In the first of a series of looks at prospective front office candidates for the Toronto Raptors, the HQ talks to Ben Golliver about Kevin Pritchard, and his potential fit with the Raps.
When you hear the name Kevin Pritchard you think...
Portland Trailblazers' turnaround?
Maybe you think of all of those things as well as some others regarding the former Blazers' GM, but what do we really know about the man at the front of the Kevin Durant versus Greg Oden debate, and apparently one of the four executives Toronto is considering for their front office.
Not a whole lot, and therefore last week I gave Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge and CBS Sports.com, a shout. Ben's been covering the Blazers since the dawn of the world-wide web, and offered some great insight into not only Pritchard as an executive, but in terms of his potential fit with Bryan Colangelo and the Dinos...
RaptorsHQ: So off the top, the reason this all came about of course is because Kevin Pritchard is apparently one of the four finalists for a "high-ranking position with the Raptors." Many think it will be the GM position, with Bryan Colangelo ceding the throne and retaining the President title, so my first question then is, do you think that Kevin Pritchard makes sense as GM of the Toronto Raptors?
Ben Golliver: Well, I know for sure that Kevin's very highly motivated to become a GM again. Obviously he lost the one GM position that he's had in his career with the (Portland Trail) Blazers and he actually rose up the ranks in the Blazers' organization pretty quickly, basically through the scouting department. He was the interim coach for a little bit, then got the GM position and he seemed very, very comfortable and confident in that position. It kind of seemed like, you know when you come across someone in your daily life and realize that that person is doing the exact job they were made for? That would certainly be Pritchard. His presentation when he was GM, he just seemed to really eat it up. His personality certainly is to be a GM so I can see him being highly motivated to return to a GM role. If you look at the reported details of his contract with Indiana that he just signed, there's an opt-out if he wanted to go, and he got a GM position. And, he could still interview for other jobs. So I think that kind of speaks to his motivation to get back to where he was before.
In terms of the Raptors, I tend to think that the Raptors have one of the weakest rosters in the league at this point, I think their record over the last couple of years bears that out. Some of their signings I think people would question in terms of their overall dollar amounts, guys like Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza, so what Kevin would bring to a position like that is what he brought to the Blazers when he was GM; a fresh face, a new start, a really honest voice that could connect with fans, a guy that's going to take the scouting process and talent evaluation process very seriously, a guy who's going to look for every possible competitive advantage. That could be bringing guys over from Europe, something Bryan Colangelo has already been doing, or tapping certain guys in the draft that may not be the headliners. Looking for draft steals.
And he's also going to look for guys who have really high character, people who are able to bond with fans. You look at guys like DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems, I think they had a really good relationship with Raptors fans. He's going to be looking for high character guys like that, players who can relate to the fans who can build up an aura around the team that can hopefully get the momentum going back in a positive direction.
His big catchphrase is always going to be "culture." He wants to establish a winning culture. He was an NCAA champion at the University of Kansas in the late 80's, that team with Danny Manning, he was a point guard on it, and I think he takes a lot of experience from that time in his life. That Kansas program of course has the ability to go after the top players every year and every year have a team that's looking to win a title and I think he was trying to do that In Portland - create that winning atmosphere and I think he'll try to do the same in Toronto.
RaptorsHQ: Wow, really great look at Pritchard there, especially in terms of touching on some of his strengths. You noted the scouting and talent evaluation aspect of his skill set and obviously drafts that have yielded players like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge back this up, not to mention played a key role in the transformation of that team from "Jailblazers" to their current rendition. What would you say Pritchard's key strengths are for a role like the one he's rumoured to be considered for?
BG: One of his main strengths is just his thirst for knowledge. Like I said, he's always trying to get a competitive advantage. He's really into the analytics side, he's really into establishing processes that are repeatable so that if you do lose this scout, or you lose this employee or whatever, the process itself is able to carry on, and it's getting to the end goal that you need, whether that's data collection or data analysis or whatever.
Number two, communication. He's a very skilled communicator, he's very good at pushing the right buttons with fans, he's a very good listener in terms of trying to find out what people want from his organization. I mean here in Portland, fans wanted good guys, high character players, they wanted some young talent that had potential, and they wanted to have a chance to compete for a title. Obviously every team wants that but here in Portland they hadn't really had that, with the exception of the disaster in the 2000 playoffs against the Lakers. There hadn't really been that potential for an NBA title since the Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter years.
