, intends to contact Pippen, who has no agent and will represent himself in his next contract negotiation.

Pippen has met with Chicago representatives Ñ Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, General Manager John Paxson and coach Bill Cartwright Ñ and will get some sort of offer from the Bulls.

Paxson is a former teammate, and there's the potential for a front-office job upon retirement. But Pippen hopes that will be the case in Portland, too.

'I would like to stay here,' Pippen says. 'My family is more settled now. But to tell you the truth, if it is time for me to go, I can move on, too.'

Pippen would like to sign a two- or three-year contract with a one-year opt-out. The Blazers should offer him a two-year deal at

$10 million, which would mean an annual reduction of nearly $15 million from his previous contract. He provides stability, savvy and the heart the Blazers have had all too little of in recent seasons.

THE KID NO LONGER: Jermaine O'Neal is the man in Indiana. Seven years, $120 million would make anyone happy, and don't say O'Neal's decision to re-sign with the Pacers wasn't about the money because that was a factor.

Just as strong a factor, however, was loyalty to Indiana President Donnie Walsh and the Pacers rescuing O'Neal him from obscurity after four bench-warming seasons in Portland. O'Neal, 24, canceled scheduled free-agent visits to San Antonio and Dallas because he didn't think it was fair to go when his heart was in Indy.

'The biggest surprise to me was how tough a decision it was for me,' O'Neal says. 'It was the toughest decision I've had to make since I decided to go to the NBA instead of college out of high school.

'Bottom line was, Indiana is where my career really started. Portland is where I got the opportunity be in the NBA, but my career didn't start there. It was going to be extremely hard to turn my back on that. Donnie believed in me enough to give up Dale Davis to get me. I wouldn't be in this position if not for that.'

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich says he wasn't surprised that O'Neal spurned the Spurs' advances. 'He wants to have in Indiana what Timmy has had here,' Popovich says, referring to franchise player Tim Duncan. 'I kind of thought that would be the case.'

O'Neal says Walsh has indicated he will make personnel changes to provide a supporting cast capable of getting the Pacers to the NBA Finals.

'Maybe Tim and I could have formed the nucleus of a dynasty for a long time, but it still would have been Tim's team,' he says. 'I want to carve my own name. In order to be considered a great player when I walk away from this game, I have to lead this team to a title.'

Notes: A source tells the Tribune that Portland strongly considered a deal with Milwaukee that would have allowed the Blazers to acquire Gary Payton for Jeff McInnis and the rights to Arvydas Sabonis. Payton would have wound up with a four-year, $40 million contract, but owner Paul Allen wouldn't approve of the deal for financial reasons. É These are new days in Blazerville. The $4.8 million midlevel exception might not be used, there won't be 15 players with guaranteed contracts and there could be as few as three assistant coaches on the staff. 'If we use the midlevel exception, it will probably come later in the summer, when expectations of some players are a little more realistic,' Patterson says. 'I would think 11, 12, 13 (players) is in the range of guys we will carry with guaranteed contracts. Any more and you give up the flexibility of picking somebody up later, a younger guy or somebody coming back from Europe, that sort of thing.'

Ex-Blazer Jerome Kersey will help coach Portland's entry in the Rocky Mountain Revue Summer League, which begins Saturday in Salt Lake City. He might earn a spot on Cheeks' coaching staff. 'There is a possible role (for Kersey) there, but we haven't made a commitment yet,' Patterson says.

Damon Stoudamire's compliance with the NBA's drug rehabilitation program probably will take place in the same Atlanta clinic Shawn Kemp was housed more than two years ago. It probably will be a four- to six-week program, and presumably Stoudamire would have things taken care of before the start of Portland's training camp in October. Details must be worked out between representatives of the NBA and the players association. É NBA representatives will meet with Portland officials in the next couple of weeks to discuss the Blazers' bid to host a future All-Star Game. É Portland's three-day minicamp, featuring first-round draft pick Travis Outlaw, opens Wednesday at the team's Tualatin practice facility. The Blazers then proceed to Salt Lake City, where Outlaw, Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods will lead a Portland entry in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league. The Blazers will play six games, beginning Saturday against Phoenix. É Antonio Daniels, Portland's other free-agent guard, is being eyed by Orlando and Seattle.

Steve Kerr expects to be back for a 16th and final NBA season next year in San Antonio. The former Blazer guard, who turns 38 in September, also has an interview for a TV analyst position. 'I am leaning toward coming back and playing another year,' Kerr says. Jokes Popovich: 'He is going to try to hold us hostage for like five years after hitting that big shot for us in the playoffs.'

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