To Pritchard or not to Pritchard?

All basketball related pieces now are posted at my basketball blog Buzzer Beater Banter

Tom Penn, the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Portland Trail Blazers was fired last week. And according to newspaper, web reports and sports radio, apparently General Manager Kevin Pritchard could be next.

At first glance, the Penn news is surprising. He is considered by many in the Association as a salary cap genius. He was instrumental in drafting the 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. He did an excellent job at structuring and negotiating contracts with the Trail Blazers. But it has been said that he wasn’t always the most pleasant guy to work with. Kenny Vance on 95.5 The Game reported that there were issues of a Human Resources nature with Penn. A former HR guy myself, it’s fair to say that the wrong offense in this day and age will quickly land you the pink slip.

If the Penn firing is a wind storm, the possibility of Kevin Pritchard getting tossed is a hurricane to most casual observers. KP is a fan favorite, held in such high regard that the term “In KP we Trust” has become a common slogan during draft and trade deadlines.

Why is KP considered God-like in the eyes of many Portland fans? He is seen as the master mind behind resurrecting the Portland Trail Blazers from the Jail Blazer era by creating a healthy culture of accountability, teamwork and community service. He performed the deals that landed Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge out of the same draft. He took chances on Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez and Dante Cunningham. And I think trading Outlaw and Blake for Camby was the right thing to do this season, bringing the interior defense and toughness they so badly needed. As evidence, the Blazers are 9-1 so far with Camby and Batum in the starting line up.

Knowing all of this, how could his job be in jeopardy? Plenty of reasons have been mentioned in the past few days. And the number one reason that continues to present itself was the decision to select Greg Oden over Kevin Durant with the number one pick in the 2007 NBA draft. Durant is making an MVP push this season and Greg Oden is far from it.

On the surface, this particular reason seems absurd. I’ve heard countless times that 29 out of 30 NBA GM’s at one point confirmed they would have made the same selection. It’s widely acknowledged that a quality big man is the corner stone to a championship run, and given the opportunity to snag one in the draft, you do so.

In my opinion, who’s to say that Durant would have blossomed in to the player he is now if he was drafted by Portland? At the time, the roster at Oklahoma City wasn’t stacked like that of Portland. And it’s a stretch to say he’d be getting that many shot attempts in Rip City. But all the justification for making that selection goes out the window if Allen and his management team had their stamp on Durant, and KP and crew went with Oden. What I would give to have been a fly on the wall during those decision making draft meetings.

And below the surface are questions surrounding why the Trail Blazers did not know more about the condition of Oden’s body, specifically his knees, prior to drafting him. It has been suggested after the fact that Portland passed his health with flying colors while other teams did not. It has also been reported that recently, owner Paul Allen again questioned KP on the lack of medical knowledge pre-draft.

To go along with Allen questioning KP, Canzano reported that the Vulcans have had an increased presence at One Center Court as of late. Based in Seattle, Vulcan Inc. is made up of a team of Ivy League executives that manage many of Allen’s businesses. From their website, “Vulcan creates and advances a variety of world-class endeavors and high impact initiatives that change and improve the way we live, learn, do business, and experience the world.” It makes many Blazer insiders nervous that they ultimately pull the punches when it comes to advising Allen on the direction of the organization. They may be brilliant business minds, but they are not sports people. The worry is that they are not making decisions with the goal of winning championships, suggesting that decisions are made with $ signs in mind instead. And I don’t think too many NBA teams actually operate at profit.

Recently I have heard the ranking of leadership in the organization described as a triangle, with Allen at the top, and KP and Larry Miller on the sides. Apparently the Vulcans are huge fans of Larry Miller, Trail Blazer President. And while Miller is gaining acceptance and authority from the head honchos in Seattle, KP is under a microscope of scrutiny. They don’t appreciate the fact that KP’s former right hand man, Tom Penn, may have misrepresented an offer by Minnesota to become their GM last year. They blame the Oden pick on KP and Penn. It sounds like they are embarrassed by the free agent dealings in the off season, in which Portland struck out on their first choice of Hedo Turkoglu, their second choice of Paul Milsap, and ultimately ended up with Andre Miller.

