Anatomy of a Pritchslap

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Note: the speculative portions of the original piece have been removed or clarified.  My deepest apologies.  Sorry also for deleting the original post. I appreciated all of your comments.  Please see the post above to discuss my opinions of the Charlotte non-trade. -- Ben

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The Setting

Picture your local high school's computer lab, buried deep within a large slab of quiet concrete: roughly 25 feet by 25 feet, with workstations along all four walls and a table in the middle of the room, TVs hanging in various locations around the room, and a healthy wireless network pumping through the air, offering the only consistent reminder that the room's occupants are not halfway to the earth's core. God forbid if Portland were attacked by terrorists, at face, it would seem as good a bunker as any. This is the Rose Garden press room when it's not a game day.

Tucked into the room's back corner on Thursday night -- with AIM, Google Chat, Facebook Chat, and my Blackberry ready to rock -- I watched as every major member of the Portland sports print media (save John Canzano) took part in what can only be described as an absurdist drama.

The director of the night's actions -- of course -- was Kevin Pritchard, who himself was located (along with owner Paul Allen and the rest of the Blazers brain trust) in a boardroom war room at the team's Practice Facility in Tualatin, unhindered by the physical presence of any media members (with the notable exception of the invited Brian Wheeler).

What separated the two rooms in real life? Roughly 10 miles and the Willamette. What separated the rooms when the team didn't have anything to report? It might as well have been 10,000 miles and a pit of Komodo Dragons. What separated the rooms when Mr. Pritchard was ready to pounce? Absolutely nothing.

Despite the Blazers' physical fortifications, I was witness to an information dissemination program that the Soviets/Chinese/Pick-your-authoritarian-government would be proud of. Relying upon the media's inherent desire to be "first," Mr. Pritchard and his staff regularly communicated with people in the press room via text message and telephone. In 2008, the process of turning his latest statement into public record was completely seemless: the message would come in, one person would instantly update a website and another would don a pair of waiting headphones ready to issue the latest report over the radio airwaves. It is important to note that the delay between receiving the information and relaying the information is most accurately measured in seconds not minutes.  This was happening, entirely, in real time.

Outside this petri dish, of course, you have 29 other cities going through the same thing around the country. The only thing unifying these provincial draft rooms was the internet, which served as the single, centralized location of "the latest" (much earlier than televison). 

Given this backdrop, surely, nothing can go wrong.

The Action

As Mike Barrett reported and Dave has outlined, it appears the Blazers entered draft night with a trade with Indiana already worked out. The central idea of the trade was to move from the #13 spot to the #11 spot, thereby bypassing the Kings at #12 (who wanted to draft a point guard). This trade was consistent with speculation many had coming into the draft.  It was widely reported that the Blazers would try to trade up to nab one of the draft's elite point guards (Russell Westbrook, DJ Augustin and Jerryd Bayless being the three most obvious targets). Despite what Pritchard says now, there was no guarantee that any of the three would be available at #11. In fact, on many draft boards Bayless and Westbrook were top 6 prospects and Augustin was top 7 or 8.

As the first 8 picks of the draft unfolded (Rose, Beasley, Love, Westbrook, Mayo, Gallinari, Gordon, Alexander) it became increasingly likely that either Augustin or Bayless would be available at #11 for one simple reason: New Jersey, with Devin Harris at point guard, was unlikely to take either one.

Knowing this, the situation changed for Mr. Pritchard. The question was no longer: "how do we get one of our targeted point guards?" but, "how do we get the point guard that we want?" and "how do we do it while giving up as little as possible?"

It was hard to know what the Charlotte Bobcats, picking at #9, would do. With Raymond Felton, a young, talented, relatively cheap (but slightly disgruntled) point guard on their roster already, and with major needs up and down their roster, it seemed unlikely they would draft a point guard. However, with Bayless freefalling down the draft board, Mr. Pritchard certainly must have been worried that they might take him anyway.  He was surely the Best Player Available and pairing him with Felton, Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace would give Charlotte one of the most explosive backcourts this side of Golden State. The mission, therefore, it would seem: make sure the Bobcats don't take Bayless.

Thankfully, the Bobcats, of course, drafted Augustin at #9, despite not really needing a PG with his skills. Armchair analysts across America scratched their heads. Why take Augustin with Bayless, Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph and other prospects still on the board? 

