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Quick Chat May 17th, 2007

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Here's our usual 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.  

Blazers' General Manager Kevin Pritchard is the guest today.

Q:  What have you been up to lately?

A:   A big part of our scouting is the "intel":  really digging down deep...talking to players, AAU coaches, families, assistant coaches in colleges, student support services people...really trying to figure out what kind of a person this is, whether he can handle pressure, whether he fits with we're about.  The evaluation changes from watching player to doing intel reports.  Now this week we have all our coaches and scouting staff back in Portland.  We've been watching edited DVD cuts of the top guys and we spend a lot of time on those.  Then we drill down pretty deep on some of the guys who aren't the top guys...the Sergio Rodriguez(es) of the world.  We try to figure out if there are some later-round sleepers out there.  We develop an idea of who we like.

Q:  You say you talk to players' AAU coaches.  Do you feel like you get a good, honest assessment from them?

A:  We always have our filter up.  You get a feel of who really over-hypes players, who tells you the truth, and who undersells.  We know there's a bias.  We put our filter in.  I tell the scouting staff we turn from evaluators into private investigators.  I'm after the nugget of information that's special.  It's not easy or 100% foolproof but it helps us develop a better understanding of the players.

It's funny...being a GM and operating in NBA circles must have complexities that boggle the imagination.  But in certain ways being successful depends on basic, human principles that we all learn (or not).  Is what Kevin's describing here much different than what we do at Blazersedge?  Everybody has a certain voice and you get to know them.  A Fatty post will be different than a DrDave which is different than Jorga or Damir or Jamon or any of the half-dozen Scotties.  The posters who are most successful, tend to contribute most, and generally seem to have the best time are the ones who understand that and can negotiate it.  On the other hand there are folks (thank goodness mostly elsewhere) who don't understand it, can't negotiate it, or just don't care to take the time so they splatter their thoughts indiscriminately and don't tend to have as many productive conversations.  The moral of the story:  To be successful you have to have your knowledge and skills down but once those are achieved what makes the difference is how good you are at negotiating relationships.

Q:  Share with us what you can and can't talk about in terms of draftees and free agents and when you'll be able to talk about those things.

A:  We can't talk about free agents.  We can't talk to their agents or talk to them directly.  Internally obviously we can have discussions but we can't talk to the media about them.  On the date of declaration for underclassmen we can talk about them but we decided as a group not to talk about them so as not to risk helping another team or hurting us.  We can talk about free agents on July 1.

Q:  You've mentioned before that the draft has immediate impact players beyond the top two.  How many are there (ballpark) and what does "immediate impact player" mean?

A:  It's difficult to judge how many impact players.  I'm not trying to push off the question...I try to be honest and straightforward.  But for example what if the 9th pick in the draft ends up being the Chicago Bulls.  Say they take a big guy who's going to be a project for them for two or three years.  But if that same guy gets drafted by the Atlanta Hawks he's more of an immediate impact player.  It depends on where players go.  For our team we knew that Brandon was going to be a starter and have an immediate impact.  We thought Lamarcus would be a little while but he came in here and had a work ethic and became an impact player.  As a generalized statement I think there are two really special players and probably five to six more that could have immediate impacts depending on the team.  From that point on to the twenties the differentiation between players is smaller.  The first two obviously are very special.  Then you've got a couple more--four, five, possibly up to six--that are in the next tier.  Then you have a big, huge, wide area for the next tier.

OK, now you know which picks to root for (besides the obvious).  It would be interesting to know what the shading is, however.  The top two picks are no-brainers but if we get a second-tier guy who doesn't fit position-wise would it be worth it to trade down to the third tier and pick up an asset?  I suppose it would depend on the players involved.  I'm sure this gets horribly complex.  I guess all the planning and scouting is an attempt to try and make that complexity as simple as possible when the time comes.

Q:  Is this draft deep enough to go after 2-3 first round picks like last year or do you just want one?

A:  It all depends where that first pick is.  We think we can build this into a championship team through the draft and young players.  We have a great coach who can develop guys.  We have a model that takes drafting very seriously.  Some teams don't.  The Phoenix Suns want to do it through free agents and their current core group.  Our theory is to build through the draft.  You do have to sprinkle in free agency but we see the draft as the way to our Promised Land.  We'll get aggressive and try to get other picks but ONLY if the guy that we target is there when we pick.  You just don't grab a pick because one is available.  You grab it because you think somebody has a chance to be there.  Or like Lamarcus' case we wanted the pick and that's how we secured him.  I don't get caught up in where a guy is picked.  I figure out who I like and then I do everything I can to go and get him.

