The public face of private chaos is silence. Tight-lipped, dancing silence. Straightforward people have turned elusive. Good employees are being humiliated.
Walking into the Practice Facility today was painful, so many stories swirling and so many guards raised. Today's pre-draft prospects were forgotten pawns in a chess game that didn't concern them. Nowhere else in the league will they share camera time with a crucial executive attempting to explain his organization's search for his replacement, a curt and huffy head coach doing his best to remain tight-lipped as reports swirl about changes to his coaching staff, and an assistant coach barreling into the weight room after one question to avoid discussing his future. This is the public face of private chaos. It is tortuous.
NBA player agents be warned. If you'd like to throw your young, promising talent into shark-infested waters and teach them about the breaks of the game, the ugly side of professional sports, the way egos and power can clash and collapse, look no further than Childs Road in Tualatin. If you'd like to ease your player into a stable environment look elsewhere. Anywhere else but this organization at this time.
Where to begin?
Let's start at the top, or at the least the highest rung that will show its face publicly in front of microphones. General Manager Kevin Pritchard faced the music this morning and it wasn't a tune he much cared for. He began his statements by sticking to some tried-and-true lines -- we're examining all of our options, we've studied hard and the test is approaching, our culture will not change -- but the conversation devolved, and it devolved quickly. "We all know that they are looking for another GM," Pritchard admitted through a slight cough, catching media members off-guard with the directness of those words. "I'm a competitor. I've always been a competitor. I'm not afraid of that. The big thing for me is, 'may the best man win.'"
Wearing his University of Kansas championship ring on his left hand and doing his best to present a calm face, Pritchard continued, as if trying to convince himself as much as make his case to the media. "I've done it all my life, guys, this is not something unusual. I'm ok with it... Whether it's been in the minor leagues coaching, as a college player and a pro player, I've competed every single second of my life. And this is no different. I'm competing for a job and if it's going to be better for the organization, then they have to make that decision."
One decision the organization didn't make, Pritchard confirmed, was advising him that they would be conducting a search for a potential replacement. It comes as no surprise, but it seems to rule out the possibility that Pritchard and his bosses have had discussions regarding a pre-arranged agreement about his future, a possibility that has been floating for some time behind the scenes. Pritchard specifically admitted that he "did not" know about the search until the news became public through the media. Admitting this fact caused him to fluster and he attempted to change the subject. Blindsided.
"Guess what, here's the deal," Pritchard continued, essentially surrendering. "They can do whatever they want. And if it's best for the organization, so be it."
His final shot: "Life isn't fair, right?" In the end, noble. Noble and pitiable.
Unlike Pritchard, who seemed resigned to his fate and almost anxious to move on and be done with the ordeal, Nate McMillan has nowhere to run. So, today, he verbally hid. It's hard to blame him. He has everything to lose and nothing to gain by speaking to the media in this climate. His answers were blunt, direct and, when topics like his assistant coaches were raised, mostly evasive, although he did re-affirm an earlier statement to Jason Quick about Maurice Lucas's departure from the bench.
In a sick bit of twisted irony, Nate McMillan employed his best Rudy Fernandez cover excuse when discussing the two assistant coaches, Dean Demopolous and Joe Prunty, who reportedly will not return next season. "Coach Dean is under contract as well as Coach Prunty," McMillan stated, which is technically true for the next few weeks. Perhaps Marca can chime in with Real Madrid's reported interested in the duo.
Prunty was conspicuously absent from the Practice Facility; Demopolous did take part in the workouts. After they were completed, Demopolous briefly agreed to address reporters. The very first question, from Matt Smith of KPTV, caused Demopolous to flee double-time towards the Practice Facility's gym, which is off limits to the media. "I'm a Blazer, fellas, I'm a Blazer. I'm working these guys out. I'm enjoying myself. Peace!" Demopolous shouted over his shoulder as if leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident before the police arrived. You certainly can't blame him. On the contrary, he deserves applause for playing out the string like the professional he has always shown himself to be.
The Portland Trail Blazers organization right now resembles The Wire's West Baltimore right after Avon Barksdale gets locked up. Power is being re-distributed, responsibilities are being re-assigned, every relationship is changing. Shots are coming from around the league, from within the organization, from every direction. Meanwhile, Chad Buchanan and Mike Born ably stepped up to answer the few questions anyone had about today's workout participants, as open and honest as ever. And Nate McMillan lorded over the entire building like Stringer Bell, carefully calculating the cleanest and most efficient route to the future.
But he did so while saying nothing, lest the real kingpins, Paul Allen and his chums, find something to take offense to. It's high alert time here. Watch every word.
Just like in The Wire, the game always goes on, it must go on. For everyone involved on Childs Road, the next game, the next act, the next chapter can't come soon enough.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter