Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Turmoil looming for Blazers?

by Anne M. Peterson
| June 23, 2010 9:00 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. - With the NBA draft looming, the Portland Trail Blazers have a lot more issues than just who to take with the 22nd pick on Thursday.

From the looks of it, the Blazers - at least the part of the team that doesn't actually suit up - are in disarray.

The tumult is centered around Kevin Pritchard, who has been left squirming in the general manager's seat for the past several months.

Pritchard has been considered one of the NBA's best GMs, transforming the malcontent "Jail Blazers" of a few years back into one of the most promising young teams in the league.

But, for reasons that aren't clear, Pritchard has fallen out of favor with billionaire owner Paul Allen, who has reportedly hired a headhunter to find a new GM. Pritchard acknowledged the search last week during workouts for draft prospects, in which he basically invited the team to bring it on.

"Life isn't fair, right?" he told reporters. "I'm going to do what's best for this organization every single day and may the best man win."

Blazers president Larry Miller told The Associated Press that the Blazers were continuing the evaluation process and would not comment on the matter until it played out. He would not confirm whether the team had indeed hired a search firm.

"What I will say is that I hope people wouldn't jump to any conclusions based on speculation," Miller said.

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti earlier this month denied that he had been contacted about the job.

The rumors about Pritchard's future began to fly in late March, when the Blazers abruptly fired Tom Penn, Portland's vice president of basketball operations, who was widely considered a salary cap specialist and key to many of Pritchard's past player moves.

The Blazers said Penn was dismissed for "philosophical differences." But Warren LeGarie, who represents Pritchard and Penn, made comments to several reporters suggesting Penn's firing was a message to Pritchard.

At the time Allen issued a statement in support of Pritchard. He has not addressed the matter publicly since then.

Fan sentiment has been almost overwhelmingly in Pritchard's favor. Several online petitions supporting the Blazers GM have cropped up. A rally was set for Thursday during the NBA draft at the team's practice facility in Tualatin, a Portland suburb.

"I'm a lifelong Blazer fan, and while I would never abandon the team, I've never been more upset by the team's actions than this Kevin Pritchard situation, even when they were the Jail Blazers," said organizer Brian Libby, a freelance journalist.

Pritchard himself was hardly acting like a lame duck GM, trading Monday for a higher pick in the draft. The Blazers gave the Warriors the 44th pick and cash in exchange for the 34th pick. The move gave Portland the 22nd and 34th picks.

Rumors swirled that the Blazers were poised to make a blockbuster deal, perhaps as Pritchard's last-ditch effort to keep his job.

"At the end of the day ... they're going to make their decision. But until then, I'm going to compete like heck," Pritchard said. "I've done it all my life guys. This is not something unusual. I'm OK with it, and, again, what I would tell you is this: May the best person win."

Pritchard's future wasn't the only uncertainty hanging over the Blazers.

Vacancies under head coach Nate McMillan were created when assistant Monty Williams left to become head coach in New Orleans, and assistant Maurice Lucas stepped down because of ongoing health concerns.

Fellow assistants Dean Demopoulos and Joe Prunty have been conspicuously absent at some workouts, leading to speculation that they would not be back next season. The contracts for both assistants expire at the end of this month.

Demopoulos responded at a recent workout by exclaiming that he's still a Blazer.

There was talk that the Blazers were interested in bringing in Bernie Bickerstaff, who coached McMillan while with the Seattle SuperSonics.

But the main focus was on Pritchard, who is under contract through at least next season, and his determination to stick by a team that has seemingly left him out to dry.

"I choose to be here. I want to be here," Pritchard said. "But they've opened up the search and guess what? Here's the deal, they can do whatever they want. And if it's best for the organization, so be it."

WESTWEGO, La. (AP) - Monty Williams would rather not contemplate making his NBA head coaching debut without Chris Paul.

So with trade talks intensifying as they often do in the final days before the NBA draft, Williams made it clear on Tuesday that he expects his new employers to turn down whatever offers they get for their biggest star.

"Chris was the main thing that excited me about this job," Williams said after a pre-draft workout Tuesday at the Hornets' suburban training center. "So many people are begging for a point guard. You're talking about the best one in the game. I couldn't envision being here without Chris."

The Hornets have the 11th overall pick in Thursday night's draft and likely could move up if they decided to deal their three-time All-Star.

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