Bulls' Pippen rusty now, but he makes title likely

ON THE NBA

January 18, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Since Scottie Pippen returned to the Chicago lineup a week ago yesterday, the Bulls have not exactly set the league on fire.

Sure, the Bulls were impressive in a 10-point win Tuesday over the best team in basketball, the Seattle SuperSonics. But the night Pippen returned, the Bulls barely beat the Golden State Warriors, 87-82. And on Thursday, Chicago lost to the struggling Philadelphia 76ers, 106-96.

There is no cause for concern. The Bulls are allowing time to fit Pippen, who had surgery on his foot before the season, back in the lineup. And once Pippen gets himself into playing shape, only a trade of the All-Star forward will deny the Bulls another championship.

Pippen told Chicago reporters why he returned, after saying earlier in the season he did not want to play again for the Bulls.

"I can't penalize my teammates by staying away from the game," he said. "I've got to get back on the court and do what I do best.

"At this point, I'm more or less looking to finish the season on a good note. Hopefully, that will happen. I would like to finish the season [in Chicago]. I think the team is looking forward to us going for a sixth title."

The person most pleased with Pippen's return is Michael Jordan, who had to concentrate on rebounding and assists in addition to scoring while his teammate was sidelined. There was concern that perhaps Jordan, 34, would wear down while carrying such a large load. Jordan has handled his 38.9 minutes per game quite well, and is in good position to lead the league in scoring for the 10th time (his 28.9 ppg going into the weekend leads the NBA).

The Bulls were 24-11 without Pippen.

"It's about time," Jordan said of Pippen's return. "I think it's something we've been hoping for. Now we can start putting everything together and move in the right direction. I felt positive for the whole time that he would come back. I'm glad he decided to come back and play for us."

With all indications showing that this season will be the Bulls' last as the dominant team of the '90s, there's speculation of where Jordan might play next season. Phil Jackson will not return, and Jordan has said he will not play for another coach.

Asked if would he follow if Jackson were hired by the New York Knicks, Jordan said during a recent trip to New York: "My commitment is to enjoy the game and I do that. And I've done that here quite often. This is the mecca of basketball for me and I enjoy playing in Madison Square Garden. And whenever that time comes, which very well could be here, it's a beautiful way to go out."

Rodman has incentive

Speaking of the Bulls, what's behind the upstanding behavior of Dennis Rodman this year? Money, and lots of it.

The forward, who leads the NBA in rebounding, has a base salary of $4.5 million this season, but could earn as much as $5.9 million in bonuses. Rodman will earn the $10.45 million if he:

Plays in all 82 games (after the 59th game he will make $184,783 per game bonus which adds up to $4.5 million if he plays the remaining 23;

Leads the league in rebounding ($500,000 bonus);

Has an assist to turnover ratio of 1.5-1 ($100,000 bonus);

Plays in all playoff games ($1 million bonus).

Rodman rejected a clause that was based on free-throw shooting. He is shooting just 43.3 percent from the line.

"I'm just doing my job," he said. "Which is more than you can say for a lot of these younger players who are earning much more money and haven't won anything yet."

Bird returns to Beantown

It will be a special day in Boston this afternoon when Larry Bird coaches his first game in the city where he played his entire career, and Robert Parish will have his "00" jersey retired.

Bird has tried to downplay his return, explaining that he never played a game in the FleetCenter.

But his return will be a huge event, with a national television audience and hundreds of journalists expected to be in attendance.

Parish, who, along with Bird and Kevin McHale, was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, will be honored at halftime. In the first retirement ceremony at FleetCenter, Parish's jersey will be the 21st number or name retired by the Celtics.

Around the league

While Shawn Kemp likely will be the first member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to start an All-Star Game (he was among forwards when voting ended Thursday), it doesn't necessarily mean he's having an All-Star year. In his past five games through Friday, he averaged 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 turnovers. For a guy who complained about Sonics center Jim McIlvaine being overpaid, it seems like Kemp's $100 million contract is a bit much for those kinds of stats.

"These teams aren't giving me much room to get a shot off or be creative in there at all," said Kemp, blaming his woes on double teams.

Candidate for most improved player award is Golden State Warriors forward Donyell Marshall, who has averaged 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds through Friday. The fourth pick of the 1994 draft, Marshall averaged 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds before this season.

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