Quick Chat 3/01/07
Here's our weekly recap of Oregonlive's Quick Chat hosted by Casey Holdahl. As always this is a paraphrase of the questions and responses. You can listen to the entire chat here.
You'll notice I didn't comment as much on this chat as is my wont, especially during Jason's part. They talked a ton about personnel matters, personalities, and personal relationships. Since nobody outside of the parties involved has any good information it's hard to find a basis to comment. It is what it is.
Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick is up first.
A: It's a development that took everybody by surprise, even people inside the organization. Today was the deadline for Steve's contract to be extended, Paul Allen opted not to do that, so they decided to part ways and get on with the search to find a new General Manager and President right now instead of in June. Overall I think this is a good step for the franchise. It's the final cleansing of the past and the things that have gone wrong here. It will be a fresh start for the organization. They have two capable candidates here already. Mike Golub would make a great president and Kevin Pritchard is more than capable of stepping in and being an effective and dynamic GM. I think both of those moves will happen.
Q: Talk a little bit about Mike Golub. He's not as well known as Kevin Pricthard.
A: He has a background with the Memphis Grizzlies...getting them started. Earlier this year when the team was in Memphis Mike made that trip and he was received impressively well. To say that he was well-liked would be an understatement. Ten or fifteen people came up to hug him or talk to him. That wouldn't happen if Steve Patterson came back to Portland. That speaks well for his reputation. He's very bright and engaging when you talk to him. I think he's the right man for the job. I think the wheels for this started turning when Mike was hired earlier this year.
Q: Was this a surprise for Steve Patterson?
A: I think it's a disappointment for him. He thought the last nine months would be enough to carry him into a new contract. I think he wanted to stay on but he also acknowledged that it's the right move, or at least best to make a clean break now. He presided over some good and bad moves in his tenure but what doomed him was the financial situation while he was president. When he took over I believe the franchise was ranked the tenth most valuable in all of sports, or at least in the NBA, and now they're dead last. He badly misplayed the arena situation, trying to strong-arm the bond owners really backfired. He boasts that they're getting it back under better terms but Paul Allen has lost a ton of money in the meantime.
Q: If Kevin Pritchard were not here do you think Steve Patterson would have been retained?
A: That's hard to say. I do know that for the last year or two Paul Allen has had a direct pipeline to Kevin Pritchard. They stay in contact. I don't know that Steve was afforded that same level of communication. I think maybe Paul lost confidence in Steve and trusted Kevin more. I think it's a good sign that he has that trust in him.
Q: Was there any animosity between Pritchard and Patterson given the situation?
A: No, I don't think that was the case at all. I think Steve had a rather large ego and wanted to have his fingerprints on this rebuilding surge. I've been told that recently Steve told Kevin not to talk to other teams and to just focus on the draft. Steve wanted to handle that type of thing but I'm not sure that was the right way to handle it. Kevin has proven he can be dynamic and creative and taking that away hurts the product.
The bottom line is that at the end of the day people within the walls of the Blazer organization are going to view this as a good move. Steve Patterson ruled this franchise by fear and intimidation. I think he became very paranoid. Computers were searched. Certain people were not allowed to talk to the media. I remember one instance early in his tenure he was going to fire Maurice Cheeks' secretary and the secretary at the practice facility because he thought they were leaking information to me. The woman called me in tears saying this and believe me the only conversations we had were in passing at the practice facility..."Hey would you like a cup of coffee" and that type of thing. I went and had a meeting with Patterson and said, "Hey, you're going to fire these innocent people..." and he said, "I don't care. I'll fire ten innocent people to get to the bottom of this. I'm not going to have leaks in my organization." That really spoke volumes about the type of person Steve Patterson is. He was often times mean-spirited and he didn't convey an approachable persona. For a franchise trying to portray connection with the community he was the most disconnected and the media of everybody in the organization. Everything starts from the top. When you have that kind of air at the top it trickles down.
