Miller again attempts to calm rough waters
For the second time in less than three months, Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller stepped forward to calm rough waters.
Miller addressed Tuesday a variety of rumors and accusations that have engulfed the Blazers in recent days, centering upon the future of embattled general manager Kevin Pritchard.
Pritchard is under contract with Portland through the 2010-11 season, with a team option for 2011-12. However, his job security and future with the organization have been in question since March 16, when Tom Penn, former Blazers vice president of basketball operations, was unexpectedly fired.
During the drama-infused aftermath that followed Penn’s firing, Miller was first forced to address the media March 22. At that time, Miller was adamant that Penn’s dismissal was an isolated incident, and not linked to Pritchard’s future. In addition, Miller said that Pritchard would receive a performance evaluation once the 2009-10 season was complete.
Tuesday, Miller said that Pritchard’s evaluation is still ongoing.
“The evaluation process is still in play. We’re still kind of going through that,” Miller said. “And the reality is, the organization wants to take its time and do the best possible job of making whatever decision is made going forward. But there’s been no decisions made up to this point related to Kevin and the future.”
Miller also used the term “speculation” several times when referring to recent national media reports that have linked everyone from Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti to Mark Warkentien, Denver vice president of basketball operations, to Pritchard’s current job.
Miller said he, too, had heard the rumors. But he conceded that he could not comment on where the organization is in its evaluation process, nor divulge how events are unfolding.
“The reality is, this organization is still solid,” Miller said. “People here are still focused on trying to make this the best organization in sports.”
Pritchard has not been made available to the media since June 1. Miller said Tuesday that Pritchard is currently in New York City, scouting for the 2010 NBA Draft, which is scheduled for June 24.
An interview request submitted Monday for Blazers owner Paul Allen was denied.
“The organization is totally focused on the draft, and Paul won’t be commenting on anything until after that,” said David Postman, Allen’s spokesman.
A story issued last Saturday by Yahoo! Sports is largely responsible for fueling the increasing uncertainty about Pritchard’s job status. The website reported that the Blazers recently hired an outside search firm to evaluate potential GM candidates.
Asked about the veracity of the report, Miller said he could not provide an answer because the organization is still in an evaluation process.
The uber-professional Miller sounded calm and reserved, and spoke with a smooth, even tone during a 15-minute phone interview Tuesday. But he acknowledged that a series of highly speculative national reports about the future of the Blazers have taken a toll.
“I would hope people wouldn’t jump to any conclusions based on speculation,” Miller said. “We’re in the midst of this process. We’re looking at what is best for this organization, and that’s what Paul’s commitment has always been: To bring a championship back to Portland, and to make sure he’s got the best people in place to be able to do that.”
Miller acknowledged that Pritchard has been a very positive asset for the Blazers since joining the organization in 2004. In addition, Miller said Pritchard has been exceptional at evaluating talent and drafting players who have helped key a Portland turnaround that has seen the team post back-to-back 50-win seasons and earn two consecutive playoff appearances.
But when asked whether he believed Pritchard would still the Blazers’ GM when the 2010-11 season begins in October, Miller offered guarded words.
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” he said. “Because we’re still in the throes of that process.”
Pritchard was scheduled to meet Sunday with Warkentien, sources informed The Columbian.
The meeting was canceled, however, when one of the parties backed out due to personal reasons.
The convergence is expected to be rescheduled.
Pritchard and Warkentien, key front-office executives of rival teams in the NBA’s Northwest Division, were reportedly set to discuss topics including the draft and trade-related possibilities.
An attempt to reach Warkentien through his agent, Steve Kauffman, was unsuccessful.
Kauffman said late Monday that Pritchard and Warkentien are “friends.”
“Heard they were just getting a bite to eat,” Kauffman said in a text message. “That’s all.”
The scheduled get together between Pritchard and Warkentien was set for one day after a report was published that asserted the Blazers had hired a search firm to find a possible replacement for Pritchard.
Warkentien is in the final year of his contract with Denver, and his name was linked Monday to Portland’s GM position.
Warkentien spent 10 years working with the Blazers, and has long been associated with the organization’s infamous Jail Blazers era.
His tenure with the franchise ended as director of player personnel, while he also served as assistant general manager and director of scouting.
Warkentien, who reportedly spends a significant amount of time living in the Portland area while being employed by the Nuggets, joined Denver in 2005. He was awarded NBA executive of the year in 2008-09.
Warkentien was originally linked to the Blazers’ GM job when Penn was fired. However, Warkentien denied being interested in the position, and refuted rumors that he had played any part in the front-office controversy that has since surrounded the Blazers.
Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for a transcript of an interview Tuesday with Blazers president Larry Miller.