Pritchard discusses Blazers' future, says his own is secure

TUALATIN, Ore. — Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said it was hard to watch.

While Portland’s 2009-10 season came to a close last Thursday, following a defeat to Phoenix in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, other teams have played on and remained alive.

A what-if scenario has haunted Pritchard.

What if the injury-plagued Blazers had been healthy?

What if Portland had been blessed with better luck and discovered better fortune?

“I think we would’ve been a 55-plus win team. And we would’ve been a dangerous out,” Pritchard said Monday, at the team’s practice facility.

Instead, the Blazers missed 311 games due to injury. And even All-Star guard Brandon Roy acknowledged last week that Portland’s dramatic season would ultimately be defined by what did not happen, instead of what did.

Thus, Pritchard said the word that best characterized the Blazers in 2009-10 was resiliency. And in looking for the fulfillment of potential, development and growth, Pritchard saw what he needed to see.

“I thought a lot of players got better,” Pritchard said. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do. But overall, I thought we were very resilient. I think that’s a credit to our players. I think that’s a credit to (coach) Nate (McMillan). And that’s a credit to the organization. It was a fun year. It was a challenging year. But we
were very resilient. And I’m proud of that.”

However, a season’s worth of resiliency finally gave way Monday to talk about the future.

Most of the discussion centered around how Portland will maintain ground in the highly competitive Western Conference. The Blazers have recorded back-to-back 50-win seasons and made two consecutive playoff appearances. But while Portland has held ground, up-and-coming teams such as Oklahoma City have shot forward. Meanwhile, stalwarts such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, San Antonio and the Suns are still competing for the conference title.

“We’re going to have to find ways to improve,” Pritchard said.

But Pritchard was also forced once again to discuss his own future.

He said he has no reason to believe he will not continue to serve
as the team’s general manager, but did acknowledge making mistakes in the past.

Pritchard’s status has been uncertain since mid-March, when the unexpected firing of Tom Penn, former vice president of basketball operations, ignited a rumor-fed fire of theories and accusations.

Pritchard answered several questions Monday about his future, and sounded relaxed and confident when answering the queries. And while McMillan said he believes Pritchard will return next season, a league source said that nothing has changed in the past month that gives any indication Pritchard will be relieved of his position.

Pritchard is under contract with the Blazers through 2010-11. The team holds an option for the following season.

“To be honest … I’ve sort of put that aside,” Pritchard said. “I’m going to do the best I can for this organization ‘til they tell me I can’t.”

Exit interviews were conducted Sunday with Blazer players, officially marking the end of an unpredictable 2009-10 campaign.

Pritchard said the sessions were individually catered to all 15 roster members, and described the overall experience as positive.

However, McMillan acknowledged that forward LaMarcus Aldridge still has a huge window for growth, and has yet to tap his full potential.

And McMillan stated that the upcoming summer will be another important one for center Greg Oden, who is recovering from his second major surgery in three years.

Pritchard said Oden is on schedule during his rehabilitation, and is expected to be ready for training camp in October.

“He’s done anything we’ve ever asked him,” Pritchard said. “So, I know that he’ll continue to do that.”

If Oden returns to the team showing off the dominant form he displayed during 21 games in 2009-10, McMillan envisions a highly contested battle during training camp for the starting center spot between Oden, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla — one that could ultimately serve to strengthen and toughen a Blazers team that at times lacked the mental focus to succeed and advance in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Pritchard acknowledged that the stakes have changed for a Blazers team that can no longer be considered young and inexperienced.

Pritchard said nerves are still raw following the first-round loss to Phoenix, and cautioned that key members within Portland’s organization will take time off before they begin to evaluate players and make decisions that could affect the future of the team. However, Pritchard added that the franchise is not afraid to make changes.

“We have to all look in the mirror, specifically me, and figure out how we all can get better individually and as a collective group,” Pritchard said. “Because now we’re playing at a different level. And we’re not judged by making the playoffs. We’re judged by how we do in the playoffs.”

Pritchard said he believes McMillan will be the team’s coach for the foreseeable future. … McMillan said he hopes veteran forward Juwan Howard will return to the team next season. Howard will become a free agent July 1. … Pritchard said Roy’s recurring knee problems are a concern, and Roy’s health will be closely monitored. But Pritchard added that the situation Roy faces is no different than many NBA players. “Brandon is as healthy now as he’s been. His knees look great,” Pritchard said. … Pritchard said guard Rudy Fernandez did not request a trade during an exit interview. Fernandez did express displeasure with his role on the team last season, though. … Pritchard said forward Nicolas Batum, who dealt with a right shoulder injury throughout the year, will likely play for the French national team this summer. … Pritchard said the team will evaluate whether it can be a major player in the loaded 2010 free-agent market, one that will likely be topped by Cleveland’s LeBron James. Portland’s participation is unlikely, though, because the Blazers are expected to be above the league salary cap. Thus, Portland will likely focus more on the draft than free agency to improve the team. The Blazers hold the Nos. 22 and 44 selections in the draft, which will be held June 24 in New York City. Portland will begin working out prospects Friday.

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Video: Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard discusses the team’s 2009-10 season and looks ahead at

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