Q: Would any of the people who have been let go now come back?
A: It's hard to say. I doubt it though. The only person I can think of off the top of my head is Darnell Valentine and the organization is reportedly happy with his replacement. I still think this franchise is trying to watch its purse strings and avoid adding payroll. They're not out of the woods yet financially.
Q: What are John Gabriel's chances of being promoted?
A: He's a very bright mind and was once NBA Executive of the Year. But he has some health issues that might prevent him from taking on a large role. He'll be an integral part of the decision-making process. He was really the guy on draft night that turned current picks into future picks. The organization gave him those and said, "Make this happen." That shows the trust they have in him.
Q: What do you know about the new guy, Todd Leiweke?
A: Everybody says great things about him. He has a bright mind. Back in 2003 he was in the running to be the president of the Blazers but chose the Seahawks. I don't expect him to have much of an impact though. This is a temporary position and it's set up to have Mike Golub and Kevin Pritchard take over. I think his stay here will be short.
Q: What is Steve Patterson's legacy?
A: He's done some good things. He came in and cleaned up this team's image. The character of this team is the best in the league. They're quality guys and promising talents. When he took over it was a team in disarray with bad character. He has fulfilled his pledge to clean up. He took over a $102 million payroll and he's gotten them in position to get near or under the cap. His handling of the arena will be his downfall.
The only thing I have to say is you can clearly see this was a major source of the team/media tension over the years. I'm not about to open old wounds by claiming one side or the other was more right. I will say it was incumbent upon the leaders of the Blazers organization not to let it get to this point, and in that you can clearly hear they failed. Ironically THAT may have been Patterson's biggest downfall.
New Blazer President and GM Todd Leiweke joins the chat.
A: I've been CEO of the Seattle Seahawks. I've been there for four years and I'm proud of what we've done there. Before that I was the president of the Minnesota Wild which also included operating an arena and convention space. We did good things there too. Every game the Wild has ever played has been sold out and that has relevance to the situation here.
Q: Talk about what your situation is here. Is this a temporary position? How are you approaching it?
A: I'm not going to be the President and General Manager of the Blazers. I'm assuming the role of CEO of Vulcan Sports Entertainment and I'll have oversight of Paul Allen's sports properties. Our aim is to name a Team President and a General Manager for the Blazers in the not-distant future. Both will live in Portland and be charged with running the franchise and turning this back into one of the great franchises in the NBA.
Q: What will you be looking for in a new GM?
A: Someone who will take the good things that are happening on the court and keep them going and growing. Kevin Pritchard is certainly a candidate for that position. We will also do a national search and be thorough in that process. On the business side we will find leadership that can restore the franchise's name in the community and its financial health. What happens off the court is important too. To the extent that we pull that off Steve Patterson will deserve credit for that. In his time here he's done a number of things that have positioned this organization to where we can dream about restoring it.
Q: How familiar are you with the Blazers?
A:. I've been on their board so I'm very familiar with them. I started my professional sports career with the Golden State Warriors in the late `80's and early `90's. At that time the Blazers were the Gold Standard. I made many trips here to learn about that dynamic and replicate it. I was totally inspired by the relationship between the team and the fans and the passion there. In some ways we want to become what we have already been. I think that's possible and I'm excited.
Q: Will you be at the game tonight against the Bobcats?
A: Absolutely. I hope the fans come out and see Brandon Roy face off against Adam Morrison. Brandon is Rookie of the Month again and everybody here believes he should be Rookie of the Year. Again Steve Patterson gets credit for that. He did some very positive things here.
Q: What are some of the things you like about the Blazers and what can they improve on?
A: I'm no more of a fan than a lot of those reading and listening. But I think this is an exciting young team that's starting to bond with the community. I think Nate is a heck of a coach and Kevin Pritchard is an important guy on the basketball side. There's a collection of assets that give us an opportunity to dream about returning to the premier group of franchises in the NBA.
