On Wednesday afternoon, Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller took questions from Blazersedge in a one-on-one interview at the team's Rose Quarter offices for more than an hour.
Sitting in an expansive conference room that featured a large square table, two rack of basketballs, a flat screen television and roughly a dozen chairs, Miller provided the longest and most substantial on-the-record statements that he has ever made to this site. Miller had just returned from spending All-Star Weekend in Orlando and was the calmest that he's even been in a one-on-one conversation.
He was so calm, in fact, that the room's motion sensor activated lights turned off three times during the hour. After twice getting up to make the necessary motion to activate the lights, Miller simply decided to leave them off the third time, and we sat in near darkness for almost 10 minutes. That might sound creepy but it was actually endearing, given how reticent he has been in the past and how liberally he has requested to keep previous comments and conversations "off the record."
Miller recently gave a number of statements to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian in a piece that was published here. Give it a read (if you haven't already). That piece was referenced a few times during the conversation. In particular, Miller clarified some of his quotes in that piece regarding the organization's financial picture.
Look, there is no good way to present an 8,000 word (!) transcript of an hour-long conversation. So I've published the entire thing below the fold, word for word. Some parts get a little ramble-y and some points get made multiple times and one (or two, or three) vignettes have been published or reported previously. It felt best to run the full thing in one shot for the sake of clarity, context and comprehensiveness.
With that said, this thing is a monster. So here's a bullet-point digest version of his comments and key quotes. The full transcript is below the fold.
Blazers President Larry Miller Interview: Digest Version
- Brandon Roy's comeback talk caught Miller by "surprise" but he understands how Roy "can get the itch."
- Miller said there were no factors other than Roy's health and desire to retire that led to the decision to amnesty him. The immediate cap benefits involved in the amnesty process, specifically recovering a full mid-level exception and avoiding the luxury tax, made the Blazers go that route opposed to other options, he said.
- Miller has not had much, if any, contact with Roy since the amnesty decision but has extended an open invite for Roy to make a Rose Garden return and/or work for the organization. He is not aware of any hard feelings on Roy's end. Miller admitted a Rose Garden return would be "a little awkward" if Roy is serious about a return.
- Miller said he knew going into the most recent round of surgeries that microfracture was a possibility for Greg Oden. He feels "really bad" for Oden and seemed to indicate that Oden would be on the roster for the rest of the season, although he said "anything is possible" when it comes to trading him prior to the deadline. He said we'll have to "wait and see" whether Oden will ever play again.
- Miller would not commit to any particular interest in Oden in the future. He asserted that public pressure regarding Oden's importance to the team did not play a role in the decision to release Armon Johnson instead of Oden.
- Miller discussed a new billboard honoring LaMarcus Aldridge adjacent to the Rose Garden and explained that now is a good time to "elevate him" from a marketing standpoint, with Oden and Roy not contributing any more.
- Miller said Aldridge's lack of real playing time in the All-Star Game "bothered me a bit" and that Aldridge should have played more.
- Miller officially dubbed Aldridge "untouchable." Miller said he doesn't feel added pressure to build a winning team around Aldridge given his starpower and the actions of previous stars (LeBron James, Chris Bosh, etc.) in recent years but says that managing the star/organization relationship is a high priority.
- Miller said he wants the Blazers to be an attractive destination for all free agents and that Portland, if armed with appropriate cap space, will inquire about all available free agents, including A-listers. He would not confirm whether he's contacted New Jersey or Orlando about potential trades.
- Miller said the team will explore all avenues to improving the team prior to the deadline and that the All-Star break served as a good place to discuss potential trade options.
- Miller maintained adamantly that the Blazers are not rebuilding and that they have a plan, although he didn't want to reveal details, noting that plans can "shift from day to day." He listed Aldridge and Nicolas Batum as building blocks and Wesley Matthews as another potential long-term piece. He said the rest of the roster was looking to build around those pieces.
- To fans wanting more details or specifics on the team's plan, Miller said that they simply need to trust in the organization's desire to win.
- Miller defended the decision to trade Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez and parts for Raymond Felton, but said that Felton has "clearly" not lived up to expectations.
- Miller said that Felton told him that he is used to having two months (September and October) to get ready for an NBA season. Miller said that the lockout schedule isn't an "excuse" but it is a "factor" and that it affects some players more than others.
- Miller said that both he and Fernandez' agent were surprised that fans booed Fernandez upon his Rose Garden return.
- Miller said that Acting GM Chad Buchanan stepped in to talk with Felton about his public back-and-forth with coach Nate McMillan. Miller said that he believes McMillan still has faith in Felton.
- Miller said Buchanan could be a candidate to become a full-time GM but a hire will not be made until the end of the regular season, at the earliest. Miller said he's looking for a candidate with winning experience and the ability to communicate with players, coaching staff and ownership. He did not agree that ruling out promoting Buchanan to the job full-time last summer was a mistake and said that it was a move to take pressure off of him at the time.
