Wallace, Blazers have talent, and issues

Not only can't money buy you love, it can't buy you an NBA title. Just ask Portland Trail Blazers headman Paul Allen, who continues to shell out more money than any other league owner, but has seen little return on the investment in terms of postseason success. Not only is this team expensive (a whopping $89.7 million, but who's counting) and about to become even more costly when the luxury tax hits home, but it's not even a fun group to hang out with. This is team disharmony if there ever was one.

So as we continue our 2001 Summer Spotlight Series, here's the deal with the Blazers.

The good: The thing about the Blazers is they are talented. In fact, they've been talented for many years. For the last 19 seasons and 24 out of 25 the Blazers have made the playoffs, but as ESPN's own Dr. Jack Ramsay still says with pride, there's only one championship to show for it. Since losing in the Finals to the bad boy Pistons in 1990, Portland is 57-54 in playoffs.

Two years ago, when the team as we know it today was the league's best for much of the season before the historic Game 7 Western finals collapse against L.A., things looked bright for Mount Rasheed and friends. Last season the Blazers took a step backward, winning 50 games but none in the playoffs as the Lakers won all three games in double figures.

Rasheed Wallace does his job -- when he's on the court. Foul trouble? Well, somewhat. He says something foul, throws a tantrum, and as the technicals add up, your best interior player becomes Dale Davis.

Wallace had a career year statistically, but had little help around him. Steve Smith, since shipped out, was the No. 2 scorer. Bonzi Wells emerged before tearing his knee up, Damon Stoudamire was average but at least healthy for all 82 games and Dale Davis did what he was supposed to. While team balance was wonderful two seasons ago, this was nothing like that.

The next best player after Wallace is Wells, a natural scorer with a big upside. He didn't like sharing the shooting guard spot with old Steve Smith. He'll surely love splitting it with newcomer Derek Anderson.

The bad: They closed the season with seven losses in 10 games, 17 of 25 including the Laker series, blew a chance at home court for a round, and set themselves up for a nasty summer. It wasn't a shock when coach Mike Dunleavy was sent packing, replaced by Sixers assistant and first-timer Maurice Cheeks.

Said Scottie Pippen when the season mercifully ended: "This is the worst -- the worst thing I have ever had to deal with throughout my career. It just wasn't a fun season for us. The outcome of it was just a testament to what we had been dealing with all season."

Pippen made only 60 starts, and the team was only 35-25 in them. He had only six double-doubles and there are certainly questions about what he still has to offer entering his 15th season. Arvydas Sabonis, the lumbering center who still plays Shaquille O'Neal well when healthy, is no longer healthy. He made only 44 starts and gets paid more than $11 million a year. Rumors are that he might retire, leaving the team more a mess in the middle.

The ugly: Then there's Shawn Kemp. Two seasons ago in Cleveland Kemp wasn't himself (some would say he was about three people though in terms of size), but he still managed to put up 17 and 9 a night. As a Blazer with less minutes, Kemp was horrible, shooting a meager .407 from the field and averaging 6.5 points, almost a third of his career average. However, all that paled in comparison to his off-court problem. Kemp admitted himself to a drug rehabilitation program to be treated for
cocaine abuse in April. Oh, and Kemp has three years and $58.3 million left on
the reworked deal he signed with the Cavs.

As if the Blazers aren't enough of an eclectic group, throw in Ruben Patterson. The former Sonic was
sentenced in May to a year in jail after entering a modified guilty
plea to attempted rape. A good athlete, defender and finisher on the break, Patterson will get $33.8 million for six years and miss the first five games of this season and avoid jail. Expensive, and arriving with baggage? Sounds like a Blazer.

The future: The Blazers don't seem much different than last year's version. Cheeks replaces Dunleavy, but Cheeks is a quiet man in his first position to lead. Is he going to be able to get Wallace to control himself and stay under 30 technicals? Patterson and Pippen both want to start at small forward, Wells and Anderson each expect to start at the two-spot and Stoudamire has no competition at the point but is still miffed that Rod Strickland was brought in last season. There's not a lot of youth here and Wallace can opt out of his contract after another year.

There is some good news. Kemp, who let his weight balloon to more than 300 pounds, has dropped 45 pounds and says he hasn't felt this good mentally in years. If Kemp is right, he makes Wallace that much better, because Dale Davis isn't the same kind of threat offensively.

When you add it all up, you have talent, depth, money and internal strife. Another playoff appearance is a lock, but we can sum things up like this: When Phil Jackson thinks about which West team could scare his team, he doesn't look toward Oregon.

So we asked you this question about the Blazers: Can Rasheed Wallace take the next step in his maturation individually and lead this team out of the West?

Check out the file to the right for selected responses.

Eric Karabell is ESPN.com's NBA editor.