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: 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: August 3, 2010 6:54 pm
The Nuggets decided Tuesday not to renew the contracts of front office executives Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman, a shakeup that has been expected for months.
Paul Andrews, executive vice president of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, announced the changes in a news release in which he said, "We decided that it would be best for all parties to go their separate ways."
The real question is how the front-office shakeup will affect Carmelo Anthony's posture on a three-year, $65 million extension that he has yet to sign. Anthony's indecision has fueled speculation that he wants to test the free-agent market next summer -- barring a lockout -- and that he wants to see the direction the Nuggets are headed before signing it. As of Tuesday, there were more questions than ever about that direction.
Warkentien, the 2008-09 NBA executive of the year, never received a formal extension offer even though his contract was set to expire this month, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Seeing the shakeup on the horizon, Warkentien obtained permission to speak with other teams about various GM openings. He got permission to speak with the Knicks about a potential front-office vacancy as team president Donnie Walsh's day-to-day GM, but that opening never materialized. It now appears that the Knicks will not add a person to the front office and will instead expand the duties of former player Allan Houston, who has been training under Walsh and played an important role during free agency.
Warkentien also received permission to interview for the Suns' GM position vacated by Steve Kerr's departure, and interviewed over the phone for the job, which went to former player agent Lon Babby.
Chapman, rumored to be on the way out with Warkentien since CBSSports.com reported in March that owner Stan Kroenke was planning sweeping front-office changes, recently interviewed for the Hornets' GM job that went to former Spurs executive Dell Demps. Josh Kroenke, Stan's son and the eventual owner of the Nuggets, is expected to take on an expanded role in Denver's new front-office structure.
Coach George Karl said recently he is committed to returning to the sideline next season after recovering from cancer treatments, but added, "It's not a guarantee."
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.
Posted on: February 14, 2010 3:37 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2010 4:37 pm
DALLAS -- A plan to discourage tanking and add some excitement to the final weeks of the NBA season has been tabled, most likely until after a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, CBSSports.com has learned.
The plan for a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in each conference was the topic of "healthy debate" at the NBA competition committee's meeting Friday during All-Star weekend, one source present at the meeting said. The idea probably won't come up for discussion again until after a new CBA is ratified because it would involve adding games to the schedule, another person in the meeting said.
The tournament was proposed by Denver Nuggets general manager Mark Warkentien in response to an invitation from commissioner David Stern, who had solicited ideas from committee members about how to spice up the final weeks of the regular season. Under the plan, the top seven teams in each conference would be seeded for the playoffs as they are now. Teams finishing 8-15 in each conference would play a three-day, single-elimination tournament with the winner being awarded the eighth seed.
In addition to providing more drama, the tournament would theoretically reduce the temptation for teams that are out of playoff contention to rest players and lose games in an effort to secure a chance at a better draft position.
In other action taken Friday, the competition committee recommended two further expansions of instant replay. Under the recommendations, which must be approved by the Board of Governors, referees would be able to use instant replay in its current form during the entire five-minute overtime period. Under the current rules, replay was only applicable in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. Also, officials would be able to use instant replay to determine whether a foul fits the definition of a clear-path foul. The foul itself would remain a judgment call that is not reviewable, but whether the requirements for a clear path were met would be subject to review.
If the Board of Governors approves the recommendations -- which typically is a formality -- the replay changes would not take effect until next season.
Posted on: February 8, 2010 5:24 pm
Labor problems, the potential for blockbuster trades, and yes, some basketball will be on the agenda at All-Star weekend in Dallas. Something else will command the attention of NBA team executives on Friday: The idea of a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in each conference.