New job: Reinvent the Blazers
• For starters, Steve Patterson must find a GM, win back fans and slash payroll
Steve Patterson just signed off on a house in Lake Oswego, and he should have his family here with him by the end of the month. That much he knows.
Everything else for the Trail Blazers' new president remains to be seen. A general manager must be hired, one or two assistant coaches added, a first-round draft choice signed, summer league plans drawn and a serious look taken at the team's veteran roster.
Those are items on the player personnel side. On the business side, there's the paring of a player payroll that hit an NBA-record $105 million last season, meaning a luxury tax of more than $50 million for owner Paul Allen.
Then there's the repair of relations between the fan base and the team, which began last year under the direction of Vice President Erin Hubert. With a majority of the suite leases coming up for renewal after next season, there's no time to waste.
As Patterson begins to stake out his turf and get a feel for how things will shake down with the club and the employees under him, he also will begin to learn about the group to which he must report Ñ the mysterious 'board' referred to by Allen during Patterson's news conference.
Evidently, the board includes Allen; Paul's sister, Jody Patton, senior adviser in Allen's Vulcan enterprises; Blazer Vice Chairman Bert Kolde; and several members of the Vulcan staff.
Coach Maurice Cheeks also will have a voice in the hiring of a new GM.
'Mo has been one of the people who has had conversations with the GM candidates and is part of the hiring process, as are a number of the financial folks at Vulcan,' Patterson says. 'At the end of the day, it's going to be Paul's call, and he will take input from all of us.'
Does that mean that Kolde and the other Vulcan number crunchers will help choose the next GM? Must Patterson run all decisions past this cast of basketball experts? If not, can somebody please enlighten us?
Allen has never minded paying more for his players than anybody else, but after years of playoff disappointment, he has grown tired of the gross overspending that was Bob Whitsitt's calling card.
Cutting player payroll in the next couple of years 'is very important,' Patterson acknowledges. 'Look at the teams in the Finals (San Antonio and New Jersey), with payrolls in the mid- to high $50 millions. Injuries played a part in (Portland's) playoff results the last few years, but losing in the first round is not where you want to be when you are paying that kind of money.'
Owners of teams over the luxury tax threshold Ñ expected to be in the low $50 millions Ñ must pay dollar for dollar to owners of teams under it. The $50 million or so Allen is expected to pay in tax for last season will be split by some of his competitors.
'You are getting whacked three and four to one,' Patterson says. 'If you have a good chance to reach the finals, there's a certain logic to that approach É but I'm not sure it's a sustainable model.'
Patterson would love to have a GM in place by Friday, but when Ed Stefanski, New Jersey's director of scouting, turned the Blazers down and Boston GM Chris Wallace pulled out, Portland took a back-to-the-drawing-board approach.
'We have a half-dozen names we are in the process of interviewing and re-interviewing,' Patterson says. 'The (board's) original concept was, 'Let's do it before the draft,' but for a variety of reasons, that scenario changed.
'We want to make sure we go thoroughly over all the candidates, not make a quick decision and sacrifice making the right choice. Hopefully, the person we come up with will work for us and be successful for many years to come.'
That may be John Hammond, the respected vice president for basketball operations with Detroit who is on the shortlist and is close with Patterson's friend and former co-worker, Houston GM Carroll Dawson. Or John Nash, the three-time NBA general manager who worked in Philadelphia during Cheeks' playing days and hired Blazer assistant Jimmy Lynam as head coach at Philly and Washington.
It won't be Stefanski, who will assume a new title with more responsibility Ñ and a nice raise Ñ with the Nets. He says he was offered the Blazer job, though it never reached the point of talking terms or salary.
'I had planned on going to Portland after numerous interviews,' says Stefanski, 49. 'I was very impressed with the situation there. Paul is a good guy with a passion for the game. When I got back to New Jersey, the owner (Lewis Katz) and GM (Rod Thorn) didn't want me to go and made a great offer I didn't expect. I am used to New Jersey, I feel real close to the players, and I feel fortunate to stay.'
Wallace's agent, Warren LeGarie, told the Boston Herald last week that the Blazers presented Wallace with a four-year offer. But according to the story, when LeGarie asked for better terms, the Blazers balked.
'They asked him to keep his name in the process, but at that point we felt it wasn't a good fit anymore,' LeGarie was quoted as saying. 'The job description changed. At the beginning, it was going to be a position with authority. By the end, it was just a glorified player personnel director's job.'
One source says that Wallace was seriously considered for the Blazer position but that his draft record with Boston, and the acquisition of Vin Baker through the ill-fated trade with Seattle, gave the selection committee some misgivings. When LeGarie tried to set a deadline for an offer to be made, the Blazers backed away.
Patterson wouldn't comment specifically on the situation with Wallace, other than to deny the inference that he will be exerting more authority on personnel manners than he indicated when he took the job.
'I have been consistent in what I have said to all the candidates,' says Patterson, general manager of the Houston Rockets from 1989-93. 'The primary responsibility for basketball decision-making will be with the GM.
'With major decisions, the whole basketball operation will be involved É I don't intend to be on the road scouting players and operating in that fashion. We have scouts who do that, and the GM will participate in that.'
Notes: Front-office executives from a pair of Western Conference clubs say they were surprised by Portland's selection of Travis Outlaw with the 23rd pick in last week's draft. 'He wasn't on our board for the first round at all,' one executive says. 'I'm not sure where that one came from.' The other executive says the next two players selected Ñ Illinois forward Brian Cook and Italian guard Carlos Delfino Ñ would have made more sense for the Blazers. 'There are some issues that have to be addressed with that team,' the executive says. 'To bring an 18-year-old kid into that? Outlaw has a good upside, and he could be a salt-of-the-earth kid, but I didn't understand that pick at all. And as a talent, he's a lot like the player they got last year (Qyntel Woods). I think it proves one thing: The old regime made that pick.' É Both executives say they have heard that management promised Outlaw the Blazers would take him if he declared prior to the draft. Patterson denies it.
Portland will be in the nine-team Rocky Mountain Revue summer league July 19-26 in Salt Lake City. The Blazers are expected to feature Woods, Outlaw and an assortment of free-agent hopefuls. É Whispers throughout the Blazer organization are that Tod Leiweke's hiring as chief executive officer of the Seattle Seahawks probably signals the phasing out of Whitsitt from Allen's inner circle. É Don't you think coach Mike Holmgren and his staff were excited to hear that Whitsitt looks forward to his focus on the Seahawks because he can 'be at practice every day'?