Dennis Rodman was irritated. He had just been informed of the deal that sent Bulls teammate Jason Caffey to the Warriors, and he was taking the news as a personal affront. "It shows no respect for this team," Rodman says. "We shouldn't be broken up until we have a chance to win another championship. Why won't [management] just leave us alone? But distractions are part of the Chicago mystique, I guess."
He should know. Rodman blew off a Feb. 15 shootaround because he lost his car keys, then skipped practice the next day without explanation. Coach Phil Jackson fined him an undisclosed amount and handed his starting job to Toni Kukoc. "It was all planned," Rodman says. "We were getting stale as a team, and I was getting stale as a player. So I said, 'Let me cause some controversy.' I got everybody stirred up, then said to myself, Now you've got to perform."
Even though he is on pace to win his seventh straight rebounding title, with 15.1 per game through Sunday, Rodman says that he has had to battle more than ever to keep his competitive edge. His warped style of self-motivation would disrupt any team but the Bulls.
"They know exactly what is going on," Rodman says. "Maybe the first couple of years they said, 'Hey, what is this guy up to?' But now they understand. When everyone else was asking, 'Where's Dennis?' they all knew I was home relaxing. I really did lose my keys, and the guys were all over me. It was so boring, it didn't sound true. I should have said I was lounging in bed with three ladies."
Jackson responded testily to initial questions about Rodman's absences. But even he wasn't annoyed by the Worm a few days later. "Phil's got no problem with it," Rodman says. "He's got to do the media thing and look pissed off, but we've got an understanding. He knows I was trying to get my focus back."
"Dennis needed to get himself together," agrees Jackson, grinning. "We fined him, and we moved on."
Rodman has even begun mulling over his on-court future after the Bulls. " Detroit wants me back there, but I'm not going," Rodman says. "The Lakers—now that makes sense. They could pay me $3 million, with incentives. Wouldn't that be great? To win a championship in Detroit, Chicago and L.A.? Nobody has done it. I don't need any more motivation than that."
The Austin Deal
Can the Clippers Keep Him?
Center Isaac Austin prepared himself for the inevitable: The Heat, who would be unable to pay him big money as a free agent this summer because of salary cap restraints, would unload him before the trading deadline. Still, when the deal was closed, Austin was thrown for a loop. He wound up with the Clippers, who, unlike other suitors, had never called him to gauge his interest in re-signing.
The Clippers didn't contact Austin, sources say, because they hoped to trade him to the Suns for point guard Steve Nash (an offer that Phoenix declined). Meanwhile, two general managers from winning teams told SI they did not deal for Austin because they believed he would sign with the Jazz or the Suns.