- Miller said he is very happy in his current position and has no particular timeline for how long he'll serve as president. He credited his prior experience in working with powerful people, his ability to determine what issues are important for owner Paul Allen to be aware of, and his ability to communicate in a way that avoids surprises as his keys for maintaining a good relationship with Allen.
- Miller laid out his day-to-day job which includes direct involvement in basketball operations decisions, sponsorship management, representing the team at league meetings, and making sure Allen is getting the information he needs.
- Miller said he expects the team's sellout streak to continue through the rest of the regular season but that he's not taking it for granted.
- Miller clarified that the Blazers are not "close" to breaking even financially. Instead, they are "still a good ways from breaking even" with a financial situation that is "improving." He admitted Roy's contract -- combined with the cost of a roster -- will make breaking even difficult for the next few years.
- Miller said going into the luxury tax is "absolutely" something the team will try to avoid in the future and that he believes it's virtually impossible for a small-market team to turn a profit while paying the luxury tax.
- Miller said that people shouldn't read too much into the fact that Allen hasn't attended a lot of games in person this season because he was in India on vacation for a month.
- Miller said he isn't looking ahead to any particular professional or personal goals and instead is working hard at what he's doing currently with the expectation that things will fall into place if something is meant to be.
- Miller said that the media provided some "misinformation" during the end of the Kevin Pritchard Era and that he was upset about attacks made on his integrity. In particular, he said he did not like that people thought he was lying or misleading fans and media. He said that he tries to provide as much information as possible, whenever possible, but that he's occasionally in a position where he simply can't talk about things.
- Miller said he still doesn't enjoy the public aspect of his job but he realizes that's part of what he signed up for.
- Miller said one of his "regrets" was Rich Cho's brief tenure in Portland, as he respects Cho but said the situation was untenable. He said that "rapport" between Allen and Cho was lacking and that the rapport between owner and GM is the most important relationship in the Blazers organization, even more important than the rapport between Allen and Miller, because of Allen's love for basketball and basketball operations.
- Miller said that he hopes and expects the Blazers to be a playoff team this season. He pointed to the team's wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder as evidence they can play with anyone in the West.
- Miller singled out the Thunder for a little smack talk, saying that OKC would be a "little nervous" if the two teams faced off in the playoffs.
- In a comment that may or may not get him fined by the NBA, Miller said this about the goaltending call on LaMarcus Aldridge of a last-minute Kevin Durant shot by NBA referee Scott Foster during a February game at the Rose Garden: "We beat Oklahoma City twice, really, even though the second time we got robbed of the game by the refs. But we beat Oklahoma City in their building and technically, from my perspective, I look at that as a win here."
I strongly encourage you to click through and read the whole thing. I'll post some more thoughts on this interview on Thursday.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter
Here's the full transcript. Questions are in bold. Answers are in blockquote.
You're back from Orlando. You looked like you were having a good time when I saw you.
I kind of view All-Star Weekend like an NBA convention. It's like all the NBA people are there, all the agents are there, all the GMs are there. All the marketing people, I enjoy it too. It's just an opportunity to see everybody at one time and talk about deals and all kinds of stuff. It's cool. The weather was great.
Did Brandon Roy's comeback comments surprise you given that it's only been a few months?
It did surprise me a bit. From everything I was told in talking to Brandon was that he had decided that he was done playing. So it was kind of surprising. I understand how a player like Brandon can get the itch. He's watching the All-Star Game. He's thinking about having been there. I think he was watching it at Jamal's house and he was with some current players. I can understand how that environment and situation would make him think about that. But it was a surprise.
The USBasket.com report made a reference to something besides Brandon's health being a factor in the use of the Amnesty Clause and his retirement. Were there other factors in your opinion?
It was his health. That was the only factor for us. Amnesty allowed us to have some additional cap space to be able to ues a full mid-level to go out and sign Jamal. But that was the only reason we used the amnesty. From our perspective he was retiring for health reasons. The amnesty was just a way to be able to get that additional cap space to go out and sign a free agent.
What's your correspondence with Brandon been like since the decision to amnesty him?
I haven't talked to Brandon in awhile. The last correspondence I had with him was when he was saying he was planning to go back to school and was basically done playing. That's the last direct conversation I had with him.
Are there hard feelings on Brandon's side towards you or or the organization?
Not that I'm aware of at all. I had a really good conversation with him and I know Paul had a good conversation with him as well. I'm not aware of any hard feelings.
The Columbian wrote about this recently: When is he going to come back for that moment at the Rose Garden?
We've been talking about it. When I talked to Brandon last, I talked to him about it. We're trying to work it out and figure out the best timing. With him thinking about coming back now, it would be a little bit awkward but if he's still not playing, if he's still planning to stay retired then we definitely want to do something for him.