So what Pritchard was constantly selling was creating a core of players who were going to have a championship window that was going to extend for multiple seasons. He was trying to follow the San Antonio Spurs' blueprint as well in terms of being a small market team that could compete by getting the right stars and building around them.
So number one I'd say thirst for knowledge and number two communication ability, and I do also think he's a very thorough talent evaluator.
Clearly the biggest decision he faced was Durant or Oden, during his entire time in Portland, and you can kind of see how that's panned out. So I think that's always going to be a knock against him, whether that was his pick, whether that was coming down from ownership, I think there's going to be a lot of questions, probably forever, about who ultimately made that call. But I do think his overall track record is quite good, and not just regarding individual players but also targeting players and making the necessary trades to get them. He's been very aggressive on draft day, and I think that's a very big part of the talent evaluation process too, determining how much you think a player is worth and how much you're willing to sacrifice to bring that guy on board, I think that's something he's very aggressive and assertive in, and a major strength.
RHQ: That's a pretty glowing review. Would you say that there any weaknesses that stand out because despite all these strengths, I think one of the questions in a lot of people's minds will be "what happened in Portland?" Pritchard HAD been so successful, not just in terms of changing the culture of that organization, but also obviously in terms of acquiring a lot of the players you alluded to. What's your take on what happened?
BG: I think when you look back on that, and you look at what happened to his successor in Rich Cho, and you start to realize that the constant piece here is not Kevin or Rich, the constant piece that is influencing all of this is the owner, Paul Allen. You read his autobiography that he just released this past spring and you can kind of tell he's just a really bitter guy who has a certain vision of who is he as a person and what kind of business he wants to run. And whether you want to call it delusional or not quite full or whatever, he's just this guy that really gets off on considering himself a demanding executive that's going for the best and he doesn't always quite think through all the implications of his decisions; he doesn't realize that he's working against himself when he's churning through all these executives.
And it's not just limited to the Blazers. He's done the same thing up in Seattle, bringing in new coaches, bringing in new GM's, that's just who the guy is.
So in terms of whether there was any great sin Kevin committed while he was here in Portland, it's hard for me to say that, especially in hindsight. Certainly if you're talking about Greg Oden not suffering the major knee injuries that he did, and being a healthy Greg Oden over these last two or three seasons I'd be willing to wager that Kevin Pritchard would still have his job. I just think that winning makes everything look better and had the Blazers advanced in the playoffs, he'd still be around. From that perspective I think it has more to do with who the team's owner is then any individual decisions that Kevin made or didn't make.
Now that being said, just like everybody else, he's not a perfect executive. I think what we learned from that experience was that he was a bit naive in terms of what he was going against. He obviously worked really hard for Paul Allen but he wasn't able to keep his boss happy basically and at some point you do have to do that when you're working for a billionaire like half the GM's in this league are. Ultimately they're the boss and you've got to be able to state your case and stick around. And I think Kevin DID want to stick around in Portland and ultimately it just became untenable. So he may have been a bit naïve, and he's certainly not the most experienced GM candidate in the world. If he's going up against some of these other assistant GM guys that have been associated with the (Raptors') position then I don't think that really counts against him but if you're comparing him to say a Donnie Walsh, or one of these NBA lifers who's been a GM or executive longer than Kevin's been alive, then that's going to potentially be a strike against him.
The other thing that's really a weakness for him is his salary cap knowledge, his understanding of the intricacies of the collective bargaining agreement. That was not his strong suit, nor his main point of interest.
They had Tom Penn on as the Assistant GM, and then the Vice-President of Basketball Operations (he was promoted right before he was fired) and the financial piece, that was pretty much considered Tom's territory. And Kevin would pretty much defer questions of this sort to Tom, if you talked to him, even one-on-one about say "can you tell me about the structure of this contract," or "why would you do this instead of this in terms of this free agent." You don't often hear that from GM's. A lot of GM's will either just refuse to answer the question or will answer it in sort of a way where they dumb it down. But Kevin would openly say "that's a question for Tom," and to me that reinforced the idea that these guys were best as a package where Kevin was allowed to do the communicating and making the higher level scouting decisions, and Tom was allowed to add his expertise with the CBA and the financial aspects o f it. They were a really potent team.
So the question for the Raptors I think is, "what are Bryan Colangelo's strengths?", or "what does he perceive are his strengths?" If there's too much overlap with Kevin then it might not be the most complementary hiring.
Now I don't know what Bryan Colangelo's self-perception is, but it's just something to keep in mind when you look at that potential fit.