Column: Pritchard's romance with the Blazers comes to a crashing halt
He sounded hurt, down and defeated. Shocked, surprised and stunned. Unsure, uncertain and overwhelmed.
The words coming out of his mouth were hard to believe. The sight was harder.
Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard: On the ropes and dodging punches.
The Man Who Helped Build It All did everything he could to deflect a media storm Monday afternoon during a hastily called press conference at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore. After spending six days seemingly unreachable and out of pocket, Pritchard tried to turn the focus back to basketball. Back to the Blazers, the playoffs and the promise of the future.
So did team president Larry Miller, who followed Pritchard on the floor.
It did not work. Not even close.
Instead, everything was up front and personal. Present tense. And for the Blazers, the present situation — media inflated and hyped up from the start — has quickly devolved into an absolute mess.
The drama started last Tuesday with the abrupt, unexpected firing of Tom Penn, former vice president of basketball operations. Since then, it’s been fallout city. And the aftermath is verging on going nuclear.
“The thing that bothers me is all the speculation about it, and all the things that I know are totally untrue,” Miller said. “For instance, there was some personal issue between Tom and I — absolutely, positively not true.”
This season was supposed to be about potential turning into reality. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge taking the spotlight. Andre Miller, Greg Oden, Martell Webster and a host of others basking in the glow. Nate McMillan directing it all with a strong, sharp hand.
Not anymore. Now, a season that has long bordered on the verge of the surreal has reached the breaking point.
Injuries started the show. But what do injuries have on drama? Drama makes the world go around. And right now, drama is ripping Rip City apart.
You thought Miller vs. McMillan was big time? How about Oden’s naked self portraits that suddenly swept through the Web?
Let’s turn it up to 10.
Now, the immediate future of the Blazers appears to be at stake. And wandering, unrehearsed, honest-to-the-point-it-hurts comments from Pritchard did little but reinforce the idea that the fun has just begun.
Technically, Pritchard and Miller said all the right things Monday. They spoke of togetherness. They referred numerous times to the organization, winning and the team. But while Miller did exactly what a president should — state the facts and toe the line — Pritchard sounded and looked nothing like the man who brought the Blazers back from the brink.
Who buried the Jail Blazers? Who repainted Blazerland in black and red and reopened it for business?
Miller played a part. As did owner Paul Allen, the formerly employed Penn, a host of Blazer executives and key personnel, and Portland’s devoted fans.
But none of the work goes big time without Pritchard. And he knows it. Which is what made Monday’s presser so hard to watch.
Pritchard was asked several times in several different ways whether he will be Portland’s GM following the season. He replied the same way every time: “I don’t know.”
“I love it here. There’s nothing more gratifying to me,” Pritchard said. “I think we’ve turned around this organization. We have great kids who are competing at the highest level. I want us to make a playoff run and do some things in the playoffs. I feel like I’ve been somewhat of a part of that. I want to see this through. I want to see this through desperately.”
That last word is key. Pritchard’s voice, actions and appearance were coated in desperation Monday. Like a man who wanted to believe, but didn’t know if he still could.
Is it over for Pritchard and Portland?
It shouldn’t be. Technically, the music is still playing. The romance is in mid-stride. The relationship still has room to grow.
But all that crystal on the shelf that was supposed to one day celebrate a dynasty is suddenly showing serious cracks. And if July rolls around and all signs of KP have been removed from the building, it will be clear: Pritchard, the Blazers and an NBA championship were never meant to be.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter
Interview: Check the Blazer Banter blog for a transcript and video of Pritchard’s press conference.