What else could be keeping KP on the hot seat? Apparently some GM’s think he’s arrogant and don’t want to deal with him. They are probably just jealous of his access to Allen’s wealth and his ability to “Pritch Slap” the competition. Also, KP let the Raef LaFrentz contract expire last year, which many saw as a mistake. It has been reported that Allen was willing and ready to make something happen at that point in time. But it’s also been reported that the only deals available were for washed up talent like Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, and would have had to include Blazer talent like Rudy Fernandez or Nic Batum. To that I say thanks for not making that deal KP.

Peter Vecsey’s article in the New York Post reveals a ton of insight in to the influence of super sports agent Warren LeGarie. His clients are decision makers in many NBA franchises, his finger prints are all over various front office power plays… and he represents both KP and Penn. Vecsey says that after LeGarie grossly exaggerated the Minnesota GM offer to the Vulcans, landing Penn a new title and a raise with Portland, he then attempted to get Pritchard a new contract. This left the Vulcans feeling manipulated and they balked. Now, LeGarie is working to find Pritchard a new home. Vecsey also suggests that Allen was unhappy with the apparent trade demand of Rudy Fernandez, which Fernandez denied, and the handling of Brandon Roy’s contract negotiations in the off season. It’s a very interesting read, give it a look.

The timing of all of this drama is puzzling as well, with less than 20 games left until the playoffs. The pieces seem to be in place to make a championship run in the coming years. They have one of the most amazing owners in all of sports. Key players are dominantly growing on the court. They have shown the ability to lure veteran leadership through acquisition. Nate McMillan is a coach of the year candidate, making something out of what could have been a disastrous season plagued by injuries. What kind of message are the Vulcans trying to send, and why are they sending it right now?

I am of the belief that KP needs to stay right where he is. The team’s success on the court has to count for something. They are about to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season following a long drought. He’s got the fan base on his side. They are selling out games. The renewal for season tickets is extremely high. And people are feeling Rip City excitement the same they were when I was a kid.

It should go without saying that many questions remained unanswered. Will Juwan Howard and Marcus Camby stick around? Will they go after another big man? How are Oden and Przybilla doing? What is Fernandez thinking? What will happen with KP? I think we can all agree that it will be anything but a boring off season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on March 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “To Pritchard or not to Pritchard?”

  1. Agreed, keep Pritchard. Interesting article by Vescey, but Allen wanting to be frugal with Roy, whether true or not, rings hollow based on how Allen has paid previous players (see Darius Miles). I’m not saying it isn’t true, just seems a little out of character. Put the ego’s aside and let the basketball guys run the basketball. The great thing about basketball is it can’t be broken down by just numbers, so statisticians from Ivy League schools aren’t necessarily good talent evaluators like they may be in baseball. The Blazers are on the right track, keep them that way. Too often when there are GM changes, the new GM wants to put his stamp on the team, and that usually starts with the coach. McMillan has done an absolutely amazing job this season. I think one of the best coaching performances in history, keeping guys upbeat, motivated, and more imporantly, winning, with all that’s happened has been incredible. They had every excuse to shut it down, and never have at any point. My only knock is with Aldridge who’s numbers have dropped across the board, aside from rebounds, in a situation where they should have increased, but that’s on the player, not the coach. McMillan has tried to get Aldridge to be aggressive down low and not settle. I know I bag on Aldridge a lot, but so much talent and I just don’t see the aggressiveness, reminds me too much of Rasheed (from a talent standpoint, not a T and community standpoint), who didn’t want to be the number one, but Rasheed at least admitted it. The Blazers have a really good thing going for them and are right on the cusp, keep it together!

  2. […] Pritchard or not to Pritchard Jump to Comments Originally posted at Rip City to Seoul on March 22, […]

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