Cho brings potential, promise to Blazers

PORTLAND — Trail Blazers president Larry Miller could not stop smiling.

Key Portland executives and staff members repeatedly employed the word “potential.”

And as Rich Cho, the Blazers’ new general manager, discussed his diverse background and unique vision for the future, Portland coach Nate McMillan nodded in assent while intently listening to every word.

Monday was a big day for the Blazers. And it was a brand new day for Rip City.

Cho was officially introduced as Portland’s new GM, becoming the ninth person in the organization’s 40-year history to hold the title. And while the 44-year-old Pacific Northwest native acknowledged that he needs to polish up on his public-speaking skills — Monday’s introductory press conference was a first — Cho said he is undoubtedly prepared to guide the Blazers into the future.

“I’ve done a wide variety of jobs, and I feel like I’m definitely ready,” Cho said at the Rose Garden.

The Washington State graduate and former Federal Way resident previously was Oklahoma City’s assistant general manager. He worked within the franchise for 12 years, rising from an internship with Seattle SuperSonics to the right-hand man of Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Now, Cho follows in the footsteps of ex-Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, who was fired June 24.

In some ways, Cho is comparable to Pritchard. The duo are both
viewed as young rising stars in the league, and each helped turn around once-struggling franchises.

But where Pritchard at times seemed to enjoy and covet the
spotlight, Cho acknowledged that he is a behind-the-scenes worker who uses an “eyes, ears and numbers approach” to produce results.

Cho stressed that he does not plan to make significant changes to the Blazers’ roster until he first meets with Portland’s coaches and scouts. In doing so, Cho hopes to get a better feel for what a team that has posted back-to-back 50-win seasons and playoff appearances needs to add or subtract before it takes the next step in its evolution.

However, Cho already has his own ideas. He said the Blazers are
still a couple components away from contending for an NBA championship. And while Cho cautioned that he does not believe in making a trade simply to announce a deal, he also will not hesitate to make the moves required of a title-winning franchise.

“This team does have a lot of depth, and that’s one of the things that I will address,” Cho said. “There’s depth at various spots, and I will look at everything.”

To win the job, Cho had to beat out veteran GMs Danny Ferry and Randy Pfund. Cho was the last of the three to interview for the position. But after meeting last Tuesday with team president Larry Miller, Cho was soon given the greenlight to grab his passport and fly to Helsinki, Finland, where he sat down with Blazers owner Paul Allen.

“It’s been portrayed that this process has taken a long time,”
Miller said. “It really hasn’t. … Once we zeroed in on who we wanted and who our guy was, it actually happened very quickly.”

Miller said that he was wowed by Cho’s intelligence, analytical thinking and potential. And once Allen spoke with Cho, a mutual feeling was immediately relayed.

“(Allen’s) first comment to me was, ‘This guy is our culture,” Miller said.

Allen released a prepared statement to the media.

“Today is a great day for the Blazers organization,” Allen said. “As part of our review of a talented pool of candidates with Miller, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Cho. It quickly became very clear to me he had what we were looking for in a general manager.

“Rich has depth of character, a foundation in business and legal
matters, and a knowledge of the game of NBA basketball that will help our team get even better. He is part of the new generation of NBA executives.”

Cho acknowledged his new-generation approach, describing his strengths as an expert-like familiarity with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and salary cap-based contract negotiations.

But a grounded, humble Cho who lived off public welfare during his youth is also highly familiar with the Blazers’ past. He was able to recite by memory every jersey number Portland has retired. And as the Blazers move into a new era, Cho said his ultimate goal is to help bring Rip City its first NBA championship since the organization won its lone title in 1977.

“This team has come a long way,” Cho said. “But I still think there’s room for improvement. It’s probably not a championship contender right now. It’s one or two pieces away. And I hope to be able to bring those pieces here.”

Cho said he plans to soon hire an assistant general manager. The Blazers’ position has been void since Tom Penn was fired March 16. … Wesley Matthews was expected to be added to Portland’s roster Monday evening, his agent, Lance Young said. The Blazers made a restricted free agent offer worth $34 million for five years to the second-year guard on July 10. Utah had the ability to match the offer. However, a number of moves made by the Jazz during free agency made Matthews expendable.

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