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Pritchard, LeGarie and What Happened

When Kevin Prichard was fired, everybody was asking, "What happened?" It was a legitimate question to ask, because we, as fans, didn’t know everything. Yet, maybe we did, we just were too emotionally involved to put the pieces together. So, based on memory, and reports, and a little Dwight Jaynes style conspiracy hypothesizing, I’ve tried to reconstruct the events that led to the firing of Kevin Pritchard. Let’s start with the information that we know. 

• On January 9th, 2009, the Portland Trailblazers sent out an email to the NBA concerning one Darius Miles. The Portland Business Journal stated,

"Miller made the decision to send the e-mail in tandem with owner Paul Allen, General Manager Kevin Pritchard and Tod Leiweke, CEO of Allen’s Vulcan Sports and Entertainment division."

Also was quoted Miller’s explanation,

"There were those who thought we didn’t take the right approach and those who did think we took the right approach"

• On May 18th, 2009, Tom Penn "refused" the GM job in Minnesota when Portland offered him a raise and a promotion.

• On May 22nd, 2009, Timberwolves Owner Glen Taylor denied that Penn was offered the job while introducing new GM David Kahn.

"Taylor said nobody else turned down the job. Later, under prodding from Jerry Zgoda, he was even more specific, leaving no doubt that, under his interpretation anyway, reports that Lindsey and Penn were offered the job and were otherwise preferential to Kahn were, in Taylor's words, "inaccurate" and "false."" 

• On February 10th, 2010, Nets assistant coach, and Warren LeGarie client, Del Harris resigns. Al Iannazzone, writer for New Jersey paper, The Record, digs up some interesting information.

"A published report Tuesday quoted Harris saying part of "the plan" when he agreed to assist interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe was that it would be temporary. At some point, Harris would become head coach and Vandeweghe would return to his general manager’s position, which was news to Thorn."

"The report said Vandeweghe and Warren LeGarie – the agent for both men – told Harris how this would play out. Harris was quoted saying, "Kiki and Warren were adamant I not say anything about the plan so as not to undermine it; that it was totally understood between us.""

"Harris issued a three-paragraph statement the night he resigned, but two paragraphs were removed by Vandeweghe and LeGarie, the report said."

• On March 18th, 2010, Tom Penn is fired. Brian T. Smith quotes LeGarie,

"In my many years of doing this, nothing was more baffling or befuddling than this action with Tom," said Warren LeGarie, agent for Penn and Pritchard. "This is one I can’t explain."

• On March 25th, 2010, rumors of Kevin Pritchard being next are flying like crazy. But Owner Paul Allen dismisses them.

""I support everyone who works for me, including Kevin Pritchard, and that's why he's our general manager," Allen's statement said."

The Associated Press also included this,

"There was further conjecture when agent Warren LeGarie, who represents Pritchard and Penn, made comments to several reporters suggesting Penn's firing was a message to Pritchard."

• On June 24th, 2010, Kevin Pritchard was fired. Larry Miller himself describes (via Ben.) how it went down.

"I get to the Practice Facility, I got there at 12:30 or 1 o'clock. [Blazers General Manager] Kevin [Pritchard] pulls me aside and said, 'Hey, [Blazers Owner] Paul [Allen] and I had a conversation and we kind of agreed that we're going to part ways. I want to still do the draft, we're going to get through the draft and then you and I can sit down tomorrow and figure out what the process is.'"

"Later, Paul pulls me aside and kind of says the same thing. Like, 'Hey, I got here. Kevin approached me, things seem to be where they are, things haven't been good, let's talk about how we're going to resolve this.' And I guess they sat down, the two of them had a conversation. Coming out of that conversation was an agreement. It looks like it's time to part ways. But Kevin wanted to continue to do the draft. Paul wanted Kevin to continue to do the draft. So they agreed that they would do the draft and on Friday he and I would sit down and figure out the next steps."

"So that's what I was told. That's what I was thinking. We're still waiting for the draft to start... so I walk outside to get some fresh air. I walk outside and I see one of the security guys out there and we're kind of shooting the breeze, talking about the nice weather, and he says, "I just heard on Courtside that Kevin Pritchard [got fired]..."

"And then I look at my phone and it starts to blow up."

• On July 9th, 2010, Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh denied rumors in the New York Post that he would retire, and Kevin Pritchard would take over as GM. The Associated Press said,

"The Post story said he "may possibly retire" within the week and listed recently fired Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard as the potential replacement. Pritchard has the same agent, Warren LeGarie, as Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. "To my knowledge I've never talked to Kevin Pritchard, never talked to Warren LeGarie about this," Walsh said."

• On July 10th, 2010, Dwight Jaynes starts putting some pieces together on Warren LeGarie, prompting me to look at the whole picture again. So thanks Dwight, even if I think you’re kinda curmudgeonly most of the time.

