Saturday, October 2
By Mike Monroe
Special to ESPN.com
Looks like ESPN has served as catalyst for a major Western Conference
Scottie Pippen may or may not wind up on the Portland Trail Blazers
roster -- the smart money says he will, and no later than Monday -- but it
is nearly a certainty that he won't be on the Houston Rockets roster
when training camp opens Tuesday. And if he is, he won't be there long.
When Charles Barkley went on ESPN's "Up Close" and said he was "greatly
disappointed" in Pippen's stated desire for a trade out of Houston he
started a chain reaction that likely will result in Pippen leaving
Barkley accurately pointed out that he had sacrificed financially to
enable the Rockets to sign Pippen to a five-year deal worth $67.2
million; that Rockets fans had warmly embraced Pippen.
Pippen's response: "I wouldn't give Charles Barkley an apology at
gunpoint. He can never expect an apology from me. If anything, he owes
me an apology for coming to play with his fat butt."
Pippen went on to criticize Barkley's lack of dedication to winning and
Nice team chemistry, fellas.
Barkley now is trying to take the off ramp to the high road, refusing
to escalate the war of words and saying he wishes Pippen had just picked
up the phone and told him, ear to mouthpiece, if he was angry about what
he said on "Up Close."
Bottom line, though, is that the phones at Rockets headquarters rang
off the hooks after Pippen's scathing ESPN interview. Many NBA teams saw
the rift as an opportunity to take advantage of the Rockets.
Fact is, the Rockets have been open to trading Pippen all summer -- for
the right deal, of course.
The Portland deal -- which could include Kelvin Cato, Stacey Augmon, Walt Williams, Ed Gray, Brian Shaw and Carlos Rogers -- looks righter than most.
If it does come down, it is going to make the Blazers even stronger.
They may be giving up some of their depth, and Cato eventually may be
one of the better defensive centers in the West, but for the immediate
future their defense improves tremendously. Already one of the teams
that figures to benefit from the rules changes being implemented this
season, Pippen seamlessly would plug into their help defense scheme and
make them even more difficult to score against.
And if it doesn't come down, most likely it will be because the Rockets
liked some other deal better. Signing Shandon Anderson as a free agent
made Pippen more valuable as trade bait than as a roster member, since
Anderson's game is similar.
Should Pippen get traded -- for purposes of argument, let's assume it is
the Portland deal -- what does the Rockets' starting lineup look like?
Try a front line of Hakeem Olajuwon, Barkley and Walt Williams, with
rookie Steve Francis at the point and Anderson at off guard. Rudy
Tomjanovich would have tremendous flexibility, though, able to plug
Anderson in at small forward with Cuttino Mobley at off guard. Plus, in
Cato he would have a capable backup for Olajuwon, who will be 37 in
Pippen didn't seem happy playing in Tomjanovich's post-oriented offense
last season. A change will probably be good for all concerned.
Meanwhile, I have two words to say to Anderson, who turned down Utah's
offer of five years and $25 million and who promised him he would be the
Jazz' starting big guard this season, which is going to be Jeff
Hornacek's final season: LaPhonso Ellis.
Back in 1994 the Nuggets offered Ellis, at the time an
All-Star-in-waiting, a contract extension worth roughly $5 million a
year, guaranteed. Ellis turned it down, hoping for more at the end of
the next season, He subsequently suffered two career-threatening knee
injuries, and today is in the final year of a contract in Atlanta that
pays him only $1.92 million.
Anderson obviously expects to cash as a Larry Bird free agent when his
deal in Houston runs its course, but Ellis figured the same thing back
in '94, which only goes to prove one thing: Every player is one injury
away from the end of his career.
In some respects, Anderson's decision is refreshing. He contends that
it proves he is about the right things, meaning happiness and fitting in
with the right group of teammates. But you have to wonder what was so
wrong with Utah, which merely got Anderson back-to-back trips to the NBA
Finals in 1997 and 1998. Was there a problem playing with Karl Malone
and John Stockton? For Jerry Sloan? What?
Wandering the West
Sean Elliott, out for the season after his kidney
transplant, will do color commentary on Spurs television broadcasts this
season. Elliott, though, has not given up on returning to basketball. He
is, by all accounts, in excellent physical condition, and the team's
medical-training staff continues to work on developing a device that can
physically protect the transplanted kidney without hindering Elliott's
Word out of L.A. has it the Clippers don't want to pay per diem money
during training camp, which explains why they won't be putting up
players at a hotel during camp. Most teams like to house their players
together so they can begin a "bonding" process during camp, but the
Clippers, apparently, are the exception. Of course, that's why they
remain, well, the Clippers.
Mike Monroe, who covers the NBA for the Denver Post, writes a Western Conference column for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org