The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 31 | Scottie Pippen
Games Played with Blazers: 272 Regular Season, 26 Postseason
*PTS: 11.4 | REB: 5.3 | AST: 5.0 | 3PT%: 44.0%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: October 1999, acquired from the Houston Rockets for Stacey Augmon, Kelvin Cato. Walt Williams, Brian Shaw, Ed Gray, and Carlos Rogers
Departed Club: July 2003, departed in free agency
Place in History:
Trivia Question: What year was Smash Mouth’s mega-hit “All-Star” released?
Answer: 1999. Could have told you that all day. That’s not because the song is huge or because I’m a Smash Mouth guy. For Portland Trail Blazers fans, the release could not have been timed more perfectly. In August of 1999, the Blazers picked up former NBA All-Star Steve Smith from the Atlanta Hawks. This was a huge move, but it was only a prelude to their next deal, one of the biggest the franchise had ever seen.
On October 2nd, 1999, the Portland Trail Blazers traded Stacey Augmon, Kelvin Cato, Walt Williams, Brian Shaw, Ed Gray, and Carlos Rogers to the Houston Rockets for Scottie Pippen.
Yes, that Scottie Pippen.
NBA All-Star Scottie Pippen
NBA All-Star MVP Scottie Pippen
All-NBA First Team and All-NBA Defensive Team Scottie Pippen
6-Time NBA Champion Scottie Pippen
At the time, I lived in a tiny town in rural Iowa. The very next morning, the Des Moines Register—literally the last place on earth you’d expect to find NBA coverage outside of Antarctica and Mars—blazed with the headline, “Trail Blazers Trade for Scottie Pippen”. People were coming out of fields and grain silos to go, “Whoa!” When I politely informed them that the Blazers also had Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, Arvydas Sabonis, Steve Smith, and Damon Stoudamire, they agreed that Portland had a chance to be good that year.
Haha. A chance.
Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play
Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid
This team was a traveling All-Star squad all on its own, and it was on its way to a title.
At 34, Pippen wasn’t going to be the all-world player he had been with the Bulls. The Blazers didn’t require that. They needed consistent defense (wins championships, you know), playoffs experience, and someone who could fit in without taking over.
Pippen fit the bill in all ways. He wasn’t going to lead the team from the driver’s seat, but he still had the road map, plus a desire to show that he could win a title without long-time cohort Michael Jordan. Pippen’s stats had dropped dramatically after being traded from the Bulls to the Rockets the season prior, but he was still respectable. The Big 3 of Pippen, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon hadn’t quite worked out, but if he melded with these Blazers, the new Big 6-and-change might.
Pippen was still a fine defender. He knew the game, knew how to work with teammates. He had a propensity for steals, but also played solid position “D”. Beyond that, he was a double-digit rebounding and assist threat. He could handle the ball, comfortable running a play or running the offense, but he was also fine playing off-ball. Every once in a while he’d top 20 points too.
Adding Pippen changed the answer to the opponent query, “Who are we going to shade away from on defense tonight?” from, “Stacey Augmon or Walt Williams” to “CRAP” The Blazers were now legitimately tough to handle.
Pippen played in all 82 games during his first season in Portland, averaging 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists in 33.5 minutes per. It was everything that could have reasonably been hoped for.
One of the problems here was that expectations weren’t entirely reasonable. His historical dominance led people to expect a deity on the court. Somehow 12.5 points didn’t seem like enough? He was taking the fourth most attempts on the team and was far more efficient than Stoudamire, but it wasn’t the attraction that minds and hearts had billed.
All that was forgotten when the Blazers hit the playoffs and summarily dismantled the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz. They lost only two games total, looking all but unstoppable until they ran into Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Even then, Portland seemed dominant at times. They just couldn’t sustain it.
Nowhere was this demonstrated more clearly than in the decisive Game 7, in which the Blazers held a 13-point lead after three quarters only to lose it all in the fourth. Pippen had 12 points and 10 rebounds, but shot only 3-10, leading the team with 3 turnovers before fouling out. Scottie was not the only underachiever that day. Sabonis shot 2-6 for 6 points and 5 rebounds, also fouling out. Stoudamire went 2-6, Bonzi Wells 2-7, Grant 0-2 in 8 minutes of play.
Neither that, nor the 15 points and 9 rebounds Pippen averaged in the series, mattered. The Blazers had given back their chance at a title in heartbreaking fashion. Scottie hadn’t saved them. People didn’t know what to think.
The situation wouldn’t get better. That summer the Blazers traded Grant and Jermaine O’Neal for Shawn Kemp and Dale Davis. The lineup was older, with even bigger names, but it didn’t perform as well. Pippen began to succumb to injuries. Though he was always good with assists and boards, his scoring averages and shooting percentages trended downward, to the point where he could be left by opposing defenses. The Blazers got progressively worse on defense themselves in ensuing seasons. It wasn’t Scottie’s fault, but once again, he couldn’t save them.
“Couldn’t save them” ended up being an even stronger mantra as Pippen got dragged into the undertow that consumed the team in 2000-01 and beyond. Frustrations and technical fouls mounted as he began to speak out against referees, coaches, and teammates. He reportedly told head man Mike Dunleavy that he “couldn’t coach” and complained about his team’s complacent attitude after losses. Whether that was Pippen trying to show the way to winning or returning to his early-career, somewhat-narcissistic form is up to debate. Either way, it exacerbated the team’s problems rather than bridging them.
Scottie would leave Portland after his contract expired in 2003, returning to Chicago for a 23-game swan song to end his long career.
Though his story with the Blazers was one of decline, Pippen still showed why he was one of the best players to ever put on the uniform. When he was on, he was great. That first-season rush to within 12 minutes of the NBA Finals wouldn’t have happened without him. The initial excitement, plus his undeniable talent, are enough to place him 31st on our Trail Blazers Top 100 list.
Share your thoughts about Scottie Pippen below and stick with us as we continue the march towards #1!