So What Happened?

What follows is speculation. I think it’s speculation based on the evidence presented. And I’m open to evidence that I may have overlooked. I have biases. I have a perspective. And anyone who thinks something like this can be done without them can go live in the vacuum of space.

The Email

This is the most speculative part of this piece. I don’t know what happened, but given what has happened since, this doesn’t feel like a stretch. But the email was universally seen in hindsight as a colossally bad idea. And since it had Larry Miller’s email address on it, he took all the blame. But we also know that some approved the idea and others did not. We’ll have no way to know for sure, but at the time I think it was generally assumed that Allen, Miller and Leiweke (the business/lawyer types) were for it, while Pritchard was against it, due to the public relation backlash it would cause.

But here’s the rub. What if LeGarie saw this as an opportunity for Penn and Pritchard to get raises (which would in turn get himself a raise). Darius Miles was on the verge of ruining 9 million dollars in cap space, and the Blazers were scared. What better time to set something up? LeGarie would have had nothing to lose.

What if (a big what if to be sure), but what if the email was not Allen’s idea, nor Leiweke’s idea, nor Miller’s idea, but Kevin Pritchard’s idea, via his close friend, Warren? Being an agent, LeGarie would know the legal end far better than Pritchard. And being an agent, LeGarie could make it sound like a great idea. And Pritchard was naïve enough to believe it was in the team’s best interest.

When it was brought up, not everyone agreed it would be a good idea. I’m guessing that as a person who was in charge of bringing the Air Jordan image to the public would have a PR conniption over such a thing. An email like that, if it were to go public, would be a nightmare. But Allen, interested in what the cap-space could bring in, and Leiweke, interested in the bottom line, agreed with the proposal. But since such an email would be fitting from the president’s office, and Miller bought into the "working as a team" motto, then he agreed to be the one to send the email.

And of course the email went public. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the recipients knew it was coming. Opinion of Miller plummeted, and Legarie’s plan to put his client in Miller’s position was off to a great start.

Tom Penn's Promotion

Four months later, another opportunity presented itself. Minnesota was looking for a new GM, and had expressed passing interest in LeGarie’s client, Tom Penn. LeGarie knew that Penn didn’t have a good chance at the job, but that didn’t mean that an opportunity wasn’t available.

LeGarie advised Penn to lie. Tell Allen that he had been offered the job, but would rather stay with the Blazers. And LeGarie did his part, leaking to the media that the job was Penn’s to turn down. So now it appeared that two independent sources were verifying the job offer. It was now Allen’s move. Could he keep Penn? Keep a valuable employee? After all, how could Allen compete with a GM position? Perhaps with Miller’s position, sans Miller. Penn had already proven his worth to the Blazers. Miller was already reeling in public opinion. It would only make sense.

Except it didn’t work out quite as well as that. Penn got a promotion, and a raise. A nice consolation prize. And Allen thought that he kept a valuable employee. Seems to be win-win for everyone involved. Except that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor came out and denied that Penn was ever offered the job. This raised some glaring questions.

It wouldn’t take Miller long to figure out that someone was after his job. It wouldn’t take Allen long to find out he had been hornswoggled. But there wasn’t much that they could do at this point. It seemed a little too unbelievable to be true.

Del Harris Screws Up the Plan

That is until February 10th, when Del Harris resigned from the assistant coaching job with the Nets. There was a LeGarie plan that fell apart because one of his clients got impatient. Harris spilled the beans on the plan, and Vandeweghe and LeGarie tried to cover up as much of it as possible, taking two paragraphs out of Harris’ resignation letter before sending it to higher-ups.

Miller and Allen would both notice the similarities in the story once the details came out of Harris’ loose lips. LeGarie was Penn’s agent, and Penn’s plan looked very similar. And one month later, Penn was fired. LeGarie’s name was no longer welcome at One Center Court, for good reason. LeGarie was trying to make a power play for control of the Blazers. He had Penn’s ear, and was trying to make Penn president by undermining the Blazer organization. There was little to decide, Anyone associated with LeGarie was trouble waiting to happen.

Kevin Pritchard's Last Stand

Even if that anyone included wonder-GM Kevin Pritchard. There must have been suspicion. Penn and Pritchard were close. Pritchard’s proposal of the Miles Email set Miller up to fail. Pritchard followed LeGarie’s tactics (as described by Chad Ford, via Ben.). "There has to be a certain level of trust. For both of us, if they are going to lie, it's a problem, right?  Because I can't trust them. I had several individuals, I'm not going to name them on the podcast, who just flat out said,

"You've got to trust me. I've never lied to you before. Chad, I'm not trying to steer you astray." And then flat out bald faced told me a lie."

