Don't be shocked if the Trail Blazers replace Bob Whitsitt with the man many consider to be the finest front-office executive in the NBA.
Yes, it may happen. Geoff Petrie could be enticed, not that it would be easy.
Petrie, who resigned as Portland's senior vice president of basketball operations in 1994 before heading for Sacramento, is on the shortlist of the Blazer search team looking to hire a president and a general manager.
The Blazers have let it be known that they are in no hurry to fill Whitsitt's positions. That might be because the team is waiting to explore the possibility of rehiring Whitsitt's predecessor, whose Sacramento Kings are still in the playoffs.
Petrie, NBA Executive of the Year in 1998-99 and 2000-01, won't confirm interest in the Portland job, nor will he confirm that the Blazers have expressed interest in him.
'All I am concerned with right now is our series with the Dallas Mavericks,' Petrie tells the Tribune.
Petrie, who has three years remaining on his contract, is tremendously loyal to the Kings' owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, who took over the club in 1998 and have provided the resources for Petrie to build a winner. Petrie has great people around him ÑÊmanagement, coaches and players ÑÊwho have helped him turn the previously woebegone Kings into a model franchise. He has often said that the Sacramento community reminds him of Portland.
But in a very real sense, Portland is home for Petrie. He was the Blazers' first draft choice, the team's first All-Star, and his No. 45 hangs in the rafters of the Rose Garden.
After his retirement as a player, Petrie stayed in Oregon, working in private business and coaching at Willamette University before returning to the Blazers in several capacities. Under Petrie's watch, Portland reached the NBA Finals in 1992, and he left the team in 1994 primarily because owner Paul Allen was firing coach Rick Adelman against his advice.
Allen and Petrie have remained on good terms over the years. Geoff met his wife, Anne-Marie, in Portland, and both have warm memories of living in the city.
A return to Portland would be an affair of the heart for Petrie. But would the Maloofs go for it?
Put it this way: Would they stand in his way if it's what he really wants to do?
Allen surely would have to offer a significant pay increase to Petrie, and he would have to convey some sort of reparations to the Maloofs (draft choices, money considerations, invitations to his next yacht party). Allen probably would have to change his stance about hiring separate people for both the president and GM positions, but that wouldn't be a problem Ñ Vice President Erin Hubert could continue to capably handle the business side.
If the Blazer owner wants it to happen, it can happen.
If wooing Petrie doesn't work out, another option is his right-hand man, Wayne Cooper, the Kings' VP of basketball operations who had two tours of duty playing with the Blazers. Cooper would love a return to Portland and a chance to run his own show, and he would have his boss' endorsement.
'Wayne and I are about as close as it gets, and I've always encouraged him to think about getting another job if it's the right one,' Petrie says. 'He has all the ability in the world to do that, but it's something we would have to wait on until we get done with the playoffs. The last thing Wayne or I want is to have some off-court distractions.'
Pants on fire
A caller to Dwight Jaynes' KPAM (860 AM) radio talk show e-mailed Whitsitt last week, asking why he chose to talk to every media outlet in the city except KPAM and the Tribune after his resignation.
'I talked to everyone yesterday,' Whitsitt e-mailed the caller. 'The PR people kept bringing people in all day. É At the end of the day, I asked if that was it, and they said yes, so I have no idea what you're talking about. É I've never seen either of those guys (Jaynes or Eggers) come to our offices, which I'm sure they didn't want to do.'
Response: Whitsitt conducted individual and small group interviews rather than a news conference, specifically so he could exclude Jaynes and me. On the day of the announcement, the Blazer PR staff got the word out about the interview process to all media outlets except KPAM and the Tribune. I found out and drove to the Blazer office, only to be told by PR staff members that Whitsitt had decided he wouldn't talk with me. You're darn right he knew I was there.
By the way, I've visited the Blazer office many times over the years. Whitsitt hasn't seen me because he doesn't stop by very often.
Notes: Four teams intrigue free agent Gary Payton: Minnesota, San Antonio, New Jersey and Portland. That is, if he doesn't re-sign with Milwaukee. É From the don't-believe-what-you-read department: A Damon Stoudamire trade is unlikely this summer because of his salary, which calls for him to make more than $30 million over the next two years. 'If he were making $7 million a season, it would be a totally different story,' says one NBA executive. 'There are others like him who are good players but have a contract disproportionate to their value, and it makes them difficult to deal.' É The word in Portland is that Jermaine O'Neal, perhaps the plum of this summer's free-agent crop, wants to return to the Blazers. Bet against it. O'Neal will attract a league-maximum salary for his seven years of service, about $12 million annually. Odds are he will stay with Indiana. The other possibility would be to sign with San Antonio, which has made room under the salary cap for a player of his caliber. É Boston's Antoine Walker wrested the NBA's regular-season crown for technical fouls away from Rasheed Wallace, the league champion the last three seasons. Walker had 22, far short of the record 41 that Wallace set three years ago. Wallace, with only 11, even lost his team title to Bonzi Wells (13).