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 Saturday, October 2
Rockets tell Pippen to hit the Trail
Associated Press

 PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers were thrilled to get him. The Houston Rockets were equally glad to get rid of him.

As for Scottie Pippen himself, he let others do the talking.

Scottie Pippen
Stacey Augmon, left, and Scottie Pippen are trading places.
In a deal that had been rumored for days, the six-time NBA champion and seven-time All-Star was traded to Portland on Saturday for Kelvin Cato, Stacey Augmon, Walt Williams, Ed Gray, Brian Shaw and Carlos Rogers.

Blazers president and general manager Bob Whitsitt said Pippen was "extremely excited" about the deal, and Pippen's agent, Jimmy Sexton, concurred.

Pippen, however, said nothing publicly from his home in Arkansas.

"Don't read anything into that," Sexton said of Pippen's silence. "After Scottie evaluated the situation in Portland, looked at their roster, what they did last year and the pieces they've added, he was excited. They'll have a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship."

Pippen's first choice for a new team was the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would have rejoined former Bulls coach Phil Jackson. There was speculation that Portland might turn around and trade Pippen to the Lakers for Glen Rice and other players -- speculation that figures to continue through the season.

But on Saturday the Blazers were talking about Pippen being a part of their drive for a title.

"I talked with Scottie on the phone, and he said, 'That L.A. stuff was blown out of proportion. I love Portland and I like what's going on,'" Whitsitt said.

The deal, finalized Saturday morning during a conference call with the Rockets and the NBA, was hastened when Pippen lambasted Houston's Charles Barkley in an ESPN interview aired Wednesday. Pippen called his teammate "fat" and "selfish," and said he wanted out of Houston because Barkley didn't have enough desire to win.

Other teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets, made late offers that were rejected. The Lakers considered offering Rice, Robert Horry and Travis Knight, but ultimately declined.

"We're moving forward," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "I think we've taken a negative situation and tried to turn it into a positive."

Pippen, 34, signed a five-year, $67 million contract with the Rockets before the lockout-shorted 1999 season began. But he never fit into Houston's low-post oriented offense, and competed with stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Barkley for looks at the basket.

"When you play that style of basketball (with the Bulls), I understood it would take some time to adjust," Tomjanovich said at a news conference in Houston. The coach said he talked with Pippen on the phone and told him he was sorry it didn't work out.

"It was very professional. We wished each other luck," he said.

Pippen is due to make $14.8 million this season, which nearly equals the combined salaries of the six players Portland traded.

Last season Pippen averaged 14.5 points, his lowest output since 1988-89, his second season with the Bulls and two years before the Bulls won the first of their six titles. He also shot a career-low 43 percent, but averaged 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists and made the NBA's All-Defensive first team for the eighth straight year.

The Blazers, already loaded with talented players like Brian Grant, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire and new acquisitions Detlef Schrempf and Steve Smith, don't care if he ever returns to the scoring level that made him a selection on the NBA's 50 all-time greatest players.

"If Scottie averages 14, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals ever year for the next four years, perfect," Whitsitt said. "We'll take that in a heartbeat."

Pippen has been one of the NBA's most dominant forwards the last decade, but he has not proved he can effectively lead a team without Michael Jordan around. In the 1994 playoffs, with Jordan off playing minor-league baseball, Pippen refused to enter a game in the final seconds against the Knicks when Jackson had drawn up the final shot for Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen.

In Houston, it was clear from Wednesday's interview, Pippen did not get along with Barkley, his teammate on the Dream Team that won the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Pippen complained that he was not getting the ball enough, and Barkley complained that he had given up part of his salary so the Rockets could afford Pippen.

The falling out between the two intensified over the summer when they traveled together on a tour for Nike, the athletic footwear maker.

There's no telling how Pippen will fit in with the Blazers, who are deep at every position despite unloading six players. Last season, Stoudamire groused about not getting enough minutes, even during the Blazers' four-game series loss to San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.

The Rockets, meanwhile, likely will jettison at least three of their new players. The team had 18 players under contract without Pippen before the trade. Tomjanovich sounded most interested in Williams, a good outside shooter, and Cato, a 6-foot-11 center who showed promise backing up Arvydas Sabonis.

That means the Rockets could cut Augmon, Gray, Shaw and Rogers during training camp, which begins Tuesday. The Blazers might be interested in re-signing Augmon, a defensive specialist, to a contract considerably less than his $3.2 million salary.


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 Rockets announce the deal at a news conference.
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 Bob Whitsitt says he's happy to have Pippen in a Blazers uniform.
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 Rudy Tomjanovich knows the Rockets have to move forward without Pippen.
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