February 16, 2012 by David Gillaspie
Make it right, not a right angle. (originally posted on oregonsportsnews.com)
To misquote Denny Green while he coached the Arizona Cardinals, “The Blazers are who we thought they are.”
From the hope of draft day darlings delivered by former General Manager Kevin Pitchard, to a lock-out season enigma with an empty chair in the official General Manager’s office, the Blazers act like a collection of players in search of a team.
Other NBA teams might have a strange feel too, but not like Portland. The Kings made noise about moving if they didn’t get a new arena, as if their current home standing alone in a field wasn’t enough of an eyesore. The Nets upgrade by leaving New Jersey for Brooklyn.
When is the last time you heard anyone say ‘moving to Brooklyn’ and ‘upgrade’ in the same sentence? It makes Sacramento sound like paradise.
The Blazers aren’t moving. Just because owner Paul Allen lives in Seattle, coach Nate McMillan spent nineteen NBA years in Seattle, and Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz let a slick Oklahoma operator yank the Sonics out of Seattle doesn’t mean Portland will lose their team the same way. You can bet a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte on that.
The word to describe the Blazer world is one you never want associated with a team you care about: Complacent. Yet that seems to fit the Oregon lifestyle that bleeds into other areas. Where New York gets credit for being the city that never sleeps, Portland never seems to wake up. Instead of lights and hustle and deals on every street corner, Portland has outdoor recreation on nearby mountains and green spaces.
Looking through a microscope, Portland is where smart people head to retire young and send their kids to Reed College. It’s where dragon boat races and farmer’s markets get more attention than sports like baseball. The Blazers fit right in.
A poor season doesn’t bring on the torch-lit mob calling for heads to roll. Years of first round playoff exits won’t sharpen that ax. As long as the Rose Garden sells out, and players don’t make the nightly news from a strip club parking lot, it’s all good. In too many instances, Portland acts like the wallflower happy for an invitation to the A-list party known as the NBA.
When will that change? Look at the top.
Owner Paul Allen comes from the computer world. He needs things programmed a certain way. Rich Cho knows how that works, Paul’s way or the highway. Put Mr. Allen and Dallas’ owner Mark Cuban in the same room and see if you can tell which one is nutty about winning. It might be awkward watching Cuban go ballistic, but not as awkward as watching Mr. Allen attend a game looking like he’s sitting in his favorite church pew.
Inside the Blazers, President Larry Miller comes from a background including time with Kraft Foods and Campbell Soup before heading to Nike. As the top Blazer, he needs to add some spice to the sauce. The mac and cheese isn’t getting it done.
The Rose Garden as basketball mecca gets sidetracked by it’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold status, it’s membership in the Green Sports Alliance, and hosting the Green Sports Summit. No one mistakes the Rose Garden for a toxic dump anymore than they mistake it for a championship basketball arena.
A review of the historical Blazer archive reveals a few ideas that might fix the team.
The next time you fire a GM, don’t leave him hanging like you did Pritchard. Too many sports fans have picked up their box of personal materials at six in the morning inside the company parking garage after getting their pink slip. They don’t need sports for that reminder.
The next time you hire a GM don’t make him travel halfway around the world to interview on a yacht. The NBA is a sports business, not a James Bond movie. Don’t build resentment from the beginning, build a champion. Where did Danny Ainge interview for the Celtics? Was it Finland?
Avoid drafting another big man. After Walton, Michael Thompson, Sam Bowie, and Oden, there’s enough bone splinters in Portland to start a voodoo museum. Find guys that know their role and have been playing it a few years without crippling injuries. If huge guys can play on NFL lines season after season without missing games, Portland can find a durable player to show up who isn’t forty.
If the time comes to hire a new coach, stay clear of former All-Star guards. Do not look for the next Isiah Thomas to do the franchise like he did the CBA and the Knicks. Isiah the player? Yes. Isiah the executive? No.
Bring in a man who enjoys the outdoors, but doesn’t ski. A man who enjoys the rivers, but doesn’t fish. Find a man who understands complacency, but hates it enough to throw it down the fiery throat of Mt. St. Helens. Then rent gym time at Tualatin’s Hazelbrook middle school and tell the Blazers they’ll get their regular practice facility back when they’ve earned it.
Sports fans ache for their teams’ success. The Blazers need to make the pain in Portland go away sooner than later.