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Trading Wallace helps wash Trail Blazers' soiled image

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The only appropriate question left from the blockbuster trade that sent Rasheed Wallace from Portland to the Atlanta Hawks is this: What took the Trail Blazers so long?

When Portland owner Paul Allen brought in president Steve Patterson and general manager John Nash in the offseason, he gave them the order to clean up the reputation of the team, which had taken a beating through the various acts of criminality and incivility in recent years.

From there, everyone in the league knew that Wallace, the team's best player, but biggest symbol of trouble, would be dealt despite Nash's declaration that there would be no fire sale.

And to Nash's credit, he actually received pretty good value for Wallace and guard Wesley Person, getting forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, center Theo Ratliff and guard Dan Dickau, who played at Gonzaga, in return.

Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff immediately go into the starting lineup, and Dickau will back up Damon Stoudamire at the point. The contracts of all three players expire after next season, meaning the Blazers didn't get hamstrung with long-term deals, a sticking point in any Wallace trade talks.

"Why now?" Nash said to The Oregonian. "Because we had a willing partner and because we felt it was the best that we could do. And I think when you've got somebody ready to make a deal, you better take advantage of it or the deal could go away."

Meanwhile, the Wallace deal brings hope to the previously moribund Atlanta franchise, whose sale to a group of investors from Time Warner is still being processed.

Don't be mistaken: The Hawks, the fourth-worst team in the Eastern Conference, will still stink this season and people will continue to avoid relatively brand-spanking-new Philips Arena. And the media-unfriendly Wallace will hardly give the rotten Atlanta fans a reason to come see the team play.

But as Wallace's $17 million contract expires at the end of the season, the Hawks, who almost certainly will let him walk, will have some money to hit the free-agency market, knowing that with the right acquisitions, they could get a playoff spot in the Southeast Division, which begins next year, with the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and expansion Charlotte Bobcats joining them.

And though the team may not be very nice, the city is one of the most popular stops in the league for African-American players. There's already buzz that the new Hawks management, whenever it takes over, will hit the ground running by making a run at Kobe Bryant, who said he will opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the season.

Getting Bryant is a pipe dream, but at least the Hawks will be getting off the mat if they make a run and let their fans know that they are serious about getting better.

Quiz

Which team had the most representatives the last time the All-Star Game was in Los Angeles? Can you name them?

Business side hits Allen

Depending on whom you talk to, Seattle guard Ray Allen had no business heading to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game because an ankle injury has limited him to a little more than half the SuperSonics' games this season.

But then if you talk to Allen, who was dealt in midseason last year from Milwaukee for Gary Payton, he's not all that sure he should be in Seattle, after spending the first 6 1/2 years of his career with the Bucks.

"The reality that hits you is that you don't belong anywhere," Allen said. "You're the property of one team, but you can always be the property of the next team within a day's time or two days' time.

"It's tough. You don't have a strong allegiance to any particular team, especially if you've been traded a couple of times. You just know that you have to go in, play, support your teammates and try to win games. I don't know where that's going to land me in the next couple of years, so my allegiance now is to these guys in the locker room."

It's not that Allen doesn't like the Sonics' organization and his teammates. He's averaging 22.8 points, which would be the best season of his career. But the trade shook the foundation he thought he had built in Milwaukee and taught him that nothing in basketball is permanent.

"You kind of divide yourself from the organization at times, because you play with your teammates, but you can be told that you're not going to be traded or you're the future of this organization, but then they pull the trigger and you're on another team," Allen said on a recent visit to Washington.

"This locker room is what's key. This is who you play for. That's what I've learned over the last couple of months, that and developing a bond with these guys. It's a business, and if I get traded and I end up with another team, there's never hard feelings. You just have to move on with it."

Ayers deserved better

The seemingly weekly coaching firing grabbed the Philadelphia 76ers' Randy Ayers last week, and though it wasn't the most egregious in the Atlantic Division this season (see the New Jersey Nets' Byron Scott), it was nonetheless troubling.

Ayers, who wasn't the first choice for the job that came open when Larry Brown left for the Detroit Pistons in the offseason, was given only 52 games to keep afloat a 76ers ship that Brown had managed to keep going through his will.

General manager Billy King brought in noted flake Glenn Robinson, who complained because Ayers wanted him to play defense rather than just play on the offensive end. When King didn't back Ayers publicly, as he should have, Robinson groused more, threatening to sour the locker room. Only then did King step in, but to fire Ayers.

King and interim coach Chris Ford will soon learn that there's a reason why Robinson has the nickname "Big Dog."

Quiz answer

Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks played in the 1983 All-Star Game from the Philadelphia 76ers. Erving scored 25 points and was the Most Valuable Player.

WHO'S UP WHO'S DOWN

UP: Juwan Howard

The classy Orlando forward has continued to play hard in the midst of several trade rumors.

DOWN: Kurt Thomas

The not-as-classy Knicks forward, who is also rumored to be on the trading block, got suspended for head-butting Dallas' Josh Howard.

UP: Ricky Davis

The Celtics guard apologized to Cleveland fans for criticizing the city after he was traded from the Cavaliers.

DOWN: Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Trashed Davis with a tacky skit as a mascot mopped the floor with his jersey. Really bad idea.

UP: Magic Johnson

The Lakers unveiled a statue of the legendary player outside Staples Center just in time for All-Star week.

DOWN: Kobe Bryant

He issued a not-so-nice "I don't care," when asked whether coach Phil Jackson's return would have any bearing on his return to the Lakers.

HE SAID IT

"Who doesn't like Rasheed Wallace?"

New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury amid rumors that Wallace wants to play for the Knicks.

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