It's an open invitation then?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The last conversation I had with Brandon I said, 'Hey, if you want to come work for the organzaztion we'll figure something out.' We'll figure out a way if you want to stay involved with the organization and do whatever. Whether it's broadcasting, working something in basketball, whatever. We would figure out a way to make it happen.
What was your initial reaction to Greg Oden's knee surgery going from the arthroscopic surgery to the microfracture surgery?
We knew it was a possibility. We didn't know for sure. We knew it was a possibility based on what the doctors had seen before and what they were communicating to us. We were hoping it was't going to be the case but we knew it was a possibility. It wasn't a total surprise but it was something that we were hoping wouldn't be the case.
For me, I just really feel bad for Greg. I know how hard he's worked, how much he's wanted to play, how much pressure he's felt to make a contribution here. For him to continue to have these injury issues that are totally out of his control, I really feel bad for him more than anything else.
You take a look at the nitty-gritty details, the right knee, the left knee, the blood clots and you start to think that there's really no way he can come back, don't you?
Well, there's no way he'll be back this year, that's for sure. I know Greg is going to give it the best effort that he can. I know he's going to work hard. If he can [come back], I'm sure he will. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. It's really a shame that something like this would happen to anybody, but especially a kid like Greg.
Chad put it that you guys are going to be one of thirty teams looking at him this summer. There's been a lot of loyalty on your side extended to Greg, have we reached the point where maybe this is it?
I think Chad was right on. We'll evaluate it at the end of the season. We'll look and evaluate where things are, where his health is and we'll be just like every other team that's taking a look at him. I do agree with you that we've been loyal to Greg, we've supported Greg, we've done whatever we could to try to help him get through these various situations he's had to deal with. We'll continue to do that through this season and we'll see what happens.
At the same time, he could be gone by the trade deadline though right?
Everything is possible. We're looking at all options from a trade perspective to try to make the team better if we can. That is a possibility. I can't say it absolutely isn't.
When you look at the decision of whether to release Armon Johnson or Greg Oden, did you feel a public pressure with respect to Greg? The day he leaves the organization, whether that was last week or by the deadline, or next summer or whenever, that's going to be a huge, sensitive national story. People are going to freak out. That's the lead story everywhere. Does that weigh in your decision-making with the Armon or with trades?
No, it didn't weigh into it. We just thought that was the best situation for the organization. To waive Armon. Hopefully Armon gets picked up by another team. And then kind of see what happens with Greg's situation. See how that plays out the remainder of the season or between now and the trade deadline.
You put up a new billboard recognizing LaMarcus Aldridge as "Portland's All-Star." The previous billboard was more team-oriented. Was this a purposeful branding shift or what went into the decision?
It's been a little bit of a shift in that before we were really kind of marketing Greg, Brandon and LaMarcus. It was a team focus but it was highlighting those guys. Greg is now gone, for all intents and purposes, Brandon is gone. Wiht L.A. making the All-Star team we felt like this was a good time to elevate him. Show our appreciation to him for the fact that he has worked and developed into the player that he has. Hopefully the fans here feel the same way about him. It was a bit of a shift in that it was about elevating him at this point and recognizing what he's done.
Making the All-Star team, should have made it last year. I was at the All-Star Game last year and every player I saw down there, all the All-Stars were coming up saying, 'Hey, it's a shame, L.A. should be here, L.A. should be here.' For him to come back and work the way he did this year and make the team, we just thought it was worth recognizing.
Did his lack of playing time in this year's All-Star Game bother you?
It did. It bothered me a bit. I just thought that he should have gotten the opportunity to play more. It was his first time and hopefully it was the first of many. He'll get an opportunity to play in more games and have more minutes going forward.
What's the situation off the court that you point to as a moment where Aldridge showed he could be a No. 1 guy?
There have been some things. He clearly has been, on the court, the leader of this team. But there also have been some things off the court that have allowed him to express leadership. He's a guy who has called meetings for the other players. Gotten the players together. Last year, when Andre Miller took that hard shot at Blake Griffin, he got suspended and that broke his string. L.A. called up here to the office and said that we need to do something to recognize Andre, what he did and the fact that he took that shot for the team and it cost him his streak. So we did. We took the whole office out to the practice facility, we made up a little plaque, gave it to Andre and recognized him at the end of a practice. It was L.A. who thought about doing that. That a sign of the leadership of the team. Him looking at something that was going to be beneficial to one of his teammates and saying we need to do this to recognize Andre. He definitely has shown much more leadership on and off the court.
This year, at one point he called a players only meeting. We need to get everybody together and figure out what's going on and what we need to do to play better.
From what you're saying it sounds like it's time to officially give him the "untouchable" label.
I would say that I can't see us trading L.A. I just can't see that happening.
