An Open Letter to Paul Allen

Dear Mr. Allen,

This letter comes in response to your open letter to fans published on Tuesday, May 8th. My name is Dave Deckard, fairly long time Managing Editor here at Blazersedge. I'm going to assume you don't know me, though I also assume you've heard of our site. I started out as a fan of the team long ago, long enough that I can remember (sometimes faintly) most every significant era the franchise has been through. I anticipate being around for all the rest too, at least those which occur while I'm still drawing breath.

As Blazersedge has evolved I have sometimes grown, sometimes been pushed into the role of analyst/journalist. The true diehards probably don't consider me a pure fan anymore, or at least that's what they say whenever I write critical analysis about the team. Then again pedigreed journalists squirm at the implication that anybody but themselves are qualified to relay news or analyze situations dispassionately, so who knows if they'd accept me in their club either.

Sometimes being stuck in the middle ground has its advantages, though...a best of both worlds kind of thing. That's the point here. I hope I'm enough of a journalist to have this mean something in a professional, critical sense and enough of a fan yet to fall under the umbrella of people you addressed in your letter, making these observations valid.

So often we public writers get stuck penning negative reviews. Let's face it, opportunities to criticize are both plentiful and juicy. Thankfully that's not the case here. I actually want to thank you for your words. You hit plenty of pressing concerns and did so in a way both logical and assuring. As someone keenly interested in the fortunes of the team for personal and professional reasons I felt both comforted and challenged. I also felt connected to the franchise--or at least its owner--in a way that's been largely absent this season.

Pardon me, Mr. Allen, but a vocal part of my constituency gets upset if front page posts take up too much real estate. Something about not being mobile-device friendly? Since they haven't invented the iScroll yet and making that little flippy motion across the screen apparently gives people finger cramps, I'm going to ask you to click through to read some reflections on specific assertions in your letter.

This was one of the most disappointing years I've had in my 24 seasons as owner of the Portland Trail Blazers... The best thing I can say about this season was at least it was short.

You too? I was thinking the exact same thing most of the year. Somehow it's a relief to hear you say it. The line between salesmanship and honesty gets blurred sometimes. Obviously it's in the best interests of the franchise to keep people excited about the product. But when the wheels fall off the family sedan, you don't want to hear a commercial from the dealership about how great that model is and how you should upgrade to next year's. In the rush to generate season ticket renewals the last couple months the message from the team seemed out of touch. "This is great! We're really close! Watch what happens now!" Hearing your disappointment in the season makes the situation easier to bear, like hearing the car dealership owner say, "Whoa! That shouldn't have happened!" That's all you really want. Without that kind of honesty coming from the team we're left feeling like we're fools for perceiving the season the way we did, or that we were mistaken somehow, or that the team is in a whole different world from our reality. Many of the 66 games this year were hard to watch, but your two sentences framed the experience and made it easier to swallow.

We opened in December with news of a career-ending injury for all-star Brandon Roy. In the final stretch, we learned that LaMarcus Aldridge, our remaining all-star, had to shut down his season early for hip surgery.

These things happen in sports. Injuries are part of the game. Sometimes you have bad luck. But as the 2011-2012 season played out, I was asking myself the same question I know a lot of you were asking: What happened to a season that had such promise? There are no easy answers for that.

Yup. That hurt. But no matter how people may rant and squeal in the microcosm of individual games or seasons, we haven't lost sight of the big picture. In the last five years this franchise has endured devastation seldom seen in the sports world. Frankly I'm surprised the Blazers did as well as they did for so long. But you need to know that we know that. Nobody's going to hold you accountable to a 50-win pipe dream next season. Franchises don't come back instantly from losing All-NBA players and first-overall draft picks. You have some leeway to retool. You don't get hit by a truck in the Tour de France then get up and win the race. You stand up, check for injuries, address them, then ease yourself back into contention stage by stage. Most fans realize that. Most fans will ride with you through that process.

The trades we made gave us considerable salary cap room, which in turn will give us more flexibility to sign free agents this summer. We also own three or four picks in what is looking to be a talent-rich draft pool.

Going into next season, it's a priority for us to improve defensively, to play better and more consistently, and to win on the road.

