Attempting to make sense of Rich Cho's firing

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I don’t get it. Since the Blazers announced earlier today that they were parting ways with general manager Rich Cho, I’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with something–anything–that Cho has done in his ten-month tenure as GM that would warrant this. I’ve got nothing.

He only made one major move in his time in Portland, and that move–acquiring Gerald Wallace from Charlotte for a handful of expiring contracts and picks–is the best non-draft-day trade this organization has made probably since acquiring Scottie Pippen in 1999. Since being hired, Cho has generally come off as the kind of guy who thinks through decisions before making them and puts long-term interests ahead of short-term ones. As much as Kevin Pritchard’s media grandstanding and (often successful) swing-for-the-fences approach made him a fan favorite, the case can be made that Cho’s low-key demeanor and preference to wait for the right move to come to him was a better fit for the organization. This was the thought when he was hired, and while 10 months is a small sample size, it’s hard to find fault with the job he did this season.

Paul Allen disagrees, which I’m still trying to get my head around. The team’s press release announcing the firing stated, “The fit simply wasn’t right,” which is kind of the exact opposite of what the organization’s attitude was when he was hired last July. Allen’s recently-published memoir contained a glowing portrait of Cho as a potential cornerstone of a title team. Cho has worked in the NBA in one capacity or another for a decade and a half, and when the Blazers hired him last summer, nobody around the league had anything less than a rave review of his work to that point. I’d like to think that if there were any major character or background issues at play here, they would have come out by now.

I’ve always been in the camp that believes Pritchard was given a raw deal last summer (especially considering the news of his firing broke the day of the draft, which he was asked to conduct for Portland anyway), but at least it seemed like Allen had his reasons there. If you wanted to make the case that Pritchard screwed up Oden-over-Durant or the decision to give Brandon Roy $80 million in guaranteed money despite concerns about his knees (two moves I’ll still defend, for the record), you’d at least have an argument. That, and we still don’t know the full nature of the contract negotiations between Pritchard, Allen, and Tom Penn that were apparently the cause of some internal tension. To our knowledge, that wasnt an issue with Cho.

The only controversy in which Cho was involved this year was the revelation that he was overruled in his push to suspend Brandon Roy for his comments about his playing time following game two of the Blazers’ first-round series against Dallas. It isn’t a terrific idea to push to suspend a player, especially one as popular as Roy, in the middle of a playoff series, and it especially isn’t wise to go public with this information, but is that really a firable offense? In the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor PR snafu that nobody will talk about in two years.

CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger published an article earlier today insinuating that the reason Cho was fired was because he was not as much of a yes-man as Allen and the Vulcans would have liked. For now, that’s the best thing we’ve got, and it certainly makes sense given that Allen let his buddy Bob Whitsitt run the team into the ground for almost a decade but has fired two far-better-regarded GMs in the last 11 months over personal differences. This is certainly the perception around the league right now, and it makes me wonder about their chances to land another GM of the caliber of Cho or Pritchard. Maybe we should start to prepare for (shudder) the Danny Ferry era in Portland. He was given serious consideration last summer, and in his five years in Cleveland showed nothing if not the willingness to bow to the whims of his team’s frustrated superstars that Allen seems to desire.

But, again, we don’t know what went down. If there’s a scandal, the media will be all over it. If there’s not, this decision makes Allen look really, really bad. As it is, David Kahn has a secure GM job in the NBA and Rich Cho and Kevin Pritchard do not. I don’t understand this league sometimes.

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