Veteran Blazer Scottie Pippen sounds off about his team and his future

In December, Scottie Pippen revealed his thoughts about the Trail Blazer franchise to the media.

The Portland point guard with six championship rings was blunt and precise. He said General Manager Bob Whitsitt blew it when he shook up the roster after the loss to the L.A. Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference finals. Letting Jermaine O'Neal go and trading for Shawn Kemp 'had to be the worst move in pro sports,' he said. Pippen said Whitsitt must not understand the importance of developing relationships and chemistry.

'We will win some games,' Pippen said, 'but when the dust settles, we will be under the dust.'

Since then, the Blazers have played better basketball and are in position for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells are the team's most talented players, but Pippen has been its leader and MVP. He is more optimistic than he was about Portland's playoff chances, and he will do whatever he can to help his team make a long run in the postseason.

Even so, the Blazer tri-captain is bold enough to speak his mind, and all is not perfect these days in the World of Pip. There is the left knee being rehabilitated after March 19 arthroscopic surgery. There is impending free agency that looms after the season and the uncertainty of where Pippen, who turns 38 in September, will land. And there is the continuing soap opera involving transgressions by the Blazers.

Pippen merchandise sold for 33 percent off (ostensibly playing off his jersey number, 33) at Blazer kiosks in the Rose Garden the past month. 'They want to clear their inventory, because they don't think he will be back next season,' one salesman said.

Pippen sat down with the Tribune this week and discussed a variety of subjects. As usual, he minced no words.

Tribune: Are you embarrassed by the rash of incidents involving your teammates this season?

Pippen: Yes and no. I hope it doesn't reflect on me (personally), yet we are all members of a team. It looks bad when players are still getting caught up in the same old bull É instead of being at their houses where they are safe. What the (expletive) are they are doing out there on the road? Why even go out to a party? Have your own party.

If you have people you want to hang with, you have a house Ñ why do you put yourself in jeopardy? You are being watched. You are an icon in this community. People don't stand for that kind of behavior, and they shouldn't. You get into your fancy-ass car and start flying down the highway at those kind of speeds. É I mean, yeah, it is embarrassing when (expletive) like that happens. People see us as a group and it's like, oh man, those drugheads, the Jail Blazers É

Tribune: How much does that bother you?

Pippen: A lot. (Pause) A lot. I'm sure people look at it as if there is no leadership on this team. Well, it's not on the leadership when the guys are off the court. As a player, you are your own man. You make your own decisions. You are responsible for your own actions.

Tribune: Do you have any regrets about the comments you made about Blazer management this season?

Pippen: Hell, no.

Tribune: Have things changed?

Pippen: Not that I have seen. (Whitsitt) has no attentiveness to this team. He doesn't know what he brought in, how it is responding, what the practice habits are like, nothing.

Tribune: You came to Portland four years ago hoping to add at least one more championship to your resumŽ. Has it disappointed you that you haven't accomplished that?

Pippen: Not when they destroyed the team after my first year. That is the only thing that disappointed me. (Whitsitt) said he had all these warriors, and we were going to get all this stuff accomplished. I was thinking I was coming in to play with all these guys. He made the trade to bring me here, and he dismantled the team the year after. That is the one thing I regret about coming to Portland, when he did that. We had nice players here. But I guess he has always done that. Bob is always going on trading sprees.

Tribune: What should be done to improve this team?

Pippen: It ain't about bringing in nobody new. It is about the guys they have here playing harder. If you are going to have 15 guys on your roster and you have all these talented guys with X amount of minutes, somehow they have to be pushed to the limit in their time out on the court.

Tribune: Have you tried to inspire your teammates to do just that?

Pippen: It is like beating on a dead horse. Then all of a sudden, it will click. We will go on a spurt. Then it's like, 'OK, that's not us.' We can't get from A to Z.

Tribune: Do you still enjoying playing as much as you did during your heyday with the Bulls?

Pippen: At times. Winning championships has a big role in it. When you are not at the top, it is not as much fun. Most of my career, I have had opportunities to go for winning a title, or at least winning the conference or division. Here it's not like that. Yeah, we have won games, but except for the first year, we have not made a serious run (at a title). It makes the game not as much fun.

Tribune: Would you like to see Wallace step up and share more of the leadership role?

Pippen: Rasheed is who he is. You are not going to change him. He has played for a number of coaches here, and I don't see a lot of change.

Tribune: Has his attitude or on-court behavior improved?

Pippen: A little. To some degree, he is not as bad. But he is still not giving himself a chance to get a fair shake from officials or his teammates.

Tribune: Is Wells capable of giving more?

Pippen: Bonzi is a great talent, but he hasn't put himself at the level where he is very consistent. If he were consistent, he could probably be an All-Star candidate. But you have to show that you have grown, that you have matured, that you can come out and bring it for 82 games. Every single night. You are getting paid to put on a show, to perform. That is why I think our league suffers. They are paying these cats all this money at a young age, but (teams) don't get (the players') attention. They never bring it every night. They don't have to now.

Tribune: You sound as if you feel some of the same frustrations Michael Jordan does with the Wizards.

Pippen: Oh, yeah, no question. I don't see how he can still be playing, taking a pay cut like he has done (smiles). He has a bigger piece of the pie there than as just a player, of course. But it has to be so frustrating.

Tribune: How is your relationship with Michael?

Pippen: We are not guys who talk on the phone every day, but we stay in touch. There is a mutual respect. Our relationship is great. We understand what this business is about. He probably appreciates me a lot more now that he plays with those knuckleheads. I appreciate him more because, when you have another guy at your level, you can both bring your teammates up. He is pulling these guys, and I am pulling (other guys) up. When you are the only one up there, it is hard to bring them all up and get them to play at the level you play.

Tribune: How much are work habits part of that?

Pippen: A lot of guys are not willing to put the work in anymore. The way these guys play now, if I took it easy like they do, I could probably play until I'm 45 (laughs). It is too bad you can't turn back the time.

Tribune: A national radio talk-show host suggested this week he expects you to wind up in Washington, playing alongside Jordan next season.

Pippen: I think Michael is probably done. That is what he indicated to me.

Tribune: What about you? Where will you play next season?

Pippen: I don't know what makes sense for me right now. It is something I haven't put a lot of thought into. I am not really looking forward to being a free agent. I don't want to go out and shop myself. I am one of those players who always wanted to play for one team in his career. That didn't work out, so now I am trying to get through this season and let the chips fall as they may.

Tribune: You dropped your agent about three years ago and haven't had one since. Why ?

Pippen: I don't see a use for having one at this stage in my career. I know my value, and there are rules about how much or how little I can make.

Tribune: After being underpaid through most of your career, you are making $19.7 million this season. The Blazers can pay you as much as 105 percent of that, or roughly $21 million, if they so choose next season. Nobody else could come close to that. Because of salary-cap limitations, most teams could only offer you the

midlevel exception at about

$4.5 million. How does that affect your thinking about next year?

Pippen: It probably makes the best sense for me to stay here.

Tribune: Do you think the Blazers will pay you top dollar?

Pippen: No. They don't have to. Even Minnesota is not going to pay Kevin Garnett maximum dollars. They don't have to.

Tribune: So you think you will be back in Portland?

Pippen: I am a positive thinker, so, yeah.

Tribune: What is a fair salary?

Pippen: I won't put a number on it. If the team betters itself and puts me in a position where we are going to win and I am not having to go out and play as if I am the top player or focus of the team, then it is not about the salary. But if I have to come in and I have to be responsible for the actions of this team, then you have to pay me like a superstar in the league.

Tribune: And that responsibility has fallen on your shoulders this season.

Pippen: I think I have earned my pay since I have been here.

Tribune: Has that surprised you?

Pippen: Not really. Once I get my body in top shape, I can play with any player in the league. As you become an older player, it is about how you take care of your body. I am just not as injury-free as I was when I was younger.

Tribune: Do you want to play two more seasons?

Pippen: Just say John Stockton is my idol. And put all the numbers together.

Tribune: Stockton is 41. That would mean at least four more years. Can you do that physically?

Pippen: I think so.

Tribune: How interested would you be in playing for the Lakers next season?

Pippen: Nah. They're having success without me.

Tribune: What if they don't get it done this year?

Pippen: If they don't get it done, that might appeal to me.

Tribune: Why?

Pippen: I don't want to lift up on anybody's coattails. I mean, they're winning already.

Tribune: How is your relationship with Phil Jackson?

Pippen: It's great. He is like a father figure to me. He always has been. Our relationship has gotten even stronger over the years.

Tribune: How is your relationship with Maurice Cheeks?

Pippen: It's great, too. I like him as a coach. I am enjoying watching him learn and become a better coach. I want to play a big part in his success here.

Tribune: How can this Blazer team do in the playoffs?

Pippen: Our chances are real good if we can miss L.A. If we can finish at the seed we're at now, we will be in a great position. Then it's about us.

Tribune: How is the knee, and when will you make your return?

Pippen: It's feeling better, but it is not totally healed. We had hoped I would be back in three weeks (for next Wednesday's game at San Antonio). It might be a little later than that, but it won't be long.

Tribune: You have made some strong statements. Do you worry they will be held against you?

Pippen: I have always been able to back up my talk. If the good Lord lets me walk back out there again, I will be fine.

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