Again this seems on target. The greatest strength of this team's position right now is agility. You're capable of retooling through multiple approaches. That's good, since the team needs multiple fixes, as you have also identified. Three words that don't describe the cure here are "direct, easy, and fast". Draft, a little bit of free agency, and don't forget those potential unbalanced trades...that should be enough to provide a step forward. As long as people see that step, everything's going to be fine. The old excitement of "maybe we'll win a title" will be replaced by, "What move do we make next?" Each has its attractions. The mistake here would be squandering the opportunity to move forward legitimately in favor of a quick fix which may bring a larger initial improvement at the expense of whatever step comes after. That would rob fans of the incentive to engage long-term.

One thing we are not going to do is to spend money like there is no tomorrow, and calls to do so just don't make sense. I've tried that path before -- it doesn't work and is not sustainable. We will follow a judicious and sustainable path going forward.

You sound almost defensive about this, but it's a relief! It's one of the best things you said, in fact. Most fans I know aren't afraid of the team stinking, nor afraid of an extended rebuild if that's necessary. You know what people are afraid of? They're afraid you're going to build a team in order to sell tickets instead of contend for titles...the route the New York Knicks appear to have taken. Everybody would be deliriously happy about a 6th seed in the West courtesy of a couple big-name, expensive free agents, at least in the abstract. Throw in the reality that the team is now capped-out, that those free agents aren't great team players, that the defense still stinks, and that the 6th seed is about all you can expect in the shelf-life of this incarnation of Blazers basketball and the mood will turn sour. This internet thing and tons of daily conversation have made fans more sophisticated than they were during the Big Spending Era. Most of us understand that you only sign that $10 million contract that puts you in luxury tax land when the very last piece of the title puzzle comes your way, if at all. Nobody's going to be fooled by the names on the back of your jerseys if the name on the front becomes synonymous with "expensive" and "mediocre".

What is the right fit? First and foremost, the GM has to have what I refer to as the"golden gut." The job requires more than an ability to assess basketball talent. It's also about weighing the intangibles, from character to medical issues, and all the risks involved.

Thanks for clarifying the qualities you're looking for there. People have been asking...

Almost every NBA draftee, for example, has some injury history. (And those medical histories are carefully reviewed by our topnotch medical team.)

You probably should have left out this part, though. Too soon.

At the same time, I believe personnel decisions should come to me as recommendations from the GM and the president. Certainly there are times I've pushed hard in the draft room or free agency, as I did in recent years for LaMarcus, Wesley Matthews, Joel Freeland, Sergio Rodriquez, Armon Johnson and Patty Mills. But with very few exceptions, I expect the team's executives to make the final calls.

Credit to you for not just calling out that first name! I thought Armon Johnson was going to be a pretty nifty addition to the team too. Give me a buzz sometime and let me know what happened there.

By talking about the future of the Blazers, I know it will raise questions about my continued ownership of the team. Let me be clear and repeat what I've said before: The team is not for sale. I'm working hard to get this team back on track. No offers have been made to buy the team and none have been solicited.

As I told reporters in the Rose Garden in December, there could come a time when I decide to sell the Trail Blazers. Many factors would go into that decision, including my health, the team's economics, and the progress I can see on the court. (On the first item: I'm feeling good these days and have remained in remission for two years.)

Relieved to hear it, and continued good health. That's something on which everyone agrees. I've learned never to give advice, but hold onto the team for as long as it brings you joy. Few personal passions in life will have the potential to uplift the people around you as the Trail Blazers do for Portland. When thing that fires your imagination also does the world good, you're onto something greater than money can buy.

I'm looking forward to seeing how we improve the team in the coming months. From what I hear from Blazer fans, many of you are, too. It's very encouraging that season ticket renewals are exceeding our expectations and are just one percent behind where they were at this point last year. That's a great show of faith from you, and we really appreciate all your loyalty and support.

It's a nice lesson. People don't expect perfection. They don't even expect wins, really. People want to feel connected to the team, valued by the organization, and assured that it's being run competently with the greater good in mind. Keep people in the loop, give them the credit of talking with them instead of spraying hype in their general direction, and they will stick by you. That's the way Blazers fans are.

In that vein, the last time we talked like this was right near the end of the Jailblazers era. You let us know you were buying the Rose Garden again. You let us know how you had suffered through the past few years and that you had big hopes for the future. That made people feel better, as I recall. I know you're not big on public conversation but really, we should talk like this more often. Something went really right in this letter. Twice in a decade isn't enough for that kind of thing.

I've bent your ear long enough, I suppose. Best of luck to you in the upcoming summer. Draft well, trade smart, and, as always, Go Blazers!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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