Blazers fire GM Rich Cho as draft approaches

Once again, the Portland Trail Blazers fell short of expectations after finishing the 2010–11 season with a 48-36 overall record and then like clockwork saw another first-round exit from the playoffs.

Once again, the Portland Trail Blazers fell short of expectations after finishing the 2010–11 season with a 48-36 overall record and then like clockwork saw another first-round exit from the playoffs. The Blazers’ postseason loss to the Dallas Mavericks was a disappointment, but not seemingly significant enough to call for an overhaul of the front office. Whether or not the underachieving season was the driving factor of the decision to part ways with General Manager Rich Cho is still up in the air, but in the end, we are seeing a Portland team that is struggling to find a sense of consistency behind the decisions of a fussy owner.

Billionaire team owner Paul Allen had the final decision on the releasing of Cho, who was hired last July in the wake of the firing of former GM Kevin Pritchard. Allen was unavailable for comment on the sudden and surprising firing of Cho. Instead, team president Larry Miller addressed the media in an attempt to make sense of the second GM firing in the past year and the fifth since 2003.

“Rich is a smart guy and a great guy,” Miller said in a media statement. “But the chemistry with the owner wasn’t there. And if it’s not there, dragging it out and not dealing with it sooner rather than later isn’t the right thing to do.”

The comments made were likely reflecting on the career of Kevin Pritchard, the GM in Portland for nearly three years before falling into poor favor with Allen. The 58-year-old billionaire has developed a notorious reputation for being a heavily involved, hands-on and moody owner. Cho’s release was on the tame side compared to Pritchard, whose rocky relationship with Allen was aired publically before his termination last summer.

Pritchard and Cho were both praised for the additions and changes they made to an otherwise mediocre Blazers roster. Pritchard was responsible for bringing LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Camby to the team, helping to shake the “Jail Blazer” image that plagued them for years. Cho was able to create the opportunity for Portland to pick up former all-star Gerald Wallace this past season, trading three reserve players and two draft picks for the small forward. In his short time as GM, Cho showed signs of being the type of smart and efficient leader the Blazers needed to become a championship contender in the league.

Allen has created a rotating door of general managers, and whether or not fans are frustrated or confused, they have no choice but to suck it up and hope Allen knows what he is doing. The biggest task at hand now for the organization is finding a worthy GM that is willing to risk being out of work in one year’s time. President Larry Miller remains confident that the Blazers will have plenty of resumes to look through this summer. Danny Ferry, former Cleveland GM and Spurs vice president of Basketball Operations, is rumored to top the list of possible candidates. 

“I still think that it’s a great job,” said Miller in a media statement. “You have an owner who wants to spend money, you have an owner who wants to win and you have an owner who loves basketball.”

At this point there is little that can be done and there are greater concerns than who the next general manager will be for the Blazers. Portland is currently facing decisions on whether or not to consider giving oft-injured center Greg Oden a qualifying offer of $8.8 million to consider staying with the team. Another important decision will be whether or not to exercise a $7.8 million team option for next season on the aging yet reliable Andre Miller, who was the topic of trade discussions earlier in the year.

Blazer head coach Nate McMillan hasn’t been shy when discussing the team’s future. McMillan seems aware that this could be a pivotal point in the direction of the franchise and has openly talked about the need for roster changes this summer. In a recent interview on Blazers Courtside last Monday, he raised a myriad of questions regarding key pieces of the team.

“I think there are a lot of questions that we have to answer,” McMillan said. “The first thing is to balance the roster. The combination of the twos that we have—with Wesley [Matthews], Rudy [Fernandez] and Brandon [Roy]—that combination is just, really, there’s no way we can play the three of those guys.”

The Blazers still have a promising future, as they own the 21st pick in this year’s draft and will be looking to build off constructive seasons from shooting guard Wesley Matthews and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. However, tough decisions will need to be made this summer, with or without a concrete GM. If the Blazers plan on moving forward, they’ll need to quickly move past this and perhaps there will need to be more changes at the top, starting with Allen putting his ego to the side. ?