He's a top-5 scorer. He's developing into a perennial All-Star type player. He's in his second contract with three more years on it after this one. Players in that situation around the league in that type of situation have made it clear they want to "win now" or they will explore their options when their contract is up. Do you feel an added pressure to surround him with talent immediately given some of that recent history, whether it's LeBron James or Chris Bosh or Dwight Howard or Deron Williams?
We always feel pressure to try to win. With a player like L.A., who is one of the top players in the league. We have an opportunity now with a player like that to try to put the right players in place to try to win. We definitely always feel that pressure. We're always looking for that. From an organizational perspective we want to take advantage of the fact that we've got one of the top players in the NBA and, based on that, how do we surround him and put a team together to win. We're always looking at that. I wouldn't say it's additional pressure but the pressure is always there to win.
With hindsight, people have said Cleveland did too much for LeBron. Toronto didn't do enough for Bosh. How active is that relationship management between organization and star player? How often do you think about that when you're in meetings or where is it on the priority list?
It's important, especially for a small-market team. We have to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make a player like L.A. -- all of our players -- but a player like L.A. especially feel good about being here. It is something that we talk about all the time. It is something that we discuss quite a bit. To me, it's not just L.A. It's all of our players but it's also asking how do we make free agents want to come here versus going to a major market?
If you look at the situation with Joel, Joel had an opportunity to go to Miami and Chicago and he chose to come here. A big part of that is familiarity with his family and all but a big part of that is how he feels about this organization. If he felt bad about this organization, in spite of all the other things, he would not have decided to come back here. Because of how he feels about this organization and how he was treated, he made the decision to come back here. That's our goal. To be in a situation like L.A. who is here in his prime or other free agents, we can compete with the major markets and win. Win in some cases and get those players to come here because of how they feel about this organization and how they feel this organization treats its players.
If that's the goal, does that mean when summer hits you will be pursuing everyone, including the A-list guys like Howard or Williams?
Absolutely we would compete. If we're in a situation where we have the cap space and those guys are available, we're going to look into whether we can compete for those guys. It's tough in the small market but I think we should feel like we can compete with any market to bring players here. That's just the way we should be approaching it. Not like, 'We have no shot at this guy.' Whether we do or we don't, we should feel like we do. And we should approach things as if we do and we should try to create an enviroment here that players feel good about coming here.
Jamal Crawford is another one who had other options and chose to come here.
Has that approach included contacting Orlando or New Jersey about possible trades?
I'm not going to talk about who we've contacted. We've been in touch with a lot of teams, talked to a lot of teams about a lot of different players. From our perspective, we feel like we should be able to compete with any teams out there for top-notch players.
I saw your comments to The Oregonian about the state of the franchise at this point. The comments were kind of vague. When someone asked you what is the plan for this roster, what do you say? Do you have a 3-year, 5-year plan?
We do have a plan. We have a plan. We have optional plans, here's plan A, if plan A doesn't work or something changes, here's plan B and plan C. We have plans in terms of where we want to take this organization. A lot of times those plans are -- to make a trade, it takes two teams. To sign a free agent, there's a lot of things that are involved in it. To re-sign your own guys, there are things that are involved in it. We have a plan about how we want to make this team better. Our goal continues to be to try to win a championship here. That continues to be the goal. We're constantly looking at how we can do that.
We've got a plan we are working towards but that plan shifts from day to day. A player becomes available that we didn't know was going to be available. Does he fit into our plan? Let's go out and try to sign him. If people look at -- we had a great plan that consisted of Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge as our three key guys that we would build around. Two of those three guys are no longer playing. We've had to do some shifting, some changes on the fly. I think this organization has done a good job of doing that.
I was in New York for the voting on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was a Thursday. Come back to my hotel room, Chad calls me and asks if I'm sitting down. He starts to run it off. He started with L.A. taking a physical and had some concerns. That might work out. Greg had another knee issue, it looks like he's not going to be able to play or at least not when we thought. And then Brandon is retiring. That was an incredible day for a team to get hit with that kind of situation in a single day. I think we recovered from that very well. With Greg's situation, we looked at it and said we had committed to qualifying offer. If we know now he's probably not going to play this season, it makes sense for us to try to get out of that offer and we did. I reached out to Bill Duffy. We had a conversation, talked about it. We said, look, 'Don't feel like this is the right thing for us right now, let's figure something else out' and we were able to save a significant amount of money by redoing that deal. That brought us down.
And then the same thing with Brandon. We looked at it and now we know he's going to retire or he's not going to play, what's the best situation? The best situation was to amnesty him, get under the tax and be able to sign a full mid-level deal. A week later we've added Craig Smith and Jamal Crawford and we haven't made up for everything we lost in terms of Brandon and Greg but we've put the organization and team in a pretty good place. That was the team that was running basketball, Chad and his group and myself really kind of sitting down and trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation. I think we did that.