I hope everybody listens to this, because KP is giving a clinic on GM theory.  I love the point about picks.  Everybody gets hot to get them or trade them but acquiring a draft pick is like getting a checkbook.  It doesn't mean anything in itself.  It all depends on what's in the bank account.  In general higher picks are better accounts but not always.  I believe this is why a lot of proposed trades by fans would get a chuckle from GM's.  We hear, "I'll trade you this pick for that" but they hear, "I'll trade you checkbooks..."

Q:  There was some talk in the forum about whether the Bulls got over on the Blazers last year getting Viktor Khryapa when they weren't going to take Lamarcus Aldridge anyway.  Do you feel like you got taken advantage of even though you got the guy that you wanted?

A:  We really go after the players we like.  We feel like Lamarcus has a chance to be an "A" player.  We didn't want to take a chance.  We had heard there was a team later in the draft--9, 10, 11, 12--that wanted to jump up to the third spot and grab him.  We found out later that was the case and Charlotte was considering moving down and picking up another asset.  Giving up Viktor was hard because he's a better player than he's showing now.  It was worth the premium to make sure we had Lamarcus.  In the short term Lamarcus looks like he's going to be a good player and we're going to be happy with him.  That's the biggest thing...we had the player we wanted.  Quite frankly John Paxson has said they were about 50-50 on Tyrus Thomas.

Good question.  Props to Casey for having the huevos to ask it and props to Kevin for answering it in a classy way.  Actually if Casey really has fortitude I want to see him ask that same kind of question to Memphis' Tony Barone.  "What'd you say kid?  Hey Frankie, come here and listen what this kid's askin' me!  You believe the set on this guy?  Now listen, kid, I'm only tellin' you this once and only because I knew your old man and he was an alright guy.  Never...ask me...about my business...again.  Capiche?  Now get outta here."

I make no secret that I was one of the voices that speculated we overpaid for our picks last year.  I had no qualms about Roy and Aldridge themselves...in fact I said before the draft I'd be happy with that exact pair.  But the Minny flip-flop puzzled me greatly.  Pritchard has since explained enough times to create reasonable doubt and given the level of the players we acquired you can't argue with anything he did to get them.  I still believe, however, that this will be a test of KP's resolve, maturity, and perhaps weaknesses.  Picks are picks.  Some are good, some are bad...you can't love them ALL that much nor can you pay premiums for every one no matter how much you love them.  In order to make that work your evaluation rate has to approach 100% and, absent time travel, nobody does.  

Also I suspect when it comes to drafts the NBA world is both insular and viciously competitive.  You never know for sure if people are serious about moving up ahead of you or if they're pulling your leg.  It's like the ubiquitous "customer coming in half an hour to look at this very vehicle" at the used car lot.  Truth, or a marketing ploy?  Once other teams suspect that the Blazers will bite indiscriminately there are going to be "people wanting to move up" every...single...draft and it's going to cost us a lot more to do what we want/need to do.  It may take KP staring into the phone and saying, "Fine...make that deal with them then" once or twice in order to determine what's a bluff and what isn't, even if he's shaking in his boots as he's doing it.  Paul Allen's money has got to be a big, fat target around the league and you can bet people will be wanting to test the new guy as well.

I am very interested to see how the next few drafts run.

Q:  What is the Blazers' biggest need and can you resolve it through the draft or do you need to go through free agency?

A:  I'm a big fan of picking the best player available.  Nate is a good enough coach to make it work with multiple players at the same positions.  You watch Phoenix and they're all kinds of positions...they're just good players.  Sometimes I think we try and pigeonhole guys into a position.  What you'd hope would happen is that the best player available is a position we have need for.  That's a perfect scenario but doesn't happen all that often.  I'm going for the best player available and if he makes sense by position, so be it.

Q:  Some say the Blazers have to be careful about the number of rookies they have, both because you need experience and because all of those contracts will come due at the same time and it could be hard to sign them.  How much do you take that into consideration?  Do you worry about the future?

A:  We definitely worry about the future and we watch the budget and how we're managing the cap long-term.  At this point in our cycle it's about adding talent and so we're trying to add talent at all costs.  Ultimately that talent could cost us a lot of money down the line.  We'll be prudent and careful.  But if we have to pay Brandon, Lamarcus, and Sergio a lot of money someday, so be it.  That means they're good players and we're a successful franchise.  Right now it's about having a great culture, a great coach, and adding talent that puts the team first and is willing to make a commitment.  As much as everybody says you go out and get free agents for veteran leadership Brandon Roy was one of the best leader choices we could have made.  It didn't make any difference that he was a rookie.  And he'll take a bigger role.  We expect Lamarcus to do that.  We expect Jarrett to do that.  As we grow with these younger kids we'll internally and organically grow some leaders.  Nate will be a big part of that as well.

