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SUSPENDED STRICKLAND STILL AWOL

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Rod Strickland, digging deeper into a feud with coach P.J. Carlesimo, skipped the Portland Trail Blazers' practice Saturday, leading a team executive to say his suspension would be extended indefinitely.

The Trail Blazers on Thursday suspended Strickland, who is third in the NBA in assists with 9.5 per game, after he walked out of a shootaround before that night's home win over Denver.Though Strickland vowed never to return, team executives and his agent had expressed hope he would be back. Assistant general manager Jim Paxson, a former Blazers star, said after Saturday's practice the suspension continued.

"Obviously, he's still very frustrated and upset. But hopefully soon he'll realize that that's his only real option - to come back and be a part of the team," Paxson said.

Strickland had been expected to join the other Trail Blazers for practice at Lewis & Clark College and to sign autographs afterward at a fair put on for children of team sponsors.

But when Strickland stayed away, forward Buck Williams grew doubtful his teammate would be with the Trail Blazers for Sunday's home game against Detroit or for a four-game road trip to Indiana, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando beginning Tuesday.

"He's pretty adamant about his position," Williams said. "But hopefully we'll get him back. We need him."

Strickland is second behind Clifford Robinson in scoring for Portland with 19.3 points per game. Starting in Strickland's place Thursday, Rumeal Robinson had 18 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers.

Strickland's poor relationship with Carlesimo deteriorated rapidly as Portland lost six home games in a row, tying its worst home losing streak, before the Denver win.

Carlesimo had little to say after Saturday's practice, refusing to negotiate "through the media" and declining to speculate when or under what circumstances his star guard would return.

"I'd hope Rod would but we've got to wait and talk to him to see what the situation is," Carlesimo said.

Forward Harvey Grant, who expressed confidence in Strickland's return after Thursday's blow-up, refused to talk Saturday.