Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen is a smart guy, so when he says he fired a largely successful general manager 10 months after hiring him because they failed to establish a personal connection, maybe I should shut up, sit back and watch his infinite wisdom unfold.
But the last time he failed to establish a connection with someone, he went home a multi-billionaire.
I’m not saying Rich Cho would have brought a championship title to Portland after a 34-year-drought, but he was partly responsible for assembling the only team that has so far challenged Dirk and the Mavs.
He did it despite losing former No.1 pick Greg Oden to season-ending knee surgery before the brittle center even had the chance to play for him. He did it despite finding out early in the season that his team’s franchise player, Brandon Roy, woke up without knee cartilage.
There were no indications that Cho was fired for his handling of a budding Roy fiasco, when, in the middle of a playoff run, the All Star guard questioned being used sparingly in the first game. Cho wanted to suspend Roy for airing his complaints in public. He was talked out of it by team president Larry Miller and Blazers coach Nate McMillan, and Roy responded with a monster performance before his knees realized that it had no cartilage.
We could sit here and argue that most of the Blazers’ playoff team was built by Kevin Pritchard, who was abruptly fired on draft night – man that was awkward watching him draft some rookies knowing it was his final act with the Blazers.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller were Pritchard’s moves. So were drafting Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, and even Rudy Fernandez, who was useful in spurts. But that wasn’t a playoff team, even though Aldridge emerged as an all league power forward.
Cho had less than 10 moves during his tenure, and while most of it consisted of signing stopgap bench fillers like Sean Marks, Fabricio Oberto and Chris Johnson, he executed two roster transactions that pushed Portland back into the playoffs, where it could be playing in the Western Conference Finals had it gotten past the Mavericks.
In his first act, Cho matched Utah’s qualifying offer on sophomore shooting guard Wesley Matthews, signing the swingman to a front loaded $34 million, five year deal that mystified the lot of us.
Wesley Who, or that guy from the Jazz? A sophomore shooting guard? With Brandon Roy signed to a multi-year deal and not ceding playing time any time soon?
We all know how that ended. Matthews took over Roy’s spot, by necessity at first. Here’s betting he’ll be a more than quality starter in the next four years.
But Cho’s final impact deal proved the turning point for the Blazers’ then floundering playoff hopes. He traded injured seven footer Joel Pryzbilla, a Kiwi fruit (Marks), Dante Cunningham and two PROTECTED first round picks, one of which is in this year’s shallow draft, for Gerald Wallace.
Turns out the Wallace trade was the best, short-term deal of the 2011 trade deadline. Wallace was perfect for Portland’s system – bringing intense and aggressive two-way play, while alleviating some of Aldridge’s rebounding chores. His 15 points and 8 rebounds a game, plus his raw aggression and athleticism played out perfectly, and we might not even be talking about Cho’s firing had the Blazers overcome the Mavericks.
Put into context, knowing what we know now, which is the same give or take, of what Allen knows, Portland was that close to going into the NBA Finals. Turns out no one can beat the Mavericks, including two teams that were most favored to win the Western Conference.
Knowing what we know two months ago. the Matthews signing was a stroke of genius, given how Roy’s health panned out.
The Blazers, all but left for dead, and as a season’s worth of punchlines, came closest.I highly doubt that would happen without Matthews and especially Wallace. That’s no knock on McMillan, a stabilizing force and an underrated coach.
But maybe Allen isn’t that impressed. I mean, how else can anyone impress Microsoft’s co-founder? Cho was given nothing to work with, and had shit taken away from him four months into his new job. Oh, by the way, you won’t have Oden. Nuts. And oh, by the way, Roy’s done playing 40 minutes a game.
Allen is a smart man. He sees something we don’t see. He’s not all that impressed. Anyone can dupe Michael Jordan. Put Kahn in there and he would have gotten Wallace for a box of toothpicks. By the way, where’s Kahn, get him in here, now that’s a man I can connect with.We can both run teams to the ground.
Despite Allen’s and possibly God’s or whichever witch cast the curse’s best efforts, the Blazers are still a respectable team. It took Cho two moves to undo four years’ worth of mistakes.
If that’s not enough, why then would an experienced GM want to work for Allen, knowing he needs to be smart at building a team, and kissing a golden ass.
Too bad the Seattle Super Sonics aren’t around to pick up after Allen’s unwanted trash.
“Remember, Allen wanted Cho so badly that he romanced him to get him. Allen whisked the longtime Oklahoma City assistant general manager to Helsinki, where they hung out on the owner’s yacht. This was the stuff of true basketball love.
We were told their relationship was instant bliss. In my mind, it made total sense. Two cerebral guys who happen to be uber-intelligent and interested in basketball, sitting in Allen’s hot-tub, talking quantum physics and free agents as if they met on NerdMatch.com.
Ten months later, Allen woke up on a Monday and drowned that guy.
Somewhere, Kevin Pritchard is nodding. And that makes two non-working general managers on the payroll until July 1. Pritchard is still collecting checks until then, and I suppose the consolation for Cho is that he’ll be well paid for his minor role in the play known in Portland as "The Curse of the Accidental Billionaire."