I understand that folks are saying that, 'You don't have a GM there,' but I think we do have a team that has been able to make some good decisions as far as this team is concerned. I still think signing Raymond Felton was the right decision at the time. Raymond hasn't played the way his record and his history of playing shows. But if you looked at it at the time, it was the right decision to make.
Even given the terms? Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, a first round pick and Petteri Koponen's rights -- a King's haul going out for one player.
We were going to lose Andre anyway, one way or the other. He was at the end of his deal.
Rudy had a good run here but it seemed like it had kind of soured a bit. Even the fans. When Rudy came back here, I was surprised -- his agent came up and said, 'Why are they booing Rudy here?' Even the fans had soured a bit on Rudy. I think he's a good player and he's helping Denver.
It just looked like Raymond, to us, was a player who could be a part of this team going forward. He could be a future piece of this team. Based on his history and the track record. He clearly hasn't lived up to that this year. Hopefully the second half of the season we'll get to see the Raymond that we traded for. But I think at the end of the day that was a good move.
Raymond Felton taking his comments about Nate publicly didn't seem like the "Blazer way" to do things. How did you react when you saw those comments? Was that a point of discussion where you or Chad stepped in?
Chad stepped in. Nate talked directly to Raymond. I think they worked it out. I think what he was saying really was that he felt Nate was disappointed in him and had lost confidence in him. I don't necessarily think Nate has lost confidence in him. I think Nate is trying to figure out how to get Raymond out of whatever it is that's causing him not to play the way we know he can play. I didn't talk to him directly about that, I did have some conversations with him later but I know Chad and Nate both talked to him.
Going back to the plan thing. You laid out how reactive you were in December. I think you have gotten a lot of credit for those moves. I think what people want to know now is what you can tell us about Plan A? Given that you're going to have months until the draft.
Well, to say that we're going to go after this guy, this guy, this guy, we can't do that.
Yeah, but more theory though. Who are the building block pieces? Or what's the direction?
LaMarcus is untouchable. I think Nic is a building block piece for this team. I think Wesley can help this team going forward. He's somebody that's under contract for us. We're looking at the pieces around those guys. Right now, we've got some good pieces. Gerald brought some great energy to this team when he came here last year. Hopefully Gerald can get back to where he was playing last year.
I think a lot of it has to do with the schedule. I'm not going to use that as an excuse because everybody is playing the same schedule. Everyone is playing the same crazy back-to-back-backs and all that kind of stuff. I do think it has affected some players more than others. I think some players have been affected by it, not getting the rest, not having training camp has affected some players. I had a conversation with Raymond about this and he said, generally guys come in during September and they play pick-up and get to know each other, get to play together for the month of September and then training camp starts and you have the whole month of October. You have two months where you're getting into shape and learning the team, learning the other players, having the opportunity to learn the coaching staff and what they're looking for. We didn't have that this season. Not an excuse, but it is a factor. And it's a factor that has affected some players more than others. I'm hoping that the second half we'll see the team that we really thought we had coming into the season. I'm hoping that we'll see that.
To say, here's our plan and these are the things we're going to do, I think that puts us at a disadvantage. To let the other teams know what our plans are, to let other teams know what we are going to do, in specifics and detail, it puts you at a disadvantage. Definitely L.A., Nic, they're building blocks, Wesley, somebody we think can be a part of this team going forward. We'll have to see how the rest of the pieces fit. I feel good about the guys that we have if we can get them to play at the level that they've played in the past and that we know they can play at.
You can understand why that would be frustrating to fans? There's no tagline here -- no "Rise With Us" or "We're Reloading, Not Rebuilding" or whatever. If there was something like that you would put on this current situation, what would it be? Or would you just say that this requires patience?
Fans just have to believe that we want to win. That's our goal. That's Paul Allen's goal, that's our goal. We are going to continue to do what we think is going to help us win. We don't make 100 percent of the right decisions. We never do. I think we make more good decisions than bad decisions. If we can be 50/50 we're good, if we can be 70/30 we're great. No team makes 100 percent the right decisions. You make what you make are the best decisions. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't. For us, they've worked out more times than they haven't. We're going to continue to do what we can to win here. That's our goal.
We're not in a rebuilding phase because to me rebuilding means you're going backwards. That's not our goal. Our goal is not to go backwards. Our goal is to get into the playoffs, win in the playoffs, that continues to be our goal. We're going to continue to look at putting a team together that allows us to do that.
You talked about not always making the right decisions. Do you look back at the decision to rule out Chad Buchanan as the full-time GM during the search process last summer as a mistake? If you could do it over, would you just have said nothing now that you've told The Oregonian that he could potentially be a candidate again?
That was more to take some pressure off of Chad. When we decided to look at other people for that role and decided that, at this point, we're not going to move Chad into that job, we're going to take some time and try to find the right person for that role. That's what we did. After going through that, with the lockout looming and all that, we got to a point where we said that we haven't found the right person who we think is incremental to the team that we have here.
