Posted on: July 8, 2011 3:47 pm
In a savvy move to bolster their basketball operations staff, the Pacers have reached a deal with former Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard to be their director of player personnel, sources familiar with the hire confirmed to CBSSports.com.
Pritchard, fired hours before the 2010 draft, will report to general manager David Morway, sources said, under a unique at-will arrangement that both sides can end at any time. Pritchard will be paid about $200,000 annually under the deal.
Pritchard will begin evaluating the roster and preparing for potential trades and the pursuit of free agents in advance of the eventual end of the lockout. With team president Larry Bird undecided about his long-term future, Pritchard's role could expand. But he also would be available to be considered for more permanent and higher-profile GM jobs as they become available.
One team thought to be a sensible landing spot for Pritchard was the Knicks, who elevated Glen Grunwald to the interim general manager position after team president Donnie Walsh stepped down last month. The arrangement comes with the understanding that Grunwald's contract will be extended for the 2011-12 season -- whenever that may be. Members of the coaching staff and some key members of the front office, such as vice president of basketball operations Jamie Mathews, director of pro scouting John Gabriel, director of pro player personnel Mark Warkentien, and regional scout Mark Hughes, also are expected to be retained for next season.
Coach Mike D'Antoni is entering the final year of his contract, and no indications have been given as to whether Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan intends to offer him an extension.
Grunwald, 53, is a respected, behind-the-scenes executive who received a strong recommendation from Walsh. If the Knicks ultimately look outside the organization to bolster the front office, among those they are expected to consider are former Hornets GM Jeff Bower and Pritchard.
Pritchard, who was briefly a teammate of Bird's with the Celtics in the early '90s, goes home to the Pacers -- up the road from his Bloomington, Ind., birthplace -- at an exciting time for the organization. Indiana acquired guard George Hill from the Spurs on draft night, and the Pacers have a talented, young roster built around Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert with only $37 million in committed salary for next season.
It was never clear why Pritchard, the driving force behind the Blazers' current run of success, was fired in the first place. His replacement, former Thunder executive Rich Cho, also has since been fired and landed on his feet with the Bobcats.
Posted on: June 3, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 7:38 pm
Donnie Walsh came to New York determined to restore honor to the Knicks and steer them off a decade-long path of destruction toward one with the promise of success.
He will not get to finish the job. The theater of the absurd that is Madison Square Garden swallowed up one of the gentlemen of the sport Friday, sent one of the most respected basketball men in history fleeing for the exits.
The news Friday that Walsh will step down from his post as team president when his contract expires June 30 is a devastating blow to the franchise that he nearly singlehandedly resurrected. Gone is the man who cleared nearly $30 million in cap space, built a foundation around two superstar players, invited legends from the past back under the spotlight of the Garden, and gave Knicks fans hope that the days of dysfunction were over.
The story behind Walsh’s quiet negotiations for a new contract in recent months made Friday’s news all the more disturbing. Walsh, 70, was not seeking multiple years or millions at this stage of his basketball life. He was seeking autonomy over basketball decisions – the same autonomy that Garden chairman James Dolan publicly promised he would have when he was introduced in the spring of 2008 as the man who would save the Knicks from themselves.
"The more we talked about it, the more I realized I didn't want a multi-year deal," Walsh said. "I can understand why he'd want that. I just realized I probably wasn't the guy to go forward with."
As recently as midweek, sources said Walsh's situation was either going to result in a two-year extension -- possibly with a team option for a third year -- or Walsh moving back to Indiana, though not necessarily retiring. Dolan’s statement Friday described Walsh’s decision to leave as mutual, while Walsh said he had lost the "energy" required to do the job.
Walsh will stay on as a consultant and head up the search for his replacement, which immediately could focus on the two best candidates not tied to teams: former Trail Blazers executive Kevin Pritchard and former Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Former Cavs GM and current Spurs executive Danny Ferry also is expected to be considered, and a name to watch is Timberwolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone, whose strong international presence and close relationships with the stars of Team USA could be appealing to Dolan. Ronzone also has a working relationship with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni through USA Basketball. D'Antoni has one year left on his contract.
