The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 58 | Kevin Pritchard
General Manager 2007-2010
Also Head Coach for 27 games in 2004-05
Joined Club: (as GM) March 2007, internal promotion from Assistant General Manager
Departed Club: June 2010...don’t ask how. OK, we’ll tell you, but you shouldn’t have asked.
Place in History: Kevin Pritchard had been with the Trail Blazers for three years before the team named him General Manager in 2007. During that time he had served as Director of Player Personnel, Interim Head Coach, and Assistant GM. Times were tumultuous. The Blazers were at the nadir of their popularity and reputation, nursing 20-win seasons into bungled lottery picks. Pritchard was a young, relatively fresh-faced executive with amiable ways and no record to criticize. He was the antithesis of John Nash and Steve Patterson, veteran managers who had been brought in to put out the “Jail Blazers” fire, then build something new out of the ashes. They managed the extinguishing. The rebuild would belong to Pritchard.
It’s hard to separate fact from legend when talking about Pritchard’s early influence. Somebody was rumored to have gone to the mat for Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA Draft, urging the Blazers to select him with their third pick instead of trading down for Martell Webster (and later, Jarrett Jack). That someone might have been Pritchard, and it’s said that his stance is what first got then-owner Paul Allen’s attention. Then came the 2006 Draft, which netted the Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy via a series of intricate maneuvers, also rumored to be the work of Pritchard. After that, the Blazers made it official and simply named KP as their new GM.
Pritchard’s early days were like a breath of fresh air blowing through the Rose City. As far back as Bob Whitsitt’s tenure, Blazers GM’s had been at odds with local media. Pritchard had an open, almost, “Aw shucks” style, plus a passion for explaining his thought process. This contrast from his officious, some claimed paranoid, predecessors earned him instant credit.
Pritchard also stepped into an apparently-fortunate situation. His first act of record as a General Manager would be making the selection at the top of the 2007 NBA Draft, an apparently can’t-miss choice between future superstars Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, as it turned out, one of those choices could miss. Successive drafts were not overly kind to Pritchard either. His first-round selections after Oden would be Rudy Fernandez (via a later trade) in 2007, Brandon Rush, Nicolas Batum, and Jerryd Bayless (via a later trade) in 2008, and Victor Claver in 2009. Batum and Fernandez stuck. The others, not so much.
The Blazers were ascending during this time despite their draft woes. Roy and Aldridge were coming into their own, guided by Nate McMillan. Oden was dominant when he played. Fernandez and Batum grew. Pritchard tried Jack, Steve Blake, and Andre Miller at point guard. None of them proved the answer. The team was good, not great, when it began to crumble under the weight of injuries.
Pritchard’s tenure with the Blazers, and reportedly his relationship with Allen, began to crumble along with the knees of his stars. Watching Durant prosper while Oden sat, signing Roy to a huge contract despite questionable knees (and later retirement), not being able to covert center Raef LaFrentz’s considerable expiring contract into a viable trade, and the continued struggle to develop young players all took their toll.
All of this led to one of the oddest firings in the history of professional sports. Pritchard was at the helm on the afternoon of the 2010 NBA Draft when, at some point, Allen fired him. Though the GM would not have a job in the morning, he still got to make Portland’s selections that night. Whether he, Allen, or someone else made the final call on the picks, the optics were astounding. They were even more so when the draft-day haul turned out to be Elliot Williams, Armon Johnson, and Luke Babbitt...a box of wet Kleenex would have been more barn-burning.
Allen would go through a couple more GM’s in quick succession before settling on Pritchard’s long-term replacement, Neil Olshey. Pritchard would spend several years with the Indiana Pacers before being promoted to General Manager there. He, and they, appear to be doing fine, as are the Blazers.
Pritchard’s legacy is complex. He turned around the worst era in the team’s 50-year history overnight. He had is fingerprints on some of their best moves of the 2000’s. He also made what was, in hindsight, one of the worst mistakes in NBA Draft history and followed that up with a few more blanks. It’s a ton of positive and a ton of negative, rolled into one, wrapped up into the murky question of how the Trail Blazers were organized during that period...something that, at best, only Allen knew.
Either way, there’s no doubt that Pritchard left an imprint on the franchise, good for 58th on our list of Top 100 players and influencers.