To go out and bring in somebody that has the same skillset that we already have just didn't seem to make a lot of sense. The decision was, let's take our time and find somebody that brings some incremental skills, skills that can take us to the next level. In the time we had until the season started, we weren't able to do that. We just suspended the search and felt good about going into the season with Chad and the team out there. Now we'll see where we are at the end of the season. At the end of the season we'll evaluate it and see if at that point, do we still need to go out and find somebody? Or is Chad the guy who can be comfortable moving into that role? We want to make sure that we don't go through the same thing we've gone through. I don't want to go through this again. I don't want to go through the search again. I don't want to go through the media stuff again. I want us to find somebody that's going to be here and build some consistency with that role.
No new GM full-time until the end of the season?
Not until at least the end of the season. Not during the season.
Previously interviewed candidates are not under consideration?
They are not.
What are the incremental skills that you are looking for? Can you assess how Chad has done on developing some of those?
One of the things we're hoping to find is someone who has been in a winning situation. Whether it's an assistant GM or a GM, someone who has been in a situation that has won. That's a big key for us. I think we believe that we could be doing different or better that somebody who has been in a winning environment could bring to our organization. If we find the right person and they haven't been in that winning situation then we still would look at that. That could be as a winning situation as a player or as a GM or as a coach or whatever. That is a key for us.
We've got good talent evaluators in Chad and the team out there. We've got good managers. The other thing that is critical that we're looking for is someone that can develop good rapport with our players, with our coach and with our ownership. Those are important factors, being able to say the things that need to be said. Whether it's telling a player what they need to hear, or telling the coach what he needs to hear or telling the owner what he needs to hear. Having somone that has the ability to do that is an important factor.
I'm not saying Chad doesn't have the ability to do that but that is one of the factors we're looking at.
You've got Chad, Mike Born, and the assistant GMs signed through when?
At least another year, I'm pretty sure.
Last time we talked at length you said you were very happy with your job. Is that still the case and do you see any timeline with your future with the organization?
It hasn't changed. I enjoy this job. We've created and have a really good situation here. Just to be a part of and see how the fans have reacted to what we've been able to do here has been great. I'm happy. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I plan to be here, I plan to be here into the future until the time I'm not here any more. I'm happy with this situation. Having the opportunity to work with Nate and Chad and the team here and Mr. Allen has been great.
Being involved in the labor negotiations this summer was an incredible experience for me. On the committee, I was the only non-owner on the committee. I think there were 10 or 12 people on the committee. it was an incredible experience over two years to see how that played out. Being an NBA fan forever, you hear about all these things and you read what's going on and then to actually be there and be a part of it and see how things are not really exactly the way they were reported. To be part of the decision-making process, to have some input into how this whole thing shaped up, that was an incredible experience.
People ask me a lot -- even though we've written about it a lot -- what do you do on a daily basis during the season? Say, when it's not trade deadline season or the Draft or whatever. What's the quick answer?
First of all, I feel the main responsibility is to make sure we have a good experience for our fans here. That's daily one of the things I'm involved in and looking at. Dealing with our sponsors and making sure our sponsors are happy with what we're providing for them. That's something I'm involved in on a daily basis. Making sure we are selling all the tickets we can sell, that we've having a full building. I get to travel around from time to time to different arenas to see how much better our experience is for fans than a lot of arenas. I'm constantly in touch with Mr. Allen on different issues that he brings up on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Whether it's a question about our financial situation or a question about a player or a question about the streaming of our games, those kinds of things are going across my desk on a constant basis.
I talk to Chad on a regular basis about any contacts he may have had about possible trades or a player or the whole situation with Joel. I was involved in that from the very beginning, getting updated, where are we and how things are going? The decision to waive Armon -- definitely we were all involved in weighing in on that. It's a busy job but I enjoy being busy. I enjoy the challenges that come up on a day-to-day basis here.
In a lot of cases, because of how Paul gives me the autonomy to do things here, I'm the guy who is making the final decisions on a lot of things that go on here. Whether it's business things or basketball things. It's an interesting job.
What is it about your personality or what you've done that's allowed you to keep an extended relationship with Paul Allen? Of everyone who has been through here in the last few years, you seem like you've got the centralized power and the best relationship with Paul -- from an outsider's perspective.
One of the things that I've done is I try not to surprise him. I try to make sure if I find out something that I think he should know about, I make sure to let him know about it as soon as possible. There have a couple of times where I slipped up on that a little bit and he's let me know about it. I try to make sure I'm sharing the things that are important. There are a lot of things that he doesn't need to know about on a daily basis because he has so much going on in his world. I have to make sure I'm deciding on the things he needs and doesn't need to know about. I think I've done a pretty decent job of being able to do that. I might not be batting 100 percent but I think I've done a pretty decent job of doing that.
