Trail Blazers' search for new general manager to heat up soon
The Trail Blazers' general manager position has been vacant nearly a year now, dating back to the unexpected firing of Rich Cho, who's now in Charlotte. But sources close to the situation told SI.com that the search for a new GM is likely to heat up soon, and it presents as good an excuse as any to take a break from the playoff action and analyze a number of front office situations around the league.
Before we go there, though, an interesting note to share about the power players involved in Portland: While team president Larry Miller is the front man for owner Paul Allen, league sources say Allen's long-time confidant and member of the team's board of directors, Bert Kolde, is the Wizard of Oz in this process -- one of the most influential voices around who joined Allen and Miller in interviews the last time they tried to fill this job a year ago. It's not the kind of wizardry Blazers fans likely had in mind, but they won't complain so long as someone gets their team back on track after its streak of four winning seasons (193-135, .588 winning percentage) was broken by this season's 28-38 finish. The Blazers, who fired coach Nate McMillan in mid-March, are expected to fill that slot (interim Kaleb Canales is expected to be among the candidates) after finding a GM.
Now on to navigating these complicated front-office waters.
While Miller has been in relentless pursuit of Steve Kerr, the TNT analyst and former Suns general manager has turned the Blazers down twice and it appears that answer is final this time.
"Steve thinks the world of the Blazers, and Larry was great in their conversations [about the job], but he wants to continue watching his kids grow up and he loves the job at TNT," his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told SI.com this week. "Steve's not looking to do anything [different]."
Bartelstein added that he envisions Kerr re-entering the NBA "in a few years," but the Blazers won't wait that long. The search appears to be wide open beyond him, but sources say the Blazers are determined to land an established executive and are prepared to have the current front office, headed by acting general manager Chad Buchanan, make the team's draft selections on June 28 if they haven't found the right candidate by then.
They have interviewed Noah Croom, an agent and former assistant general manager for the Grizzlies from 1995-2000, and have had phone conversations with Larry Brown before he took the coaching job at Southern Methodist. Croom, according to sources, is not expected to get the job.
As was first reported by Comcast Sports Northwest, the Blazers have received permission to speak with Pacers general manager David Morway. But with president Larry Bird expected to step down at the end of this season when his contract ends, Morway -- who has been GM since 2008 and whose contract, also expires this summer -- could also be in the running to take the Pacers reins.
Morway was a key voice for the Pacers as they reformed their roster in recent years. Their turnaround continued this season as they finished 42-24 now lead 3-1 in the first round against Orlando. When reached by SI.com on Saturday, Morway said no interviews had been formalized with the Blazers.
"I'm flattered that Portland asked for permission, but right now I'm focused on the playoffs and focused on our team," Morway said.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is reportedly on the Blazers' radar, although a Lakers official said late Friday that Portland had not yet requested permission to speak with him. The notion of Kupchak leaving Los Angeles, which was first reported by ESPN.com, is plausible considering the changed dynamics within the organization. With executive vice president and owner's son Jim Buss leading the operation now and the purse strings tighter than ever, sources close to Kupchak have said for quite some time that he's frequently frustrated with the new ways of his world.
Up the coast in Sacramento, Geoff Petrie -- the Kings' president and former Blazers executive/player who has been connected to the job consistently by Portland media -- can relate. The Maloof family that owns the Kings is overloaded with debt and still faces the possibility of relocation after they backed out of an arena deal with the city that was negotiated by the NBA (although they will be in Sacramento at least through next season). The Kings have had the lowest payroll among NBA teams the last two seasons, but have posted six straight losing seasons (159-317, .334 winning percentage).
Yet despite the limitations, Petrie has played a significant part in the team's drastic decline and sources close to him say he believes his once-sterling reputation has taken a serious beating, in large part, because of the ownership situation. With one season left on his contract, there continues to be conflicting signs about his future with the team, and while co-owner Joe Maloof told SI.com on Saturday that Portland has not requested permission to speak with Petrie, he said he would allow him to pursue the opportunity if that was his wish.
"We'd love to keep him, but we aren't going to hold him back if he did get another offer," Joe Maloof said. "It's whatever he decides."
But anyone who remembers the way Petrie left Portland has to wonder if Allen would want to bring him back. After four years as senior vice president of basketball operations for the Blazers, Petrie resigned abruptly in 1994 amid a power struggle with then-director of player personnel, Brad Greenberg.
Bucks general manager John Hammond, who was a finalist for the Blazers' job in 2003 before it went to John Nash, was a Blazers candidate again this time around. But numerous front-office sources said the Bucks, who were a disappointing 31-35 this season, refused Portland permission to speak with Hammond recently. A Bucks official could not clarify whether that was the case and Miller declined to comment on the matter when reached Friday, but indications are that Hammond will remain in Milwaukee at least one more season with coach Scott Skiles (both have one season left on their contracts).
Meanwhile, several other potential candidates who are held in high regard and could be interested in the position didn't turn up any other requests for permission by the Blazers. As of Saturday, Portland had not requested to speak with Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie, Pistons assistant GM Scott Perry (or GM Joe Dumars, who was atop the Blazers' list a year ago but has not shown interest), Warriors assistant GM Travis Schlenk (or former GM Larry Riley, who was named director of scouting because of Bob Myers' promotion to general manager), or Nuggets front-office advisor Pete D'Alessandro.