OK, hold on everybody, because Casey did us a favor here and asked THE QUESTION...
A: I can unequivocally tell you that the Blazers moving out of Portland is never something I've discussed. I can unequivocally tell you it is something I will never discuss. My optimism about this is based in the idea that the arena and the team will come back together in the near future. 100% of our focus is going to be on reigniting the special relationship between this team and its fans.
I'm not going to micromanage. My job is to get the right leadership and make sure they have the best environment in which to work. Certainly there are practices that can apply between the Seahawks and Blazers back and forth but at the end of the day this is going to be 100% by, of, and for Portland, period.
Whew! Was that so hard to say? If this was the case, why did we have to wait three years to hear it?
This feels kind of like dating a guy for years that never says, "I love you." You wait and you wait to hear it, and maybe he shows it in other ways, but you never hear those words. In fact you think they might not ever be said to you. Then you break up with the guy, start dating someone else, and you steel yourself for the unspoken rejection again. But then to your surprise he just looks you right in the eyes and says it.
In fact having heard this you almost don't need the rest of the interview. If Mr. Leiweke were here right now I'd put my finger on his lips and say, "Shut up Todd. You had me at `100% by, of, and for Portland.'"
A: This is not something he did in a frivolous way. He's intent on pushing this organization. Reuniting the arena and the team is something he's excited about. At the end of the day there's probably no better owner in sports than Paul Allen. There's no owner who's more committed to a team, as evidenced by the substantial losses that this team has faced and his perseverance in owning the team.
Every Blazer executive who's ever worked for the guy has said this exact same thing. So either it's true or they are given some sort of handbook with this exact phrase in it the minute they take the job.
A: People have said the arena has been louder this year than in the last couple. We have an exciting young team. We obviously have a special coach. There's a lot of hope surrounding this team. We want to make this franchise viable on and off the court.
Here's Lesson #1 for Todd and whoever gets the position of Team President: You don't have to make Blazermania come back. It's never been gone. This has been a mistake of the recent regime...trying to force something as if they could create it...as if it wasn't already around. It's kind of like those stupid scoreboard crowd chants like "De-FENSE" that they play in the fourth quarter when we're down by 20. We want to cheer. We came here to cheer. We don't need you to tell us when and how to cheer. If there's a reason we're not cheering it's probably because it's been beaten out of us at some point. If Blazermania isn't exactly running wild it's probably because it's been stepped on a little. But the semi-clumsy attempts to bring it back artificially only repeat the offense. Show us you understand, show us you care, show us the players care, then trust us to do our part. Give it a little time and what you'll probably find is your most important job is to not get in the way of the groundswell.
The recent Blazers have been like that horribly awkward guy at the dance who is so nervous about asking a girl out onto the floor that he alternates between horribly cocky and completely clueless, both of which are a major turn-off. It's not really that hard. Just hush up, smile, extend your hand, and let's dance. Try not to step on our feet too much and don't make it so darn hard to like you.
OK...enough of the girly analogies. I guess I'm channeling Jorga and RipCityGal today...
A: We're going to move as expeditiously as possible without compromising the process. A General Manager will be in place well before the draft. To Steve's credit his stepping aside today instead of drawing it out gives us the chance to do that. The President is on the same timeline and I'll get out of bed tomorrow 100% focused on that.
Overall a fine first brush with the public. Mr. Leiweke sounds bright and confident and he seems to have a clear purpose in mind. That's a good start in my book. If all of this is a public relations gambit...well...at least he's GOOD at it. You can respect that. He sounds forthright though. Let's hope this is the way it all plays out. It sounds like rooting for the team might be getting even easier as time goes on.
By the way, if you weren't following Casey at O-Live through this whole drama yesterday you missed a lot of stuff and should probably head over there right now. He has so much information on Todd Leiweke plus this interview and heaps of other stuff. It was a brilliant day for him.