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David Aldridge

Rich Cho
Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan helps introduce Rich Cho (right) during a happier time 10 months ago.
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Mystifying Cho decision about chemistry, not performance


Posted May 23 2011 9:02PM

The Portland Trail Blazers' mystifying pattern of front office dysfunction continued Monday, when owner Paul Allen suddenly fired general manager Rich Cho after less than one year on the job. Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan will handle the team's Draft and other GM duties on an interim basis while the team searches for a permanent replacement.

Team president Larry Miller acknowledged in a telephone interview Monday that Cho was fired because of his relationship with Allen, not because of his decisions as the Blazers' GM.

"At the end of the day, it just came down to a chemistry issue," Miller said. "In the interview process (last year) we all thought the fit was right and the chemistry would be there. That turned out not to be the case."

Miller said that Cho didn't have a "level of communication" with Allen that suited the owner.

"Rich is a smart guy and a great guy," Miller said, "but the chemistry with the owner wasn't there. And if it's not there, dragging it out and not dealing with it sooner rather than later isn't the right thing to do."

In a statement, Cho said, "Obviously it's a difficult day, but I want to truly thank Paul Allen and Larry Miller for the opportunity they gave me here in Portland. I also want to thank the fans, players, coaches, business office staff and especially my basketball operations staff who have supported me along the way. I feel good about the work we've done here and I know the Trail Blazers are headed in the right direction."

Cho had been hired last July to replace Kevin Pritchard, who fell out of favor with Allen and his Seattle-based management team despite restoring the reputation of the franchise from its "Jail Blazers" nadir among local fans. Pritchard acquired LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Nicolas Batum in Draft day deals, traded for Marcus Camby and signed guard Andre Miller. But Pritchard also drafted oft-injured center Greg Oden with the first pick of the 2007 Draft, and the success of Kevin Durant, taken second by Oklahoma City, was held against Pritchard.

The ground for Pritchard's firing was laid by the still-unexplained firing of his close friend and vice president of basketball operations, Tom Penn, 14 months ago. Rumors soon abounded that the team's management thought Pritchard was taking too much credit for the team's success -- an odd complaint, since Pritchard had assembled the roster -- and that the Blazers felt used when Penn had come close to taking the Minnesota Timberwolves' GM job, offering him a substantial raise to stay in Portland.

Miller insisted to local reporters that Cho's disclosure that he'd contemplated suspending Roy during Portland's playoff series with Dallas, after Roy had expressed frustration at coming off of the bench against the Mavericks, did not play a role in the dismissal. But it's hard to see any other thing that Cho did in his brief tenure that could have caused Allen any angst.

Cho made a great acquisition at the trade deadline in February, acquiring Gerald Wallace from Charlotte for Joel Pryzbilla, Dante Cunningham and Sean Marks, along with first round picks in 2011 and 2013 -- the '11 pick came from New Orleans last year in the Jerryd Bayless deal. (The Blazers' free agent signing of guard Wes Matthews occurred before Cho was hired, while Buchanan was the interim GM in the wake of Pritchard's firing.)

Cho was hired by Portland, in part, because of the analytical skill set he brought as the well-respected assistant GM in Oklahoma City under Sam Presti. He had a sterling reputation in handling contracts and analyzing player effectiveness using some of the newer NBA statistics which have become more popular around the league in recent years.

At the time, Miller said Cho was "the perfect fit" for the Blazers, in part, because of his "tremendous people skills." Miller said the numerous people he'd spoken with about Cho had commented "not just on his qualifications but on who he is as a person. He is well known for his ability to connect genuinely with people."

Miller said Monday that the team would take its time before hiring the next permanent GM, and that Buchanan could receive consideration for the job after the Blazers establish their criteria. He also acknowledged that the events of the past 14 months may make potential GM candidates think twice before deciding if they want to come to Portland.

"I still think that it's a great job," Miller said. "You have an owner who wants to spend money, you have an owner who wants to win and you have an owner who loves basketball."

The Trail Blazers will retain assistant general managers Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry, hired by Cho last summer, Miller said.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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