Former Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien, whose consulting contract with the Knicks expires June 30, has to be considered a viable candidate.
Besides who will replace Walsh, the key issue hovering over this stunning development is what assurances he was seeking that he didn’t receive. Money was "never a big issue" for Walsh in the months-long discussions about his future, said a person familiar with the negotiations. In fact, despite widespread reports that Dolan insisted on a 40 percent pay cut for Walsh, the person familiar with the matter said it was Walsh who volunteered to take a substantial pay cut next season in anticipation of a lockout. His concern, the person said, was making sure the rest of the front-office staff -- whose contracts also expire June 30 -- would be taken care of during the work stoppage. Glen Grunwald, the senior vice president of basketball operations, will stay with the team as interim GM during the search for Walsh's replacement.
Throughout Walsh’s discussions with Dolan about his future, it was clear from multiple sources with knowledge of the talks that Walsh would not stay with the Knicks if A) he would not have final say over basketball decisions, or B) there was a chance he could be overruled by the Garden’s many agenda-driven outside influences. The most sinister of those was former team president Isiah Thomas, who remains in close communication with Dolan and in the MSG chairman’s circle of trust – despite running the franchise into the ground and turning the Knicks into a league-wide embarrassment.
“They were a joke for six years,” a rival team executive said Friday. “What Donnie has done for that organization, you’ve got to be kidding me. Come on. The whole world has paid attention to basketball in New York because of the guy – in a positive way.”
Thomas, whose attempted hiring as a consultant by Dolan last summer was nixed by league rules forbidding an NCAA coach to serve in such a role, is not coming back to run the Knicks, sources maintain. But he continues to have Dolan's ear, not to mention the desire to return to the Garden. And while Walsh dismissed the notion that Thomas had anything to do with his decision to leave, the idea of Thomas back-channeling decisions with Dolan would not be palatable to any executive of Walsh's experience and track record.
"The whole thing was going to come down to whether he was going to have autonomy," said a person with knowledge of the discussions. "That’s what this was about."
Walsh's replacement faces the challenging task of adding pieces to complement Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the two stars Walsh landed with the cap space he spent 2 1-2 years demolishing. But Stoudemire and Anthony will combine to make $36.7 million next season; add Chauncey Billups' $14.2 million, and that figure rises to $50.9 million for three players. That's more than Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are scheduled to make next season, leaving the Knicks the ability to add only minimum-salaried players or those who'd except the mid-level exception -- if there is such a thing in the new collective bargaining agreement. And with the haul of assets Walsh had to give up to land Anthony, the Knicks have few short-term assets to offer in trades aimed at filling their needs for a defensive-minded big man, elite shooting guard, and eventual replacement at point guard for Billups.
That predicament, viewed through the prism of Walsh's departure, only fuels speculation that Dolan hijacked the Anthony trade talks and ordered Walsh to make a trade he didn't want to make -- not at that price, anyway. Walsh again deflected that notion Friday, but a person with knowledge of the trade talks between New York and Denver said Dolan played a prominent role in the deal.
"Donnie had a good hold of it, but I think Dolan had the intentions," the person said. "Dolan wanted Melo at all costs. It was 100 percent Dolan who was the one with an all-costs Melo type thing. And Donnie was saying, 'This would be a good trade, but let’s do it the right way."
He did everything the right way in three years rebuilding the Knicks, a job that now goes to someone else to finish.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 5:57 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 10:57 am
The way things are going in the circus that is the NBA these days, with the tents and elephants and freak show setting up shop in Portland once again, there’s never been a better time to resurrect this memorable quote from Tayshaun Prince.
You know what they call this? They call this buffoonery.
Except this goes way beyond comedy – beyond even the wackiness Prince experienced in Detroit this season. The firing of Rich Cho as the Trail Blazers’ general manager Monday, and the search for the team’s third GM in less than a year, means the Blazers are no longer simply a joke. They are a league-wide embarrassment, a proverbial Petri dish for the experimental breeding of ego, incompetence, and the kind of empty-suit entitlement that rears its ugly head when rich guys think money and malice trump class.
