They have the highest payroll in NBA history, yet all too often the Trail Blazers act like a CBA team going nowhere. After a 103-88 loss to the visiting Mavericks on Dec. 4, which dropped Portland to 7-9, co-captain Rasheed Wallace and two other Blazers were whooping it up in the locker room as they watched a game on TV, "acting like we had won," says co-captain Scottie Pippen, who, in a wordless expression of contempt, strode past the players, flipped off the set and shut the TV cabinet doors.
"We'll get better, but we ain't going to make it a total turnaround," the 37-year-old Pippen says. "It's impossible because of the makeup of our team. It's always new personnel; it's always, now we've got to see how this guy plays and how we're going to fit him in. You can't keep doing that."
He blames the team's woes on owner Paul Allen and president Bob Whitsitt, arguing that they have assembled the deepest roster in the league with little regard for team chemistry. When the luxury tax makes its long-anticipated debut this summer, Allen will owe the league some $50 million for his $105 million payroll. That means he'll be paying $155 million for a team that's touch-and-go to make the playoffs. After losing more than $40 million last year, tops in the NBA, the Blazers could be $100 million in the red this season. But instead of getting any credit for their free spending, says Whitsitt, "we're getting beat up for it."
At the same time, Whitsitt empathizes with fans turned off by the so-called Jail Blazers. Last Friday, Wallace and Damon Stoudamire entered not guilty pleas to misdemeanor possession of marijuana, even though the police report states that both players admitted they had been smoking pot in a car on Nov. 22. Charges of felony domestic assault against Ruben Patterson were dropped last week after his wife refused to cooperate with the prosecution, though she had told the 911 dispatcher that her husband "tried to f——— choke me." Whitsitt fined Patterson $100,000 and threatened additional fines of $10,000 for every day that he fails to receive "appropriate counseling" (penalties that the players' association is likely to appeal).
While Whitsitt's primary goal is to bring down the payroll by letting Pippen's contract run out at a savings of $39.4 million in salary and luxury taxes next season, he says he might move Pippen for promising young players to try to take Portland in a new direction. But who would the Blazers turn to then for leadership—Rasheed Wallace?