DEERFIELD, Ill. - Scottie Pippen quit on his team. Then the team almost quit on him.
After all the apologies were accepted and all the trades were rejected, however, Pippen remains the Chicago Bulls' best chance for success.
"He had a great year last year. I'd take another one just like it," Coach Phil Jackson said as the Bulls prepared for their second season since Michael Jordan retired to the baseball diamond. "Scottie played tremendously until the All-Star break. Then he experienced a little fatigue, but he came back and played big for us in April and May."
Well, most of May. For 1.8 seconds on May 13, Pippen didn't play big. Or at all.
Unhappy that Jackson didn't call the final play for him, Pippen refused to re-enter Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. Toni Kukoc, Pippen's least-favorite teammate, made the winning jumper, but the Bulls went on to lose the series in seven games.
"It's over," Pippen said. "You can't gripe about spilled milk. You just have to go on with your life and your career."
That's fine with Will Perdue, one of only three players left from Chicago's 1991, 1992 and 1993 championship teams. (Pippen and B.J. Armstrong are the others.)
"Our attitude is that he's our team leader," Perdue said. "Unfortunately, when Scottie's name is mentioned, there's always going to be an asterisk. The moment in the Knicks series is something he's always going to be remembered for.
"But he apologized to us, and we've accepted the apology. It's a new year."
The Bulls considered trading Pippen to several teams and almost pulled the trigger on a deal with Seattle.
"It was a difficult offseason because people kept asking me if I was going to be traded," Pippen said. "The questions that they were asking me were the same questions I could ask the organization."
But the Bulls kept Pippen. Power forward Horace Grant and center Bill Cartwright departed via free agency, and guard John Paxson followed Jordan into retirement.
"I'm so glad Scottie stayed," said Ron Harper, the shooting guard who signed as a free agent during the offseason. "The guys around the league feel he's one of the top five players. It'll be fun to be his teammate."