I also think I'm able to communicate with him and just talk to him about the things that he needs to talk about. I think I bring some experience in working with people that are in these powerful positions. I worked with Michael Jordan for almost 10 years. I worked with Phil Knight. I've gotten to know how to communicate with people. The biggest thing is that they don't want to be surprised. They want to know about things that they need to know about so that they can, No. 1 be aware of them and then No. 2 that they can weigh in on the decisions they need to weigh in on.
I feel like I have a lot of autonomy in this job to make decisions on a day-to-day basis but I know for a fact that there are decisions that Paul wants to weigh in on. he wants to be involved in and he wants to be a part of. And he should. He's the owner. He's the guy.
Being able to understand when to say, 'Hey, here's the situation we're dealing with' or 'here's something that's come up' and this is how I think we should deal with it but we definitely want to get your input on this. I think that's helped him to develop a certain amount of confidence.
Do you expect the sell out streak to continue?
I do expect it to continue through the rest of the season. I think that the fans here have really supported this team. Have come out when it's teams that aren't playing that well. I don't want to call out any teams. We get a full building regardless of who it is. That's a testament to the fact that the fans here support this team. They support this team, they feel good about it. The feedback I get is that people enjoy watching this team play when we're playing the way we should be playing. I do expect and hope the sellout streak continues. We're not taking it for granted, that's for sure. We're going to continue to do everything we can to help the fans feel good about coming here. I'm hoping that we can keep it going for the rest of the season.
In your interview with The Oregonian you said you were close to breaking even financially. Can you explain how that is possible given your payroll this year plus the money that you owe to Brandon Roy?
We're still a good ways from breaking even. I guess what I was really trying to say is that we're improving. We're getting better from a bottom line perspective. The collective bargaining agreement and the new revenue sharing that has been put in place by the league is definitely going to help us get there over the next couple of years or so. As time goes on we're going to definitely get closer. The situation with Brandon is definitely an impact on us and has some serious impact on our bottom line. I think we're in a position now where we can actually run and operate this business, if you just look at our business, our revenue and our expenses, we can run it in a way that allows us to get to a break even or maybe even a positive bottom line. We're not there yet, it's still going to take us a little bit of time to get there. Collective bargaining and revenue sharing is going to help us get there.
If you're going to break even are you almost assuming from here going forward that you won't be a luxury tax payer? Paul made some comments to that effect in December, that luxury tax would be reserved for serious championship contention only.
Absolutely. Absolutely. For any small-market team there's going to be a real struggle. I can't see a small-market team be able to pay a luxury tax and be able to break even or make money. I think the goal here was not just small market teams but also the larger market teams and making it much more difficult for them to go out there and spend money on players and go into that tax. If you're 20 million into the tax, that's going to cost you a big chunk of money, much more so than it has in the past.
People have noticed that Paul Allen hasn't attended as many games as he has in the past. How do you explain that?
It's just the schedule. I know for a good stretch there that he wasn't at a number of our home games he was in India for almost a month. It's just been his schedule. He still enjoys getting out to games as much as he did in the past. His schedule has been a challenge for him getting here. If he's in town, if he's in Seattle, he comes to the games.
Aside from the team goals of breaking even and a championship, what's next for you in terms of your personal and professional development goals?
I tend to not think about that. I tend to focus on doing the best I can do at the job that I'm in. I believe that what's next will materialize if I do that. If I'm thinking about what I'm going to be doing next, I'm taking away some focus from the job I'm doing now. If I focus on what I'm doing now and give that 100 percent, that whatever is next will materialize for me. That's the way it's worked for me in the past. That's the way I continue to do it. I'm not thinking about what I'm going to do after this. My focus is on what I'm doing now. If something else comes along that makes sense for me later, so be it. For now, I'm focusing my efforts on what I'm doing here.
What's the media gotten most wrong about you or the organization since you've been here? I'm a little amazed at how calm you are right now, compared to some of the previous times we've talked. Has there been some times in the past where you were like, 'these guys blew it?'
I think there was a lot that went on around the Kevin Pritchard deal that I think portrayed myself, the organization, Paul in a light that wasn't accurate. I just think that it was a lot of communication, a lot of things out there in the media at that time that were absolutely not true.
Specifically, what do you mean?
I think around both Kevin and Tom, there were a lot of things that were in the media about issues between myself and Tom and myself and Kevin that never really existed. I feel like I had a good working relationship with those guys, supported them and we supported each other as much as possible. I feel like there was some misinformation in the media.
One of the most challenging things for me in this job is the whole public part. I just don't enjoy that. That's just not who I am. I've always been a private and laid back kind of person. I knew coming into this job that there was a public part of it and that there were things that I was going to have to be in the public eye and I accepted that coming in. But I think there are times when things get misconstrued.
