PORTLAND — It had been almost eight months since the Trail Blazers last hosted another NBA team, but Monday, a much longer drought came to an end at the Rose Garden.
Paul Allen met with the media.
The Blazers owner had abstained from questions despite a plethora of significant occurrences over the years — including the ousting of two general managers, a new collective bargaining agreement, and a string of injuries that have hamstrung the franchise.
But there he was Monday night, sitting at the head of a table in an auxiliary locker room where reporters fired queries for 35 minutes. And not 45 seconds went by before the most pressing concern was raised.
“People around here want to know if you’re planning to sell the team,” a writer directed Allen’s way.
“I have no plans to sell the team,” he answered succinctly.
From there, the 58-year-old touched on an array of subjects ranging from basketball, to business, to Brandon Roy. But perhaps the most eyebrow-raising segment of the Q&A came when Allen explained former Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard’s departure.
In June of 2010, the understanding was that Allen had inexplicably fired Pritchard on the day of the NBA Draft. However, according to Allen, Pritchard had “asked to be let go multiple times” that very day, assuming that the decision had already been made. Allen told Pritchard he had not yet reached a conclusion on his future, but since he wanted out, the request was granted.
That said, turnover in management has been a point of concern within the Blazers organization. Portland has gone through six general managers in the past 10 years, the most recent of which was Rich Cho, who was abruptly fired last May after 10 months on the job.
Allen said he evaluates a GM’s value based on his ability to evaluate talent, interact with the coaches, and answer his own questions. And while Allen asserted that Cho “is a great person,” he felt he was a bad fit and did not want to waste any time moving forward.
As to accusations that Allen himself wants to be the GM?
“No. I just want to ask the questions,” said Allen, while also denying that friend and Vulcan senior director Bert Kolde aspires for the same position. “Being a GM is a full-time job. Neither of us have ambitions to do that.”
Meanwhile, the team’s current search for a general manager does not seem to be making much headway. Allen said Monday that ideally, the next Blazers general manager would be one with experience from outside the organization. However, there has yet to be a candidate who has impressed Allen’s underlings enough to earn an interview with Allen himself.
But should a new GM be hired soon, it doesn’t sound as if he will be working with the limitless money supply his predecessors have enjoyed.
Allen, who has a reputation for dropping major coin if it helps the Blazers’ cause, said Monday that he would be willing to splurge on a free agent if Portland were a piece away from winning a championship. However, given normal circumstances, “the crazy luxury tax days? Those are gone.”
Allen, of course, played a role in shaping the new collective bargaining agreement, which he believes benefits smaller market teams by penalizing larger-market teams who overspend. But he was also heavily criticized by NBA Players Association director Billy Hunter for being one of the “hard-line owners.”
When a reporter brought this up to Allen on Monday, he sarcastically responded “really?” (which elicited laughter), then explained that he was simply introduced as a hard-line owner at the negotiations, where he was just planning on taking notes.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as being as polarizing as people made it out to be,” Allen said.
On the subject of basketball itself, Allen praised Blazers coach Nate McMillan for gracefully navigating the organization’s adversity over the past couple years, and lamented Roy’s retirement, calling the news “a body blow.”
Roy recently said that he would one day like to have the Rose Garden to himself to relive his memories, and Allen said he would happily grant him that wish.
As far as the perpetually injured Greg Oden goes, Allen said that “everybody is rooting for Greg.”
Allen, who said he was in good health, would not verbally commit to long-term ownership of the Blazers, explaining that a number of factors go into such decisions.
The biggest factor? Team success.
“I think as an owner, you really want to do the team right and the fans right and build a winning organization,” Allen said. “It all comes back to the desire to win.”