As executives of Vulcan Inc. discussed the pros and cons of firing Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard last summer, the discussion found its way to this conclusion: Pritchard had proven to be a solid senior-level scout, but largely incapable of running the organization.
Vulcan, the Blazers’ parent company, had watched Pritchard embark upon several selfish and destructive bents, and strong sentiment existed to fire him. Owner Paul Allen and the Vulcan executives no longer trusted him to put the franchise before his own ambitions. The list of transgressions that troubled Vulcan always came back to similar themes: Pritchard’s thirst for public adulation, money and power.
Inside and outside the organization, Pritchard harped on how much more Portland coach Nate McMillan made than him. He complained to friends, rivals and relative acquaintances, and that played an immense part in the gulf that exists between the front office and coach.
When negotiations became contentious with star Brandon Roy(notes), Pritchard didn’t stand firm with the limits of ownership’s offer. What’s more, Pritchard tried to cozy up to Roy by selling the notion that it was the two of them together trying to get the contracts they deserved from owner Paul Allen. For the unparalleled resources Allen has provided Pritchard to remake the roster – millions in dollars to purchase draft picks, packaging them in trades or stockpiling prospects overseas – Vulcan was beyond irate that Pritchard still couldn’t present a united front when Allen decided to make a financial stand.
It reeked of Pritchard’s desperation and immaturity, and eventually inspired team president Larry Miller to usurp Pritchard in the talks for Roy’s eventual five-year, $82 million deal. Pritchard would go around the NBA, and surprise peers with questions that included, “How much do you make?” before launching into diatribes about how he couldn’t understand why he was so poorly compensated in Portland, especially in comparison to McMillan.
Allen and Vulcan ultimately decided to strip some power and autonomy from Pritchard, but decided to keep trotting him out to the things he most loved: news conferences and public appearances.
“They left him the public face, but essentially he was neutered,” a league source with direct knowledge of the talks said.
Privately, Vulcan executives wish they had gone further and fired him, sources say. That now appears to be a matter of time, especially with the way Pritchard’s agent, Warren LeGarie, has publicly gone ballistic on the Blazers organization. After Miller pushed to fire assistant GM Tom Penn after a recent nasty, personal exchange in Portland – the culmination of resentment that lingered from a contract leverage ploy with Minnesota – Pritchard finds himself isolated within the organization and devoid of allies.
Since Penn’s firing, LeGarie has encouraged Pritchard to resign, sources say. Pritchard contemplated the possibility, but has ultimately decided to go in a completely different direction. Pritchard has requested a meeting with Vulcan officials, and is expected to speak with them this week.
After several days of scorched earth by his agent, sources say Pritchard is desperate to find a way to save his job. After months of listening to LeGarie tell him he’d be in great demand on the market, Pritchard is finding that might not be the truth.
“Pritch has figured out that all those jobs that Warren promised him aren’t there,” one GM said.
Yes, Pritchard had lost his support within Vulcan, and LeGarie’s public assailing of Allen and franchise officials has only deepened the resolve within the Blazers to fire him. Miller has increased his influence on the basketball side over the past year, including taking a prominent role not only in the Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) talks, but he also has become involved in much smaller matters, like ironing out a deal for second-round draft pick Patty Mills.
In some ways, Miller, a former Nike executive, has started work on the job. Miller’s plan is to hire a GM, but still keep a strong hand in the day-to-day basketball operations.
“The transition away from this regime has already started,” one source with knowledge of ownership’s plans said.