What I would prefer or that I would love, if there are questions or things that you guys want to know or questions that you have, ask me. I'm going to be as straight as I can possibly be with you or with anybody. There are times that I can't talk about certain things. But if there's something I can share or talk about, I'm going to talk about it. I'm going to be straight about it.
To me, the biggest thing that has bothered me is the questioning of my integrity. People saying, 'Is he really telling us the truth?' That's bothered me more than anything else. I'm not going to lie to you guys. If I can't tell you the truth, I'll say that I can't say anything. But I'm not going to make up something or tell you something that is not true. I'm never going to do that. Somehow, it got to a point where people were questioning my integrity, questioning whether I was lying to the media or the fans, that's not who I am. If you talk to people who know me, if you talk to people who have worked with me, if you have talked to people I have rapport and relationships with, they'll tell you that I'm a pretty straight shooter. There are times in this role I can't talk!
I've been in jobs where it's not working out, somebody gets fired or whatever, and it's no big deal. Here, every decision you make, every move you make, not only is it a big deal but it's scrutinized and talked about. That's something I've had to get used to here. I wasn't used to that. I understand the fans and media care about this organization and I guess it's better that they do care than they don't care. The worst thing could be is that they didn't care what we did. The worst thing would be if you guys or the fans didn't care what decisions we made. That would be much, much worse. I realize that and I understand that. To me, the biggest thing that's bothered me is the questioning of whether I'm lying or trying to deceive the media or the fans. That's just not who I am.
What's the biggest regret of your tenure with the Blazers? Straight shoot it -- something you have done or haven't done that you wish had been different or that you screwed up.
One of my regrets is the Rich Cho situation. Rich is a great guy. I really, really like Rich. When we hired Rich, we thought we had hired somebody that would be the right fit for this organization that was going to help us get to that next level. It just didn't work out. That was a real disappointment for me.
Just as much because of who Rich is as a person as anything else. I really like Rich. It just didn't work out. He just wasn't a good fit. Because of that, it was a tough situation for me. One of the most challenging things I've ever had to do is sit down and say to Rich, 'Hey, it's not working.' That was a tough situation for me.
At the end of the day, it wasn't working. It was a decision that had to be made. It was something that, as tough as it was, it was something that ultimately going to help us get better as an organization.
You've told me that you had a good relationship with Rich and in December Paul made it sound like a communication thing between him and Rich, that the rapport wasn't there between them. Is that why it just didn't work?
I had a good relationship with Rich. It was mainly the rapport with him and Paul. To me, the rapport between the owner and GM is probably the most important rapport that a team can have. It's important that Paul and I have a rapport but it's even more important that he and the GM have rapport. Paul is involved in the basketball decisions. He wants to be a part of and weigh in and talk basketball because he loves the game. He loves the game of basketball. He knows the game, he's studied it. Paul is the kind of guy, anything that he studies, he knows. He's studied it, he knows the game. He enjoys having that rapport to being able to talk basketball and talk decisions and talk about plays and players. If that rapport is not there then it's not going to work. That was the main factor at the end of the day.
Does this team have to be a playoff team? Is that the mentality or mandate right now? Is not being a playoff team an option as you approach the trade deadline?
We definitely want to be a playoff team. We are a playoff team if the players that we have now play up to the potential that we expect from them, I think we are a playoff team. When you look at the Western Conference right now, there are a couple of teams -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio. I wanted to send Pop [Gregg Popovich] a fruit basket [for pulling his starters before the All-Star break]. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas has started to come on a little bit, even though they lost to New Jersey last night. Then you've got everybody in the West is battling for those spots. We're just as good as any of those teams battling for those spots.
I also think we've shown that we can play with the best teams in the West. We've beaten the Lakers here, although we didn't beat them down there. We beat Oklahoma City twice, really, even though the second time we got robbed of the game by the refs. But we beat Oklahoma City in their building and technically, from my perspective, I look at that as a win here. We've shown we can play with the best teams in the Western Conference. IF we get our guys playing at the level that they can play and play together and do the things we know they can do, I think we are a playoff team. I think there are some teams out there that won't want to see us in the playoffs because we're a team that if we can get hot and get on a roll, we can scare some people. Oklahoma City, I'm sure, would be a little nervous about seeing us in the playoffs if our guys are playing the way we have played.
I think currently we can be a playoff team. We're hoping and our expectation is to be a playoff team. Hopefully it will work out that way.
Any final thoughts?
I would reiterate how much we appreciate the fan support here. It's phenomenal. I get to travel around and see other arenas and other buildings. It's not just that the fans come out. It's how they get into the games here. I've been to other arenas where maybe it's sold out but the crowd is definitely not into the game the way our crowd is into the game. They're definitely not supporting the players the way our fans support the players. Again, it's just been incredible. We really, I know the players appreciate it, I know Nate and the coaching staff appreciate it, the entire organization and Paul, we all appreciate the support the fans have given this organization. Hopefully they'll continue to do it.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter