Blazer vet: Players didn't respect 'totally out of touch' Whitsitt

Were such an opportunity to come along a year or two down the road, Scottie Pippen would be at owner Paul Allen's doorstep, inquiring about the vacancies in the Portland Trail Blazers' front office.

Pippen is general manager material, but he isn't ready to call an end to a playing career that will one day land him a spot in the Hall of Fame.

'I would like to play another year or two,' says Pippen, a free agent this summer after spending the last four seasons with Portland. 'Then I might like to put something together where I can go to work in a front office in some type of management role. This is a great opportunity here, but unfortunately I'm not ready for it.'

Pippen, who turns 38 in September, would need some seasoning. But he has the savvy and analytical basketball mind necessary for a GM role. Unlike his old running mate, Michael Jordan, Pippen has an appreciation for the common man in the sport, too. He began his college career at Central Arkansas as a student manager. His bud blossomed late, through plenty of hard work, and his work ethic as a front-office executive would need to be of the same ilk.

Pippen will take a close look at Allen's hire. Pippen enjoys playing for coach Maurice Cheeks, knows the Blazers can pay him more than other teams and considers Portland one of the best cities in the league in which to play.

But Pippen also thinks there needs to be a shake-up in player personnel here Ñ we won't get any more specific than to say at the top Ñ and he wants to get a better read on what might happen under a new GM.

'I honestly don't know what I'm going to do,' Pippen says. 'Everything is going through change here right now. I don't know how many more changes they are going to make. I don't even know if Maurice is going to be back.'

Cheeks will return, but he will be on the spot next season with a new GM and only one remaining season guaranteed on his contract.

A bumpy first season

Pippen says Bob Whitsitt's announced resignation surprised him and is best for the team.

'He has taken a pretty hard pounding, so I would have to say, yes, it was a good move,' Pippen says. 'The fans had been on him for a long time. The team wasn't getting any better, and it put a lot of pressure on him.

'When you are spending the type of money on salaries that he was, you would expect a team to be playing a lot deeper into the postseason than we have the last three years. I mean, you need to be sitting up there with the Yankees. You need to be bringing in some kind of championship.'

Pippen will never forgive Whitsitt for shaking up the Blazers after the 1999-2000 season, Pippen's first in Portland. It was the year the Blazers took the Lakers to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

'When I agreed to the trade (from Houston), I was thinking I was coming in to play with a contender,' Pippen says. 'I felt strongly about that team. I get one year with that team, and Trader Bob pulls the plug before I get a chance to sit on the pot.

'I mean, we were on a roll, and three years later we can't put a team out there capable of competing for a title. A lot of his changes through the years set him back more than they helped him.'

Pleading to keep O'Neal

As one of the game's respected elder statesmen, Pippen would have appreciated being consulted about the team's major deals during his time in Portland. He says it never happened.

'The only time I was in on one was when he traded Jermaine O'Neal, and I begged him not to do it,' Pippen said. 'That was the crushing thing. He was more or less telling me about the trade after the fact instead of asking my opinion.'

Pippen says Whitsitt wasn't around the team enough to stay connected.

'He was totally out of touch,' Pippen said. 'The presence of a GM helps. It's like, as soon as the principal shows up, the students do everything in a straight line. Just being absent as much as he was, it put a lot more pressure on the coach. With Bob, it got to the point where the guys didn't really respect him as a GM.'

If Pippen winds up leaving Portland, the Lakers and coach Phil Jackson are a likely destination, especially if they don't win another title this spring. It is doubtful, however, that he would accept anything less than the $4.6 million midlevel exception, despite what the Lakers are floating out through the L.A. media.

'I would rather fight a tiger than just to be given something' is the way Pippen explains it. 'I would want to make a difference. I have a little more warrior in me than to just sit on the sidelines.'

Another potential target: Chicago. The hated Jerry Krause is gone, replaced by Pippen's old teammate and pal, John Paxson. The Bulls stink, but they have some promising young players, and they are in the Eastern Conference, where the chance for advancement in the playoffs increases significantly. If there were a promise of a front-office position after retirement, Pippen would listen.

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