LeGarie’s move destroyed the trust management had in Kevin Pritchard. They didn’t know if they could trust him to do what was in the best interests of the Blazers. But the Blazers didn’t necessarily want to fire a very talented general manager. So, those in the organization who had LeGarie as an agent were asked to replace him. A request that made it’s way back to LeGarie. And he figured if the Blazers wanted to play hardball, so could he. His highest profile client, Kevin Pritchard became a pawn in the match between the Blazers and LeGarie.

It was LeGarie that let people know that the Blazers were trying to send a message to Pritchard with the firing. It was LeGarie who fueled the rumors of management ready to fire Pritchard at any moment. It was LeGarie who orchestrated the media circus to paint Allen and Miller as villains. And we bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Who knows how much of what we read was lies. Who knows how much of what we read was LeGarie trying to destroy public trust in the Blazers. And being a reputable source, LeGarie’s words were published by every major news outlet. The media was had. The public was had. We were had. And yet, if we would have just looked, we could have seen that it’s LeGarie’s modus operandi.

But we weren’t the only ones. Kevin Pritchard bought it too. LeGarie and Pritchard figured that the best way out of the situation was not to fire LeGarie, but to look every bit the Goldenboy image that they had built up for Kevin. Because if Kevin Pritchard was not going to fire LeGarie, the two options left were to scuttle the organization, or run it flawlessly in the hopes to land a better job. And LeGarie doesn’t get paid to do the former.

So Kevin does his job to the best of his abilities, knowing the whole time that he wouldn’t be with the organization. It was the Blazers who were waiting to decide. Kevin had made his decision. Because if even one of his moves turns out bad, it makes finding a job much more difficult.

So why not manufacture a move? A move that almost happens. A big move. A move that was sold as "The move that would have saved Kevin Pritchard’s job." And nothing gets Portlanders talking like a move for Chris Paul. Pritchard leaks to Quick that they’re trying to make a move for an All-Star. LeGarie leaks that Pritchard’s job is on the line over the move (even though they have already decided to leave). And LeGarie, a few days later, leaks that Portland was very close to trading for Chris Paul, only to have ownership balk at the last second.

What a bold move! Portland gets excited about Pritchard. The calls to keep him mount exponentially. Bower gets in trouble with Shinn, ultimately losing his job. And a destination is eventually opened. But Bower doesn’t get fired right away. And we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Draft Day

Draft day arrives. The deadline for Pritchard to let Allen know if he’s going to dump LeGarie and stay, or keep LeGarie and leave. But this day has been planned long in advance. Kevin Pritchard says he’s keeping LeGarie, and will leave after the draft is done, as agreed. Allen is disappointed, but has already given the ultimatum. Only LeGarie leaks the news an hour before the draft, leaving Portland looking like the biggest jerks ever. "Pritchard Fired but Still Working the Draft." How much better can Pritchard possibly look coming out of this?

Later, Dean Demopolis and Joe Prunty, both LeGarie clients, are asked to leave. Which makes jittery fans panic even more. Allen and Miller look like complete jerks to everyone. But here’s the thing about Allen. He doesn’t really care about his public image. Whether people are praising him or villifying him doesn’t seem to matter. Because the Blazers are his team. Not Portland’s team, but his. Portland is just there to help pay the bills. He’ll do what he thinks will help his team win. And public opinion can be damned.

The image restructuring that blossomed under Pritchard was sold, not as a way to improve the public image, but as a way to win more basketball games. A team player is going to win more games than a me-first player. That’s all there was to it. That it made Portland happy was simply a nice side effect.

Paul Allen's Toy

The Blazers are Paul Allen’s toy. And us fans are just hangers-on. Rooting for this team that follows where it’s owner goes. Canzano completely missed the point. The fans have no power. The fans really have nothing, except the gift of professional basketball in their town. But because it’s a team we love, we can excuse the owner for being rich, for treating it like his toy, because he wants that toy to be the best, just like we do.

But because it’s his toy, because he doesn’t care what you think, he can fire Kevin Pritchard. If he was beholden to the fans and their opinion, KP would still be here. And if he were still here, decisions might possibly get made that were not in the Blazers’ best interests. At least Warren LeGarie’s history shows us that this is likely true.

If Allen were worried about public opinion, then you would have to say LeGarie won the battle between the two. But while LeGarie is dropping bombs on dummy towns, Allen fought back by trying to get the best people in position to try and make the Blazers the best team in the NBA.

What Happens Now?

And now, LeGarie has to find a new home for his clients. Donnie Walsh just denied reports that he was retiring and reports that Kevin Pritchard was going to replace him. I wonder who leaked a story like that? And just today, the story of Tom Penn being a frontrunner for the Phoenix GM job? I wonder in Robert Sarver knows this yet.

As for me, all this has only deepened my distrust of early media reports. "Sources" are no longer good enough sources, because "Sources" lie a lot. And it gets published as news. And we Blazer fans consume it with abandon.

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