Matt Calkins column: Firing Cho sparks one question: Why?

By

Published:

 

The legend goes as follows:

A college philosophy final exam consists of but one question: Why?

Students scramble for three hours — unloading existential concepts, citing humanity’s great thinkers, and jotting down any modicum of knowledge that might appease their professor.

Except one, who simply asks: Why not?

He gets an A+.

This, of course, is an amusing yarn that epitomizes ridiculous, but it is also one that’s nearly impossible to believe. Kind of like the Trail Blazers parting ways with their sixth general manager in 10 years on Monday.

When Rich Cho was fired less than 10 months into his tenure, eyebrows were raised with Lamborghini acceleration. In fact, were a movie to come out depicting his ousting, it would be titled, “The Fast and the Curious.”

Few anticipated this front-office shakeup, most reacted with jaws agape — and like that folklore philosophy final, the decision begs the question: Why?

It’s true that Portland losing in the first round would have been viewed as a monumental disappointment in October. But given all the unexpected injuries in the fall, simply making the postseason can be dubbed an overachievement.

Plus, under Cho’s watch, Portland acquired former All-Star Gerald Wallace, who quickly became the Red Bull in the team’s vodka and helped propel the Blazers to the sixth seed in the West. So why would Portland owner Paul Allen kick Cho out the door he just got his foot into?

“The chemistry is just not right,” team president Larry Miller said on Monday. “One of the most important things about the GM role is that there has to be a connection and a chemistry with the owner.”

Miller said the word “chemistry” eight times during the press conference, but the real chemistry problem likely rests with Allen’s DNA. The billionaire goes through executives like sticks of gum — no other NBA franchise has employed more than four GMs over the past decade.

Miller said the issue between Cho and Allen lay more in communicative shortcomings than ideological differences, leaving one to think that the boss man just didn’t get along with Cho as much as he would have liked. Of course, we’ll never know for sure — Allen opting not to answer questions and exemplifying the last four letters of the company he and Bill Gates co-founded.

Which brings up a more important why? As in...

Why would anybody want this job?

Sure, there are perks. The Blazers’ past two GMs are still on the team’s payroll, and Cho will receive four years of salary for 10 months of work.

But there also is the very real appeal of having an owner willing to spend money, and a reasonably talented core of players.

Before this past season began, Cho himself said Portland is a transaction or two away from contending for a title. And if Greg Oden were to fulfill an ounce or two of his potential, he might have the Blazers within sniffing distance of the Larry O’Brien trophy.

But then there is the very unappealing side of the position.

Miller’s message to fans who might be weary of the front office’s turnover rate was to “look at our results over the last couple years.”

OK. Fair enough.

But if the franchise is as successful as advertised, why would any executive think that a job-well-done will translate to a job-well-kept?

Does this position really come down more to elbow-rubbing than it does talent-scouting or player-signing? And wouldn’t that suggest that Blazers general manager truly is a puppet position?

One publication reported that Miller and assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff were the primary forces behind the Wallace acquisition. Another suggested that mysterious team consultant Steve “Hat Man” Gordon might be Allen’s main advisor.

Throw in all the influential suits working for Vulcan Inc., and the Blazers look like an organization straight out of a Dan Brown novel.

Miller said that the team takes a “collaborative” approach to all trades and signings — he and Allen are very much involved in the decision-making process. And given the qualifications of talent scouts such as Mike Born and acting GM Chad Buchanan — not to mention assistant GMs Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry, a very legitimate question becomes...

Why even have a general manager at all?

Tough to say.

At this point, Portland’s only real answer seems to be: Why not?

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