Regrouping

The chaos of yesterday has been followed by a massive outpouring of soul-searching inquiries today.  I was going to hold off on talking about some of these things but my mailbox probably won't stand the strain, so let's try to refocus and put these events into perspective.  I'm going to do this mailbag-style, based off of your questions and letters, but I'm going to distill the thousands of words into their simplest form.

What happened?!?

Kevin Pritchard got relieved of his duties.  A general manager got fired.  That's as obvious as paste but sometimes it's good to remember that an event is just an event no matter what swirls around it.  To some it's an interesting event, to some tragic...much like driving by a roadway accident.  But at the end of the day the Blazers decided to go a different direction with their management staff and that might be the only concrete truth we get out of this.

But why?!?

When something shocking like this happens we all want to find the smoking gun.  Often there isn't one.  Why do two people get divorced?  Sometimes there's a lurid affair or a deep secret but even those pinnacle causes have mundane roots.  In the vast majority of cases the answer is, "Because they didn't belong together."  The relationship used to be good.  You remember the honeymoon, the excitement, the shared struggles.  But in the end you look across the table at a person and understand that they're not what you need.  No single event caused it.  There might not even be a single factor to their personality or choices.  There's just something missing that the other person can't fill and the more you go on the more you realize you're starting to resent them for it instead of appreciating what they can bring.  In those cases it's better to find someone you can be together with and to let them do the same.  Most dismissals follow this pattern.  Somewhere, somehow there was something missing in the relationship between KP and the Blazers (or KP and Paul Allen) and neither side was getting what it needed.  We might or might not find out what those missing things were as time progresses.  It's unlikely that they'll resolve into a single issue or a decisive moment, especially given what we know about the long timeline of the decision-making process.

When will we find out exactly what happened?

I'm sure stories will come out over the next few weeks.  But again, when do you find out what happened in a couple's divorce?  You hear the explanation but it never fully resolves because things like that don't resolve neatly.  You're left with a choice:  you can explain it away by saying, "He was a jerk" or you can just say, "Things didn't work out and that's sad but I hope for the best for both."

Are Paul Allen or the Vulcans or Upper Management evil/stupid/incompetent?

That's unlikely as well.  Another temptation is to fix blame on a certain person.  The less we see/know of the person the easier it is to affix blame.  We don't see much of these guys so it's easy to tag the whole thing on them.  As I've said before, I think you can call Blazer management to task for the public perception of the firing.  The timing did not help.  (You can also look at KP's camp for the specific timing of the leak but the Blazers probably should have prepared for that as well.)  Everything that happened in the Penn and Pritchard dismissals was timed at moments which would overshadow other important events and thus guarantee extra scrutiny.  There's a reason why a draft-day dismissal of a GM was unprecedented and became the lead story on SportsCenter.  In that sense I believe they made mistakes.  But mistakes don't make you evil.

I think you also have to nod towards the fishbowl in which these events transpire.  Magnify anything enough and it's going to look abnormal even if it's commonplace.  Firings happen all of the time.  NBA GMs have been dismissed this very summer.  It's part of the business.  But this is what normal feels like when observed by hundreds of thousands under a microscope.  The organization helped bring that lens down and dial up the magnification.  They helped color it as an epic tragedy.  I assume that wasn't their game plan.  If anything they showed a lack of connection with their public relations reality.  But again that doesn't make them evil, just a little blind or unable/unwilling to connect.

I'll also say this:  the team didn't learn the critical lesson from the Tom Penn firing.  You may remember the maelstrom swirling then.  It grew and grew until Paul Allen, the man ostensibly with the final decision, came out and made a statement.  It wasn't grandiose. It didn't even clarify much.  He just said, "This is the decision we made and we felt we had good reason."  But that simple statement calmed the storm.  It has little to do with what he says and more to do with the perception that he's making these decisions so we want to hear from him.  Part of the issue with last night's press conference was that it seemed like everyone who spoke was left holding the bag.  Paul came in, Paul made the decision, Paul left, everybody else had to explain.  What are they going to say?  What can they say?  

I don't expect a full accounting from the owner.  That's not realistic and might not even be helpful.  But public perception would have been better if he had come out, given a couple sentences, and then he could have departed.  Let's take, for example, the Steve Patterson theory that KP and Penn were trying to get more power than the organization was comfortable with.  Had Allen simply said, "Kevin's goals and the direction we wanted our General Manager to focus towards were not the same and ultimately ended up incompatible" I think everybody would have breathed a sigh of relief.  Who can blame Pritchard for wanting to rise?  Who can blame the Blazers for liking the guys they have?  Everybody understands that.  It puts the situation in human context.  We latch on to that and even if we don't agree with the decision, at least we're grounded in something.  Right now the perception is that a Random Shadowy Figure descends from the north and makes decisions without caring how anybody perceives them and without bothering to explain, leaving everyone adrift.  In that environment even the best of people are going to feel fear, anxiety, confusion.  I know Paul Allen is a private person and shies away from the spotlight.  But if the buck stops with him then the explanation, however brief and simple, should also come from him. 