In the press room, as soon as the pick was announced, a prominent member of the local media stated emphatically, "That pick is for us. That's the deal right there.... Pritchard and Larry Brown go way back." Indeed, Charlotte's coach, Larry Brown, as is common knowledge, has a long history with his former University of Kansas player Kevin Pritchard. At that moment, lightbulbs went off over everyone's head, "Ohhhh. That's why Charlotte took Augustin!" And then, a moment later, "We got Augustin!" Within seconds, as New Jersey was coming on the clock at #10, confirmation on this trade was sought from the Blazers.

Here's where it gets a little murky and the press room's frenzy starts to cloud the picture. After New Jersey selects Lopez at #10, putting Indiana on the clock at #11, word is received that the Blazers have agreed to trade with Charlotte for DJ Augustin, in exchange for the #13 selection and unspecified considerations (Jarrett Jack plus ?). This message is immediately posted online and over the airwaves. Everyone in the press room has every reason to believe it to be true, especially when Jerryd Bayless goes off the board to Indiana at #11. "Phew," people are thinking, "good thing Pritchard got that deal done, otherwise we'd be high and dry with no point guard."

Of course, this is when the chaos starts. Within a matter of minutes, as Blazersedge.com begins to seriously lag due to too much traffic, a different report surfaces: the Blazers are trading Jack and the #13 to Indiana for the man they just drafted at #11, Jerryd Bayless. The initial report, the Augustin trade, is quickly yanked from the web as the two reports directly contradict each other. Picture 5 Fran Tarkentons running around the backfield and you've got the picture: lots of scrambling, running in and out of the room, phone call after phone call. Which is it? Bayless or Augustin?

As we all know, in the end, the real deal was Bayless.

So the question to me became, "Why float the Augustin rumor?"  After the dust settled, I saw two potential reasons.

First, the Blazers may have simply been playing along with a proposed trade scenario with Charlotte. This would be risky but perhaps it was worth it to ensure that Augustin was drafted at #9.   If the Bobcats believed they had a trade with the Blazers worked out, they would take Augustin leaving Bayless (the true target) on the board. This act, I reasoned, need only be kept up until the Blazers picked at #13, at which point Pritchard could choose between the Indiana trade and the Charlotte trade.

The second reason, I thought later, is that it provided some insurance for the Bayless deal, in case Indiana for some reason decided they wanted to keep Bayless (a top 5 talent) once he dropped in their laps at #11. Playing a Bobcats offer against the Pacers would ensure that the Pacers (who seemed high on Jarrett Jack and could use someone like Brandon Rush who would most likely be available at #13), would consummate the trade.

Thankfully, Sacramento didn't take Rush at #12. With Rush now available for the Blazers at #13, the Bayless trade was now completely ready to go through.  Within seconds, the Augustin trade was officially torpedoed and the Bayless trade, which sent him along with Ike Diogu to Portland for Rush, Jack and Josh McRoberts, was announced and, in short order, confirmed.

The press room collectively spun with confusion but instantaneous updates were made online and on the radio reflecting this new news. Meanwhile, the rest of the draft had already moved on.

The Aftermath

Taking a step back, it really is a work of art to see what Pritchard accomplished.

Not only did he get the man that he wanted (Bayless), he paid the smallest possible price for him (Jack and McRoberts to move up only two spots), rather than whatever it would have cost to move up four spots (Jack plus ?).   In my opinion, the best part seemed to be that he wasn't ever exposed. With the Bayless deal in hand and the potential for an Augustin deal, Mr. Pritchard was landing a top point guard either way.

This is not a normal man in our midst. This is next level.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from this experience, from the bunker and the frenzy, from the wheeling and dealing, was how entirely plausible the Augustin rumor was.  In a room full of incredibly intelligent, incredibly hard-working people who are literally obsessed with his organization, everyone, to a man, completely believed the Augustin rumor in that moment.

It was Augustin! We got Augustin! Hooray! 

It made perfect sense for our team and for the Bobcats. It explained everything. I bought it lock, stock and barrel.  And I wasn't alone.

Little did we know, this was simply an alternate, temporary universe created intentionally or unintentionally at the hand of Kevin Pritchard. 

Talk about a pritchslap.

The real trade made even more perfect sense. The real trade made Jerryd Bayless a Blazer.

And when it was announced, it was even sweeter. Like a 3 hour opera, a 70 move chess match or the all-night poker game in Rounders, the exhilarition of "winning" Bayless was immeasurably enhanced by the intricacy and duration of Pritchard's process. This was art. This was Pavoratti, Fischer, McDermott. 

I left the bunker around 9PM, shell-shocked. There had been no terrorist attack, and the sun was setting, and everything was right with the world.

We got Jerryd Bayless; I got Pritchslapped; I couldn't possibly be happier.

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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