Rich Cho out as Blazers GM

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PORTLAND — The Rose Garden hosted a World Wrestling Entertainment event Monday, but that was hardly the building’s main source of theater.

For the second time in less than a year, the Trail Blazers fired their general manager — parting ways with Rich Cho after hiring him 10 months ago. Portland’s director of college basketball scouting Chad Buchanan will serve as acting general manager.

“We decided that there was an issue as far as the chemistry and fit were concerned,” Blazers president Larry Miller said. “We decided to move sooner than later in terms of separating with Rich.”

Miller said the primary “chemistry” issue lay between Cho and team owner Paul Allen, adding that the concern was rooted more in communication problems than it was a difference in philosophy. He also said that the Blazers were in no rush to hire a permanent general manager, and that he and Allen were still assessing what criteria they’d use to evaluate potential candidates.

But perhaps the most pressing question was this: Why, exactly, would a talented executive want to fill this position?

Cho, 45, was the fifth full-time general manager to part ways with the Blazers since 2003; Bob Whitsitt, John Nash, Steve Patterson and Kevin Pritchard preceding him. And Pritchard’s surprising ousting was announced on the day of the 2010 draft, and yet he was still charged with running the draft for the team. Additionally, there is a common perception that a Blazers general manager has little if any autonomy, often serving as a puppet for Allen’s desires.

So is there really any appeal?

“I still think this is a great situation for someone that would move into this general manager role if they’re the right fit,” said Miller, adding that basketball decisions are a collaborative effort that also involve him and Allen. “This is an organization that’s motivated to win, and we have an owner that loves basketball.”

Hired July 19, Cho helped engineer two significant moves during his tenure. The first was trading guard Jerryd Bayless to the New Orleans Hornets in October for two protected first-round draft picks. The second was acquiring Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats in February — trading Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks and the two aforementioned picks in exchange for the former All-Star forward. The Blazers were 11-5 vs. playoff-bound teams after obtaining Wallace after going 8-19 beforehand.

Recent reports surfaced that Cho considered suspending Brandon Roy after the Blazers guard made comments critical of his lack of playing time in Game 2 of Portland’s first-round playoff series vs. Dallas last month. There was some speculation that Cho revealing this information may have led, or at least contributed, to his firing. But Miller said that there was no specific impetus for the personnel change, and that the drama surrounding the Roy situation was exaggerated.

As for Cho’s reaction to the news? Miller said he was in disbelief, but that after the shock wore off, he expressed gratitude for the opportunity.

“Obviously it’s a difficult day, but I want to truly thank Paul Allen and Larry Miller for the opportunity they gave me here in Portland,” said Cho in a statement. “I also want to thank the fans, players, coaches, business office staff and especially my basketball operations staff who have supported me along the way. I feel good about the work we’ve done here and I know the Trail Blazers are headed in the right direction.”

Allen, who is out of the country, said this in the team’s release.

“This decision, as difficult as it was to make, reflects our willingness to admit and recognize that things haven’t worked out. We’re going to be tough on ourselves in assessing what we could have done better, and then go out and find the executive who is the best fit with the needs of our franchise. That chemistry and connection is critically important.”

Buchanan takes the reigns for the second consecutive offseason, the 38-year-old leading the Blazers through last year’s free agency, in which the team signed then second-year guard Wesley Matthews to a 5-year, $34 million contract. Buchanan has been with the organization for the past seven years, serving as the director of college scouting for the past four.

Buchanan said he was in shock when he got the news Monday, thinking first of what Cho was going through as a human being but also acknowledging his talent. He wouldn’t get to any real specifics on how he plans to approach the draft and free agency, but asserted that he’s been in the loop throughout the season and doesn’t really need to play any catch-up. Is this a job he’s interested in permanently?

“I’ve always taken the belief that whatever is in front of you, you work as hard as you can,” Buchanan said. “My ultimate focus right now is trying to organize our group and improve this team. If an opportunity were to arise, then I’d have to consider it. But I want to help this team get to the point where we want to be, whatever role I have in the organization.”

Miller wouldn’t offer much insight as to who might be Cho’s long-term replacement, but did not rule out Buchanan or others within the organization as potential successors. He also said that assistant general managers Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry will remain with the team.

A Portland-based sports radio show began its broadcast Monday with circus music, insinuating that the Blazers shakeups in the front office had reached the point of absurdity. Miller was asked if he expects fallout from fans who suspect the organization may be spiraling out of control.

“I would just hope the fans would look at the results we’ve had over the last few years,” Miller said.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com