Pippen has foot surgery, could miss up to three months
CHICAGO (AP) _ Will Scottie Pippen’s left foot trip up the Chicago Bulls as they shoot for their third straight NBA championship and sixth of the decade?
``I think it puts some pressure on us to try to fulfill some of the role that he’s always been able to cover,″ Michael Jordan said Tuesday after the Bulls announced that Pippen would be sidelined from two to three months following foot surgery.
``Each year we start off with some sort of challenge and this makes it even more so,″ Jordan said. ``We know that it goes without question that if he was here, we’d be that much better of a team. That’s the situation and you deal with it and move on. ... First and foremost, Scottie’s got to take care of himself.″
Pippen, who did not want to discuss the surgery, injured the soft tissue of his left foot last May during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami.
Why did the All-Star forward wait so long to have the surgery as he enters the final year of a contract? General manager Jerry Krause said the Bulls followed a conservative path, prescribing offseason rest. But it didn’t work, and surgery was the only remaining option.
When the foot began bothering him again this summer, Pippen skipped his own charity exhibition game in September and then missed the first several days of practice.
After consulting with doctors, he had the surgery on an outpatient basis Monday in New York.
Pippen, 32, averaged 20.2 points last season and followed with 19.2 points per game in the playoffs. He also was the Bulls best defender and primary ballhandler.
``Maybe some of the other players, some of the other teams will take us for granted,″ Jordan said. ``Maybe they don’t think we’re capable. They may underestimate our capability and, next thing you know, we can sneak in there and steal a few.″
While it’s doubtful that anyone will underestimate a Jordan-led team, victories might be harder to come by than the last two seasons. The Bulls won a record 72 games in 1995-96 and 69 last season.
A slow start without Pippen could cost the Bulls a shot at the league’s best record _ and thus, homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
``I think once he’s healthy he can come back and hopefully we’ll be in a situation where we still can challenge for a championship. I think we will,″ Jordan said.
Pippen’s absence will mean more playing time for Toni Kukoc, newly acquired Scott Burrell and Jud Buechler.
Kukoc was also bothered by a foot injury last season that hindered him in the playoffs. He rested his foot the entire offseason and said he feels much better.
The Bulls also are without unsigned power forward Dennis Rodman, but he is expected to come to terms soon.
Pippen, entering his 11th season, has been miffed by a contract that pays him far less than his market value. He will make less than $3 million this season under an extension he signed in 1991.
He has been upset with Krause for years and was angered when the GM tried to trade him before the NBA draft.
Pippen also has played on two gold-medal Olympic teams and last year was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players ever.
``He’s so important to this ballclub that when he comes back we want him 100 percent and we want him to stay,″ coach Phil Jackson said. ``It changes our game for us. Whatever happens with this medical problem he’s got, we’ll treasure that time when he’s back on the court.″