With the 24-hour news cycle being what it is, and with the NBA getting close to winnowing itself down to the best of the best, we might have one or two more days with the firing of Rich Cho dominating the headlines.
Writers both national and local have weighed in on the situation, mostly agreeing that dismissing Cho is not only a bad idea, but is also an indication that this franchise is closer than some might think to having the wheels fall off completely. In fact, it seems that the only voices not bemoaning the most recent premature exit of Portland’s general manager are those whose checks are signed by the very same guy that told Cho to kick rocks.
Which leads to maybe the central figure in this whole ordeal: Paul Allen. Blazer fans like me, those born in the 80’s and developed into die-hard fans in the middle 90’s, only know this team as being owned by Paul Allen, and because of that we are left with something of an identity crisis on our hands. Many people have chimed in with their opinions on Mr. Allen, and his relative mental well being, and the consensus seems to be that Paul Allen, for what it’s worth, is losing it.
The problem with the owner being the problem is that for better of for worse, we’re stuck. As we all know, no player is safe from trade, and what has become very clear is that Portland’s first in command doesn’t mind hiring and firing GMs at record rates. But getting rid of an owner, well that’s something completely different.
Changing ownership is a risky proposition in the NBA, just ask Seattle Super Sonic fans, and as much as Blazer fans want some continuity in management and some explanations as to the behavior of the man in charge, I’m sure across the board fans would prefer to have the Blazers stay in Portland.
It wasn’t so long ago that Allen was looking to get out of being the Blazers’ owner. His team was in the basement, the crowds weren’t coming, in an industry that sees very little positive revenue on a year-in year-out basis, a once successful franchise was hemorrhaging money. Maybe because he couldn’t find a buyer, maybe because he feared the potential riots if he tried to move the team, or maybe because he saw that light at the end of the tunnel, Paul Allen stayed the course. Not only did he stay the course, he did the thing that so many business people say you should do but seldom seems to happen in real life, he spent money in order to make money.
Bringing in Nate McMillan, making trades to get Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, these decisions were not Allen’s alone, of course, but they undoubtedly went through his office. These moves too were also an indication that Paul Allen was not interested in letting his team languish with the rest of the league’s perennial losers. As bad as this might get, and you never know we could burn through half a dozen GMs before Allen finds the right “fit” with the perfect amount of “chemistry,” the most evident silver lining is that we’re not all fans of a team owned by Donald Sterling.
The other central figure in the Rich Cho drama is Blazers’ president Larry Miller. With Paul Allen off entertaining in the French Riviera, Miller has become the mouthpiece of the organization. Miller has made the rounds in the last few days, answering the tough questions in his boss’s stead, and doing a remarkable job of putting a positive spin on a story that has sullied Portland’s image in the eyes of the local fan base and the national media.
One question lobbed at Miller is would he like to take over as GM? It seems reasonable. Miller has outlasted both Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho, and appears to possess whatever personality traits Paul Allen requires of his inner circle. Miller is adamant that he doesn’t want the job. I don’t fault him that. His expertise is business more than anything, coming to the Blazers from Nike where he was President of the Jordan brand, and above all he probably likes having the job security, being the guy who does the firing and is not the fired.
In his numerous interviews and statements to the press, Larry Miller has maintained that management will change up their recruiting and hiring for Cho’s replacement, and he has also stated that he believes Portland’s GM position is a perfect job for someone. There’s no doubt that at the end of it all Larry Miller and Paul Allen will find somebody to fill the GM role for at least the near term.
Portland fans are angry and confused. Personally I’m more confused than angry. Confused as to what changed Paul Allen’s mind about Rich Cho, and as to what exactly a general manager could do that would be beyond the purview of the owner or could be done to undermine the owner’s impact on the future of his team.
I’m not trying to let management off the hook, although if they say removing Cho was done to limit the potential of future issues I’ll believe them, but what I am trying to do is give the situation a little context.
If the worst thing we have to deal with as fans is a succession of general managers, meaning that the constant turnover doesn’t bleed into loses or on-the-court problems, we’ll probably be ok. There are worse things than having an owner that doesn’t see a problem with having three GMs on the payroll.