On July 19, 2010, when Portland hired Cho to replace Kevin Pritchard – who was fired, for reasons that remain a mystery, hours before the previous month’s draft – team president Larry Miller issued the following statement: “Rich is the perfect fit for our organization.”
On Monday, a month before the next draft, the Trail Blazers announced they’ve “parted ways” with Cho. The first line of Miller’s statement explaining that bombshell went like this: “The fit between Rich and our team simply wasn't right.”
Can I get a whoops, whoops?
Of course it wasn’t right, because Cho was an independent thinker who wanted what any GM in the NBA should have as long as his business card bears that title: autonomy. The Blazers do not believe in autonomy, unless your name is Paul Allen or you are employed by Allen’s Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. The “Vulcanites,” as NBA front office insiders call them, ran Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn out of Portland and now someone has run out their replacement. Cho probably doesn’t feel this way now, but he’s better off. Or at least that’s what his colleagues in the GM profession hope.
“Rich is such a nice guy, such a good, gentle guy, and this could destroy him,” one of Cho’s colleagues said Monday. “He may never get another job as a GM because people will say, ‘How weird is it that you got fired after only 10 months on the job?’ But they don’t care about that stuff. They don’t care how they treat people.”
The person in the GM’s seat – now, it’s Chad Buchanan, who will hold the interim title until, or rather if, Portland is able to persuade some other poor soul to take the job – is never the one calling the shots there. Ultimately, that is Allen, who gets his advice from two key Vulcanites who’ve lurked behind the scenes in the organization for years: Steve “Hat Man” Gordon and Bert Kolde, a longtime friend of Allen’s who is listed in the team’s front office directory as director of the board.
“He’s the de facto GM,” said a person familiar with the Blazers’ hierarchy. “He’s the guy always trying to make calls and make decisions.”
Echoing the tasteless, underhanded way the Blazers fired Penn and Pritchard, NBA front office sources told CBSSports.com Monday that word began circulating at the scouting combine last week in Chicago that Portland already was looking for Cho’s replacement. Good luck to Allen, Miller, Hat Man, Kolde, the dancing bears and clowns on a unicycle in their quest to find a better person for the job than the three aforementioned executives, who were all capable – not to mention deserving of the freedom to make their own basketball decisions.
Was the mild-mannered Cho, after working under Sam Presti in Oklahoma City, prepared for this kind of hot seat? Was he as capable and accomplished as his predecessor, Pritchard? Of course not; but that’s the organization’s fault for firing Pritchard in the first place. And it was their responsibility to hire the right person, and to give that person a chance to grow into the job. The Vulcanites didn’t like Pritchard’s talkative, cocksure ways, so they hired the quietest person in any room; they overcompensated. Next, they should sew themselves a puppet and put it on the payroll, or go to the pet store and buy a parakeet. Hat Man will have him chirping, “Yes, sir, Mr. Allen,” in no time.
What the Blazers want above all else is a weak-minded yes man – not the kind of team-first, independent thinker that Cho proved himself to be when a report surfaced in the Oregonian last week that he wanted to suspend star Brandon Roy over his complaints about playing time after Game 2 of the first-round series against Dallas. This is the kind of authority a GM has to have if he’s going to shape the organization according to his vision. It is the kind of moment when, if an executive is undercut by ownership, it becomes apparent to everyone how much juice he has.
All NBA executives face pressure from above. It’s part of the job. It’s the first thing they think of when they wake up and the last thought that crawls through their weary brains when they go to sleep: How do I keep my owner happy? Owners from coast to coast meddle in coach hirings and firings, weigh in on personnel decisions they know nothing about, and generally exert the influence that goes along with the flourish with which they sign the checks.
But Portland? This is ownership run wild. This is an organization that deserves to have no one – and I mean no one – even agree to interview for the job that was unfathomably vacated for the second time in less than a year.
At least the Blazers didn’t wait until draft night to drop the hammer on Cho, who made no discernable mistakes since taking over for Pritchard – and, hell, didn’t even have time to make any. Unless you consider getting Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats and losing a first-round playoff series to the Mavericks – still in the running for the NBA title – with his star player hobbling around on one leg a mistake.
And so the Blazers are right back where they were less than a year ago, when they fired Pritchard for no good reason and were firm in their belief that money and the allure of working for an owner with limitless pockets would trump any concerns candidates might have about working in the theater of the absurd.
Here’s hoping that this buffoonery hurts the Blazers more than Cho. Here’s hoping that their hunt for the next victim turns up much the same as the cache of credibility they have left.
Posted on: January 30, 2011 10:51 pm
Revenge, as they say, is sweet.
Back in August, Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien thought he was going to continue negotiating the two most important contract extensions in the organization's history -- those of Carmelo Anthony and coach George Karl. The fact that Warkentien had been ostracized in the very organization he'd positioned for a run to the Western Conference finals a little more than a year earlier, though, amounted to the writing on the wall.
Warkentien, the 2009 NBA executive of the year, was let go along with fellow front-office type Rex Chapman in a complete purge of the Nuggets' management team. This was after Warkentien had been insulted with an offer to take a roughly 50 percent pay cut -- with some of the difference possibly to be made up through incentive clauses. (And maybe some Wal-Mart coupons.)
Within weeks of owner Stan Kroenke's decision to turn the organization over to his son, Josh, and former Raptors executive Masai Ujiri, Anthony's camp began informing the team that he would not be signing a three-year, $65 million extension and wanted a trade. Nuggets advisor Brett Bearup subsequently was let go, and the Nuggets believed they had made a fresh start in their efforts to make the best of the Anthony situation.
Only one problem: Warkentien, who knows where all the bodies are buried in Denver and has a strong relationship with Anthony, is about to be employed by the enemy. A person close to Warkentien confirmed a report Sunday night by Yahoo! Sports that the Knicks intend to hire Warkentien as a high-level consultant. The move, which has yet to be finalized, represents the first step in Knicks president Donnie Walsh's long-time efforts to hire a right-hand man. In the past, he had considered Warkentien, former Warriors executive Chris Mullin, and former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, while coach Mike D'Antoni had some other candidates in mind.
After Garden chairman James Dolan's clumsy attempt at hiring former coach and president Isiah Thomas was thoroughly repudiated by Walsh, the decision to go with Warkentien is the strongest sign yet that Walsh -- whose fingerprints are all over the Knicks' revival -- will chart the course for the long-term future of the franchise, too.
Walsh's contract has a team option that must be picked up by April 1. While the addition of Warkentien as a consultant is viewed by those close to the situation as a prelude to an expanded and more permanent role, sources also say that not only is Walsh's option expected to be picked up, but his contract may be extended as well. Though Walsh has made no noise about wanting the extension, he has expressed to confidants a strong desire to see the Knicks' rebuilding through after overcoming a series of health issues in recent months. After returning to Madison Square Garden recently after undergoing hip replacement surgery, Walsh has been described by friends as especially enthusiastic and strong-willed about completing the massive restoration project.
So while the addition of Warkentien, a shrewd negotiator with a reputation as a relentless scout, bodes well for a Walsh-driven front-office structure going forward, the natural question is as follows: What does this mean for the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony? On one hand, teaming Warkentien with Walsh on the Denver trade negotiations would make it a decidedly unfair fight -- combining Walsh's experience with Warkentien's direct knowledge of the Denver power structure and Stan Kroenke's tendencies and psychology when it comes to deal-making. Sources say that Warkentien long ago zeroed in on Kroenke's negotiating weakness in any Anthony trade: his obsessive pursuit of cost-cutting. As Warkentien learned in a negotiating class he recently took at Harvard, the best way to win a negotiation is to know what the opponent wants and where his weaknesses are.
But it is difficult to predict how Kroenke, who is still ultimately calling the shots behind the curtain while his son and Ujiri handle the day-to-day business, will respond to the Knicks' hiring of Warkentien. It is possible, according to one source who understands Denver's still complicated organization dynamics, that Kroenke would stubbornly recoil from any talks with the Knicks and refuse to give Anthony his wish -- or give Warkentien the satisfaction. Also possible, the source noted, is that Kroenke would redouble efforts to once again engage the Nets in trade talks as a far more palatable option than dealing with Warkentien. Another person with direct knowledge of the Nuggets' trade discussions has told CBSSports.com on multiple occasions recently that the Anthony talks have not evolved since the Nets dropped out last week. One reason may have been the Knicks' impending hiring of Warkentien, which sources say leaked to some members of Denver's basketball operations.
One way or another, it would appear that Warkentien will play a prominent role in the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony -- via a trade or as a free agent. Warkentien is believed to be on board with the notion that Anthony wouldn't lose nearly as much money as some pundits think if he were to play out the season and become a free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. Estimates showing that Anthony would lose $40 million in such a scenario are nothing short of irresponsible.
Imagine the irony, though, if Warkentien ultimately winds up signing Anthony to a contract with the Knicks -- a contract he thought he'd be finalizing with the Nuggets last August. The plot, as they say, thickens.
Posted on: July 17, 2010 11:20 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2010 12:38 am
LAS VEGAS -- In a fast-moving search for a general manager to replace the fired Jeff Bower, Hornets officials have interviewed former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, former Suns executive David Griffin and Wizards executive Tommy Sheppard, with the intention of further escalating their search early next week, sources with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com.
Griffin, who left the Suns' front office in the wake of team president Steve Kerr's departure, joins Sheppard, Pritchard and Spurs executive Dell Demps on the list of candidates Hornets president Hugh Weber has spoken with about the job. Demps has met twice with Hornets officials, including having dinner with coach Monty Williams Friday night. Demps and Williams were teammates in San Antonio and have been friends ever since. Sheppard, the top assistant under GM Ernie Grunfeld, is a rising star among NBA execs and was instrumental in quickly and responsibly slashing the Wizards' payroll after the Gilbert Arenas situation last season. Pritchard interviewed for the job Saturday, two people familiar with the Hornets' search told CBSSports.com.
Due to their relationship, Demps is believed to be a prohibitive favorite for the job -- but also is a strong candidate to be installed as the personnel man under incoming Suns president Lob Babby, a former player agent who is scheduled to arrive in Phoenix Monday to be fornally introduced as the team's new head of basketball operations.
The Hornets also have expressed interest in former Trail Blazers execs Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn and former Kings assistant GM Jason Levien. Also, Bucks assistant GM Jeff Weltman is expected to be on the Hornets' radar. Weber flew back to New Orleans Sunday, and the Hornets are hoping to have a GM in place by midweek or the end of the week, sources say.
Posted on: July 15, 2010 3:08 pm
LAS VEGAS -- The Warriors going to Peter Guber and Joe Lacob instead of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison can certainly be viewed as an upset. But not nearly as upsetting to Warriors fans as something else that could result from the transfer of power from Chris Cohan: A decision by the new guys to leave bad enough alone and keep the decision-making tandem of Don Nelson and Larry Riley in place.
Immediately upon approval of the NBA's Board of Governors, the easiest and best decision Guber and Lacob could make would be cleaning out the Warriors' dysfunctional front office and starting over again. There are plenty of good candidates for both jobs available.
The coaching position would be easy to fill. The Warriors have been grooming assistant coach Keith Smart to replace Nelson for a while now, and he'd be the perfect choice to finally get the job.
As for GM, this summer has been open season on general managers in the NBA, so the list of qualified people to replace Riley is lengthy: Kevin Pritchard, Rod Thorn, Danny Ferry, Jeff Bower and David Griffin are all free agents. Jerry West, whose name has long been associated with a possible takeover of the Warriors, would be a home run -- if he's willing to get back into the grind. Even if he isn't, a tandem of West and Griffin, who worked together in Memphis, would be a solid 1-2 punch. West would restore class and vision to the organization, and Griffin -- who has a keen eye for talent and a deep understanding of the salary-cap and CBA, at least in its current form -- would be an ace in the day-to-day GM role.
Pritchard and Ferry haven't aggressively pursued any of the numerous GM openings to this point, leading to speculation that they're waiting for a more prestigious job to come along. Despite the aimless wandering of the Warriors in recent years under Nellie and Riley, there are few NBA locales more desirable than the Bay Area and few jobs with as much potential to make a meaningful imprint. From that standpoint, reviving the Warriors has West's name -- and logo -- written all over it. But it's not entirely clear if West, 72, wants to return to a front-office role. Sources familiar with Thorn's decision to step down in New Jersey said the longtime Nets boss was under the distinct impression that West, a relentless workaholic during his glory days as an NBA team executive, finally had come to enjoy retirement. Seeing West finally embrace being out of the spotlight appealed to Thorn, 69, on a certain level.
The other aspect of the Warriors' sale that warrants a mention in today's news cycle is the price: $450 million, a record for an NBA franchise that surpassed the previous mark of $401 million paid by Robert Sarver for the Suns in 2004. One of the key sticking points in the negotiations between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement is the escalating value of NBA franchises. If the league's financial system is so broken, the players argue, why would someone pay nearly a half-billion dollars to join the club?
But the disagreement runs deeper than that. In an interview with CBSSports.com Wednesday, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said a point of contention in reconciling commissioner David Stern's latest assertion that the league lost $370 million during the 2009-10 season is the cost associated with buying and owning the teams. Hunter said the league's finances include such expenses as interest and depreciation, which he views as costs that should be borne by the owners and not the players. The Warriors' sale is the perfect example of why such costs shouldn't be used as an excuse to cut player salaries. Here is the simple reason why:
Cohan bought the Warriors for $119 million in 1995. His capital gain of $331 million, less expenses, is his to keep. If the owners want to count interest and depreciation expenses in the formula that determines player salaries, then the players should receive a cut of the profit when owners sell their teams. The owners, for obvious reasons, would never agree to such an arrangement. The players, for equally obvious reasons, should never allow the expenses associated with investing in the purchases of NBA teams to be taken out of their pockets at the bargaining table.
"You can't expect the players to pay for the damn franchise," Hunter sad. "You can't tell me we have obligation to pay for your franchise and then split the difference with you."
Just a couple of things to think about as you digest the news of the Golden State Warriors becoming the highest-priced franchise ever purchased in NBA history.
Posted on: June 25, 2010 11:06 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2010 1:17 am
Following a bizarre trend that apparently dictates that it's better to be devoid of leadership at the most critical time in franchise history, the Nets will be without the executive who led them to two Finals appearances and gave them the best chance of succeeding in free agency. Rod Thorn is stepping down as team president effective July 15, a person familiar with the situation confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday night.
You read that right: Thorn will be pulling the Summer of LeBron version of Kevin Pritchard's draft night, conducting the chase for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson -- a chase the franchise endured a payroll-gutting, 12-win season to engage in. When it's over, he's gone, according to the person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to announce the move.
While it was known that Thorn's contract was set to expire June 30, his departure is stunning considering his accomplishments and the importance of the free-agent negotiating period that begins July 1. Thorn has agreed to stay on until July 15 to help navigate free agency, but it's not clear what marquee player would choose to join the Nets in Newark, N.J., without knowing who's making the basketball decisions. The team won't move to its new digs in Brooklyn for two more years.
According to an executive with another team who is familiar with the situation, Thorn was asked to take a massive pay cut and balked. Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be a billionaire, but not when it comes to paying the person running his basketball team. "He wants a younger voice," the person said.
But that description contradicted a Bergen (N.J.) Record report early Saturday in which Jerry Colangelo was touted as the leading candidate to replace Thorn. The report, which hinted that Colangelo could have some role in the Nets' free-agent visit with James next week in Ohio, rekindled speculation that arose during All-Star weekend in Dallas. At that time, when Prokhorov's bid for the Nets was still being considered by the NBA's Board of Governors, Colangelo said he wasn't pursuing any jobs but would listen if the Nets called. The managing director of USA Basketball, Colangelo would be a key asset in the Nets' pursuit of James or other free agents from the 2008 Olympic team that won gold in Beijing.
Unlike the Cavaliers and Clippers, the Nets at least do have a coach in place -- and perhaps Avery Johnson is angling for personnel authority, given that he stressed his desire for such control in other job interviews this summer. But without Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe, whom Prokhorov fired through the news media several weeks ago, the Nets will be without a credible basketball management figure at by far the most crucial point in the history of this meandering, mostly second-rate franchise.
Reached via text message Friday night, Thorn replied, "Right now, I have no comment."
The Nets are by no means the only team to gut itself of basketball intellect on the cusp of irreversibly important decisions. Suns owner Robert Sarver decided to cut ties with GM Steve Kerr at a time when Kerr and his assistant, David Griffin -- who also is departing -- were trying to negotiate an extension with star forward Amar'e Stoudemire. The Cavs decided to stumble into the most important month in Cleveland sports history -- and one that could change the NBA landscape forever -- without a coach or GM. Chris Grant, the replacement for former GM Danny Ferry, is indisputably talented but also has never been faced with circumstances as pressurized as possibly losing his city's biggest sports star since Jim Brown.
The Clippers, also entertaining false hope of luring major free agents, have yet to hire a coach. And the Trail Blazers -- though not free-agent players -- made a mockery of the GM profession Thursday when owner Paul Allen fired Pritchard an hour before the draft while instructing him to make his picks and trades before going home for good.
The only thing any of this proves, besides incompetence, is that there's no better job than being an unemployed or soon-to-be unemployed GM in the NBA. Either you're still getting paid by the team that fired you, which is good, or you're salivating over numerous job openings. Or both. But something you're not doing if you're a team without leadership is signing James or Wade as a free agent.
Posted on: June 24, 2010 7:57 pm
NEW YORK -- Stunning news came down moments before the NBA draft began Thursday night. No, LeBron James didn't try to reinstate his college eligibility and join John Calipari at Kentucky. Something more unbelievable: The Trail Blazers fired GM Kevin Pritchard, telling him an hour before the draft that it would be his last day of work for the team.
Jason Quick of the Oregonian first reported the firing, which is surprising only for its bizarre timing. Pritchard's right-hand man, former assistant GM Tom Penn, was fired in March, and the writing has been on the wall for Pritchard ever since. Pritchard, who along with Penn was responsible for building one of the most competitive and financially successful franchises in the NBA, will presumably make the 22nd and 44th picks in Thursday's draft -- which he spent months preparing for -- and then start looking for work. Penn has found work already, at least temporarily; he was at the Theater at Madison Square Garden Thursday night working as a salary-cap analyst on ESPN's draft telecast.
According to the Oregonian, owner Paul Allen informed Pritchard of his dismissal Thursday night and instructed him to conduct the draft before leaving the organization. The Portland GM opening now joins a few leadership black holes around the league. The Suns didn't renew GM Steve Kerr's contract, and assistant GM David Griffin decided to leave the organization after being informed that there would be a formal search for Kerr's replacement. Denver GM Mark Warkentien's contract expires Aug. 31, and the organization has made no efforts to re-sign him. Danny Ainge's future in Boston also is up in the air with the possibility that coach Doc Rivers could step down.
As for the gaping hole left in the Portland front office by Pritchard's classless dismissal, the question becomes: Who would want to work for a franchise that treats its people the way the Blazers have treated Pritchard and Penn? The lure of the Blazers' roster and rabid fan base will be a huge calling card for any potential candidate, but buyer beware. Apparently, the money isn't great, either. One of the points of contention that led to Pritchard's ouster was his displeasure with his approximately $1 million salary -- not much more than assistant GMs make in other cities and a quarter of coach Nate McMillan's compensation. Pritchard had one year remaining on his contract.
According to a person familiar with the Blazers' internal dynamics, one option would be to appoint team president Larry Miller, head of the team's business operations, to serve as the figurehead replacement for Pritchard and hire a competent No. 2 to handle the day-to-day basketball decisions.