One down and one to go
• Steve Patterson says Blazer GM must be the one to 'pull the trigger' on player moves
A lot of folks in Houston say good things about Steve Patterson. He constructed an NBA champion and was point man on a drive to acquire an NFL expansion team and build a stadium. And the Trail Blazers, who hired him Wednesday as president, expect him to lead them to the Promised Land.
Patterson, 45, has been there before. As general manager of the Houston Rockets from 1989-93, he put together most of the pieces for the teams that won NBA titles the next two seasons. He wasn't around to enjoy them because a month after Les Alexander bought the team in 1993, Patterson was gone, the victim of a new owner wanting his own people running things his way.
But Patterson left his imprint. He hired Rudy Tomjanovich as coach and made plenty of good player acquisitions, including a final one four weeks before he was fired Ñ Mario Elie from Portland for a second-round draft pick in August 1993. And 10 months later, 'they grudgingly gave him a championship ring,' says longtime Houston Chronicle columnist Fran Blinebury.
Blinebury considers Patterson, who earned his law degree from the University of Texas, a sharp cookie. So does Eddie Sefko, a seasoned Rockets beat reporter with the Houston Chronicle now working for the Dallas Morning News. Sefko began covering the Rockets when Patterson's father, Ray, was the GM and Steve was a youngster on his way up in the organization.
'I liked Ray, but he had built up so many calluses, he was a hardened veteran by the time I started covering the Rockets,' Sefko says. 'I remember he told me one time, 'Sometimes I may have to lie to you. It's your job to know when.'
'After Steve took over, he was a little more, shall we say, professional. He was very meticulous in the detail of things. He knew salary cap rules well in the time when not many people were so well-versed. He really sunk into it. One year, the league signed a new collective bargaining agreement. About a month later, Steve knew it all.'
Patterson will run the business side of the Portland organization and oversee the basketball side, but he says he will leave the latter primarily to the GM the Blazers say they will hire in the next week.
'When I was in Houston, coaches were involved, scouts were involved, financial people were involved in personnel decisions,' Patterson says. 'You have to have a holistic approach, take all the information and be able to make a decision. At the end of the day, the GM has to be the guy who pulls the trigger over what player personnel evaluations are going to take place. Otherwise, you can't hold the guy accountable.'
Unlike Bob Whitsitt, Patterson has personality. He will not come off as condescending or arrogant, as did his predecessor, when dealing with fans, media, players or even his peers. With Allen professing to be seriously interested in improving his team's image with the community, that should play well.
'Steve really does get along well with people,' says Tomjanovich, 54, who was an assistant coach when Patterson joined the Houston organization in 1984. 'He was creative in his thinking. Once he was GM, he did a good job of talking to coaches about the personnel. He would try to find ways to make deals. He used the teamwork of our organization for the evaluations.
'And his law background came in handy. I remember we had some great talks about different options with the salary cap.
'He always had that fire and enthusiasm in tackling the job, and I'm sure he'll show that in Portland. I bet he does real well there.'
After leaving the NBA, Patterson spent three years running an International Hockey League franchise in Houston. He then led the drive to gain Houston an NFL expansion franchise and spearheaded the design, financing and construction of the city's Reliant Stadium.
'He was the man most instrumental in the genesis of the dream that became the Texans franchise,' says Tod Leiweke, chief executive officer of the NHL Minnesota Wild. Leiweke succeeded Patterson as Rockets GM before resigning five months later after his own misgivings about the ownership.
'Steve has had an amazing collection of experiences in his background, and he still has a lot of fire in his belly,' Leiweke says. 'He's absolutely the perfect guy for the Portland situation.'
There seems little wrong with the Blazers' choice of Patterson. But there may be something wrong with the process.
Blazer owner Paul Allen relied on TeamWork Consulting Inc., an executive search firm based in Ohio, to identify the candidates for president and general manager. Founded in 1987, TeamWork Consulting claims to have served more than 120 sports and sports-related organizations and recruited more than 325 individuals for jobs, including at least six positions with NBA clubs.
In 1999, when he was serving as senior vice president and chief development officer of the fledgling Texans, Patterson hired TeamWork Consulting through its president, Buffy Filippell.
'We had just gotten the franchise, and we were getting 300 rŽsumŽs a day,' Patterson recalls. 'I didn't have a staff that could handle it. I contacted her and said, 'Buffy, I need something that can handle this. Let's put something together.' And she did. I hired her to staff the Texans.'
On the company Web site, Filippell pays tribute to Patterson for helping her create TeamWork Online, an interactive job board and applicant tracking system to attract potential employees for sports teams and leagues.
'I proposed to Steve that we create an online job board,' Filippell wrote. 'He readily embraced it É Steve's openness to new ideas led the Houston Texans to be the first to market, sell and continue to sell millions of dollars of PSL's (personal seat licenses) online.'
Patterson insisted this week, 'I don't have any business relationship with Buffy.' But when the Blazers came looking for presidential candidates, TeamWork was in position to push him for the job.
Bert Kolde, vice chairman of Vulcan Inc., who led the search, says Patterson's relationship with TeamWork had nothing to do with his selection.
'We went through a list of some 250 potential candidates (with TeamWork),' Kolde says. 'And we also talked with many people throughout the league about candidates we should take a look at. Steve's name kept coming up. He has made a good impression on a lot of people.'
But the search committee did itself no favors by failing to even contact Geoff Petrie, Sacramento's well-respected president of basketball operations. Petrie was Whitsitt's predecessor in Portland. He would have been interested and would have been a popular choice.
Allen says Patterson will have some say in hiring a general manager, who should be in place by Thursday's NBA draft. Mark Warkentien, the assistant GM under Whitsitt, has interviewed and is on a shortlist that apparently includes Ed Stefanski, New Jersey's director of scouting; Boston GM Chris Wallace; former Chicago GM Jerry Krause; and Wayne Cooper, Sacramento's vice president of basketball operations.
The natural question: Do any of these candidates have a history with TeamWork?