Can the Blazers survive without Kevin Pritchard?

Scrutiny on the next GM will be high.  But the next GM deserves a chance to show that the team can not only survive but prosper.  Pritchard opened windows and let fresh air into an organization that had grown dark, musty, and unhealthy.  The fan base and the organization itself should be grateful for the leadership and enthusiasm he brought.  He was the right man to make this team better.  Just because he's gone doesn't automatically mean the windows will be shut and the darkness return.  It's also possible that the team gets out of bed, walks out the door, and doesn't need the open windows anymore because it's out in open air where it belongs.  If the next GM blows it, though, there will be hell to pay on this account for sure.  I don't think Blazer fans will let them forget a reversal of direction like that.

Should we boycott the team to send a message?

I'm not sure what message it would send.  If such decisions were made by public opinion things wouldn't look like this in the first place.  Then again, I'm not sure they'd look better.  The ideal General Manager, the ideal owner, the ideal executives all have one thing in common:  they want to do what's best for the organization and focus on making the team better.  I'm not sure we've seen the ideal in the last few months but it should still be aspired to.  If Kevin Pritchard really identified himself as the GM of this team, really loved and breathed his job, from his first moment to his last the focus would have been on the team.  I don't know when we'll hear public comment from him but I hope in that spirit that those comments look something like, "I'm sad not to be with the Blazers anymore but I did my best for the organization, I love the fans and the players, I wish them all the best, and I hope to have healthy competition with them down the road wherever I end up."  Of course he'll have personal feelings at war with that but at the end of the day, at least in my world, you let the nobler side win and you still carry yourself like the GM you'd like to be even if someone else takes the official title away from you.  I'm explaining all of this because a boycott would be in empathy towards Pritchard.  In the best of all worlds, Pritchard himself wouldn't want that (even though part of him would no doubt gain satisfaction that people felt that way).  The general idea is "You root for your guys, I'll root for mine, let's play ball!"  That's what this is all about in the end.

This is part of what pains me about the way things went down yesterday, both from an ownership and KP perspective.  This became THE story on a day where four new guys became Blazers and the longest-tenure Blazer departed the franchise.  All of that was an afterthought.  It shouldn't have been that way.  It shouldn't have been Pritchard's Last Day, it should have been Babbitt's and Elliot's and Johnson's and Gomes' first day and a fond farewell to Martell Webster.  I'm fairly sure if everybody involved could have hit rewind and gone back three months, knowing what would happen they would have planned a different way than this.  In a way the boycott thing and all the anger keeps the worst facets of the day alive when everybody should be pointed towards the best.

How urgent is it to get a new GM before July 1?

 It's pretty important to have cohesive direction.  Ideally everyone would be on the same page and have a gameplan by then.  That's difficult without a GM.  Any new GM is also going to want to play with all of his pieces and not have decisions made for him before he gets here so some paralysis might be in order until a new guy is found.  That said, it's more important to get the right guy.  They cannot mess this up.

It appears the Blazers don't have the juice to pick up on some of the once-in-a-lifetime players who might be available this summer.  More minor moves afford you a little more luxury time-wise.  I suspect that any striking moves (beyond just a Rudy Fernandez trade) were going to have to wait until closer to the trading deadline anyway.  It's not like the Blazers have a ton of cap space to throw at players who will otherwise be scooped up.  Their trading chips are set and will remain stable through the summer, fall, spring, or whenever they decide to make a move.  The rest of the league will be in flux, of course, but who's to say the right trading opportunity will come early?  Besides, if a real sweetheart deal came even the staff in place should be able to pick it up.  Nobody's going to turn down Chris Paul for cap-saving reserves if that comes available.

What will be your memory of KP?

My fondest memory is of that newly-hired, enthusiastic cheerleader with confidence in his scouting ability and his staff.  I don't think anybody will forget the draft of 2006.  I personally remember listening to him on radio and podcasts and feeling warm and excited again about a team I had become wary of.  I'll always look at our Blazersedge "Cult of KP" t-shirts and remember that time fondly.  We were his first organization and in many ways he was the first GM we really fell in love with.  People loved Harry Glickman in retrospect but when he was active media coverage wasn't such that you'd know much about him. KP was out there, in our arms, for better or worse.  To me that's his legacy.  I absolutely appreciate everything he's done, including and especially the chance to feel great about this team and dream big dreams that he afforded.  I don't think anybody can deny that or take it away from him.  I wish him well wherever he ends up.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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