Oh man...like I said, a clinic.  Here I especially loved the veteran leadership point.  That's easy to say, but here's some NBA reality as far as I can tell...  A veteran can have all the leadership skills in the world, but if he's not actually on the court playing his effect gets minimized.  Signing a guy who plays ten minutes a game may have some leadership effect, but not a big one.  So if you hope for a veteran leader that makes an impact you're looking a guys playing 25+ minutes of productive ball.  Those are a lot more expensive and seldom go on the open market.  That's not to say they can't be acquired.  It's just not as easy as it sounds.

Q:  The Blazers have four second round picks.  What's your plan?  Isn't it unlikely you'll use all of those?

A:  One thing you'll never hear me say is that we're under-planned.  If there's one thing I make a mistake with it's planning and re-planning and then we do a mock draft and then we do another mock draft.  We've done hundreds of mock drafts and we haven't even gotten to the lottery!  That's one of the things I enjoy doing...planning and making sure we're prepared.  There are multiple plans for those picks.  We could pick Euros and keep them overseas.  We could trade and move up.  We could trade them out into the future.  But that won't be done until we get closer to the draft when teams become trading partners or we find players we like.  I like the fact that you can keep them liquid as assets to gain other assets down the road.  If there's not player available I like at that pick then I have no problem trading it.  That's where Paul Allen has been fantastic.  If there's a player out there at the right pick and it's for sale we'll go get it.  If it makes our team better he's committed to doing that.  That allows us to keep a lot of liquid assets moving forward.

Q:  Do you think Paul Allen is willing to put cash out for a big-name free agent this year or do we need to see another year of development?

A:  It all depends on the free agent.  We're over the cap but under the luxury tax.  We can't sign anybody outright outside of the exceptions.  We're competing with a lot of teams that have their mid-level.  But if the right free agent comes along and we feel like we can make a big leap by getting that player then Mr. Allen is committed to making this team a championship team.  I know him.  He won't hesitate when the time is right.

I'm not so worried about him spending the money.  I'm worried on what.  I think it would be a more typical move for the Blazers to spend a lot of money too early on guys who won't help as much as they think they will.  (See also:  the Whitsitt years, Darius Miles, et al)  KP's role might properly be getting Allen not to spend the money until the time is right.

Q:  Is he willing to go into luxury tax territory?

A:  If we can make that big leap forward with one player I think there's a chance that he would.  We all have to get our hands around that.  If adding "X" player makes us a playoff team and a team that can grow and a team that continually makes progress into the playoffs in two, three, four years then he'll do that.  He will be committed and go into the luxury tax to make a leap deep into the playoffs.

Reassuring to know.  The above note still applies.  I really think if we can get close we won't have any problems making the final leap.  It's the getting close part in a timely fashion that worries me.

Q:  Did you do the draft machine this morning?

A:  I didn't.  But that's a great machine and it's fun.  It'll be a lot more fun on May 22nd!

Q:  Speaking of, we know Brandon Roy doesn't have any lucky charms but do you have any?

A:  I do have some idiosyncrasies.  I don't have any specific charms except for one thing I'll keep private.  But it's not me, it's not Brandon, it's not just the organization...this is something for this city.  If we can get lucky and the ping pong ball comes up our number it'll be great for the whole city...for businesses and the Rose Garden.  We need luck from everybody.  We need to pull in the basketball karma that hopefully we've started to create over the last year.  So everybody needs to pull out their good luck charms.

Hey Kevin...you know it might have been quite the good luck charm--and a sign of improving health and relationships--to send a fan to New York to represent the team.  I'd hold that contest right here on Blazersedge if you want.  In fact I could even rig it so a certain blogger could win...

I'm not sure I like the talk about karma though.  Isn't that mostly the balancing of the cosmic scales?  The last year has been plenty good but I don't know if we've built up enough credit yet to overcome that karmic millstone we were carrying around our neck.  It might be better to think of things in terms of a miracle, or at least random luck.

Q:  You had a 98% approval rating in the "You Be the GM" poll.  Why do you think you're so popular in the community?

A:  That's a hard question.  I wake up every day and I am who I am.  I'm an empowering leader who puts people in position to succeed and then I serve them as much as I possibly can.  I get them whatever resources they need.  I think I have that rating because I've been fortunate to put good people around me who make me look better than I am.  I'm lucky and very thankful for that.  In my heart I wake up every day thinking about how to make this team a great team.  I have no other agenda other than to make people proud of this organization...to be a part of it...and to work side-by-side with my co-workers.  I love it.  I'm very fortunate to be where I'm at.  I worked my way up from the minor leagues.  That gives me a humbling past and something to lean on.  When times get tough I remember where I came from.

Q:  What are you looking for in an Assistant GM?  How is that process progressing?

A:  First and foremost whoever we bring in has to be about hard work, putting everybody else first, making sure that no one person tries to take credit because it's a group effort, fitting with the coaching staff and business side...fitting what we're about culturally.  I can't overstate that.  I'd rather take someone of lesser talent that I can teach and help grow that's absolutely committed and loyal to the organization.  That's something I had to do when I came here from the Spurs.  I had to stop bleeding Spurs and bleed Portland Trailblazers.  In terms of a skill set I'd like someone who knows the Collective Bargaining Agreement, who can take some administrative responsibilities away from me.  I think I have success in identifying talent, being creative and going after it, attacking the draft and free agency.  That person is going to have a lot of responsibility.  But we're also going to promote from within.  We're changing our management structure and I haven't decided how that's going to work but I have an idea.  I imagine we're going to promote from within because we have a Rookie of the Year and a guy who was on the All-Rookie Team not because of Kevin Pritchard but because of the group.  I can't emphasize enough that I believe in culture.  That's the big thing.

Q:  Brian Berger said that the guys you want for these jobs are not the guys who need them but the guys you have to sell on taking them.  What do you say to those guys?

A:  The interesting thing is for the presidential search and the assistant general manager search Tod and I sat around and identified some skills for those positions and then we opened them up.  Then we opened it up and we haven't had to talk anybody into taking either position.  These are highly-coveted positions right now.  Maybe two years ago they weren't.  Maybe it was going to be difficult to attract top talent in those positions.  It's completely opposite.  It's amazing how fast things can change in this business.  Our basketball karma is completely different than it was two years ago.  Because of that we get the pick of the litter, so to speak.  We get a chance to cherry pick some of the best people in this business.  That's really exciting.  We have people who want to get in here, be part of something that's growing and making big leaps forward, be part of a fun team.  That has changed.  That makes it so much more enjoyable to be here and to go through the hiring process?

That's good.  The organization needs to have that level of self-assurance again.  If the situation is a little less rosy than that, so be it.  It'll get more rosy as long as we continue thinking of ourselves that way.  If there are bureaucratic issues farther up the line a confident, righteous man has a better chance of overcoming them also.

Q:  Can you tell is where in the hiring process you are for those two positions?

A:  It's like picking a player in the draft.  I go through the process and keep an open mind and then one day for whatever reason my mind says that's the guy we want.  I can't force it early.  I can't pass it down and say I'm going to make a decision on "X" date.  I think it happens naturally.  We don't want to add force and pressure to the decisions.  We want them to organically happen.  They're going to happen.  I want them to be the right decision and not the quick decision.

Q:  What is your opinion of the suspensions in the Spurs/Suns series?

A:  I think it's unfortunate.  You have to ask whether you're going to take the letter of the law or the intent of the law.  David Stern chose to take the letter of the law.  I don't think that Diaw and Stoudemire went out there to get into a fight.  I think it's their natural tendency to want to see what's going on.  But I don't know them and I don't know that, so I have to back the commissioner.  I think there are adjustments that need to be made and the GMs, I'm sure, will be looking at that in the next GMs meeting.

Q:  Did you go on the court in that scrum in L.A. with Lamar Odom?

A:   I don't remember!  (laughs)  Yes I did.

Q:  But you received no suspension.

A:  No, I didn't.

Q:  To wrap up, talk about what you'll be doing in the next months leading up to the draft and anything else you want to talk about.

A:  Here's who we're drafting...  (laughs)   First of all I do read the message boards and I did misuse the word "frivolous".  I'm sure I misuse a lot of words and I appreciate the correction!  

We're getting ready for the draft and going through our processes.  I love this time of year.  We get in the room and have heavy, heavy debates.  It's an opinion business and it's not black and it's not white...it's a nothing-but-gray business.  What we try to do is drill deep on these guys we feel might make us a better team.  This is the time!  What I like doing is getting everybody in the room and I shut up and listen.  I listen to what everybody says and I listen to how they say it and their inflection and that's how I absorb everything.  Hopefully as a group we'll make a great decision and have another Rookie of the Year or have a couple of guys who help take us to the next level.

Q:  Is there an unfair expectation from the fans of what you need to accomplish in this draft?

A:   Nobody puts more pressure on me than me.  I want this to be a great organization and team more than anybody in the world.  I kid with Paul Allen that as much as he loves this team if he's the papa, I'm the stepfather.  We had a good draft last year and feel great about it.  If our processes are true and correct we're going to come out with another great player for sure and maybe multiple players.

That would be fantastic.  Even a decent draft this year would set us up reasonably well.  All to the better if we get one of the top two though.

GREAT chat today.  Thanks to Casey and to Kevin Pritchard.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)