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Pacers' Pritchard keeps quiet on Portland firing – but says Blazers could 'sneak up on some people' this season

by:  PRITCHARD

Like many of us, Kevin Pritchard's ears perked up when he heard about Paul Allen's sitdown with the Portland media last week.

But Pritchard isn't at liberty to convey his side of the story on the conversation that Allen said led to the dismissal of the club's former general manager on draft night in June 2010.

Like all Blazer employees who are fired, Pritchard was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to receive severance pay.

'It was a private conversation,' is what Pritchard would say Monday when I reached him via telephone in Florida, where he was with family for the holidays. 'It's between me and Mr. Allen.'

Except it's not - Allen's version, anyway - private anymore.

The Blazer owner told reporters that Pritchard had, in effect, fired himself on that fateful night at Portland's practice facility, calling what happened 'puzzling and unusual.'

Pritchard - now Indiana's director of player personnel - had set up the club's strategy leading up to the draft. They were both in the 'war room' at the practice facility on draft night when the owner said he stepped out 'to get a breath of fresh air.'

'Kevin tracked me down and said, 'You've already decided to let me go,' " Allen recalled. 'I said, 'No, I haven't.' He said, 'No, you really should. Can I just meet with Larry (Miller, the team president) the next day and we'll part ways?' I was like, 'OK, really?' "

Allen said the two discussed the owner's concerns about Pritchard's performance during his three years as Portland's GM, and that Pritchard 'asked to be let go multiple times. He kept coming back to it: 'Let's just part ways.' "

Asked if he'd have kept Pritchard without their Monday-night conversation, the owner admitted, 'I had some real concerns. We would have had to have a deep discussion, a real heart-to-heart. He would have had to change some things. But he was clear he had decided to go a different direction.'

Only Allen and Pritchard really know what was said that night, and Pritchard's not talking.

His suspicions of impending dismissal weren't just paranoia, however. The Blazers' GM traditionally sits with Allen in his perch beneath the basket near the team's bench at home games. Over the final few months of the 2009-10 season, though, Pritchard was banished to a seat higher in the stands, away from the owner.

Word was that club higher-ups, including Allen, felt Pritchard was taking too much credit in the media for the club's rise to respectability following the Jail Blazer era. And that Pritchard helped his pal, assistant GM Tom Penn, attempt to get a pay raise and perhaps more prominence in the organization after interviewing for the GM job in Minnesota.

There was some feeling in the organization, too, that Pritchard had acquiesced too easily in signing Brandon Roy to a maximum contract when there was at least some concern about his knees.

Whatever the reasoning, it was faulty. Pritchard has some ego, as do most of his peers in the profession. But he was a successful leader in the organization, popular with most of those employees who worked beneath him.

From roles as director of player personnel to assistant GM to GM to interim head coach, Pritchard cast a mostly positive light on the franchise. He was heavily involved in the drafting of Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Elliot Williams and - alas - Greg Oden. The team was headed in the right direction when Pritchard was jettisoned.

If Pritchard is bitter, he hides it well.

'I wouldn't trade my time with the Blazers for anything in the world,' he said. 'The best 7 1/2 years of my life. Professionally, I grew up there, and hopefully I'll continue to grow.'

Pritchard's palatial Lake Oswego estate remains on the market, but he purchased a townhouse in Beaverton and continues to make his home here. While in Indianapolis, he stays in a hotel.

I thought Pritchard would be a hot commodity around the NBA after his firing, but it took him awhile to get another job - and in a position that is a step down from a GM post. One source said other teams were leery because of what happened in Portland. I'd think it would almost be a badge of honor.

Larry Bird is president of basketball operations at Indiana. In 2008, Bird and Pritchard - once teammates with the Boston Celtics - had made a trade, the Blazers sending Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts to the Pacers for Ike Diogu, the draft rights to Jerryd Bayless and other considerations.

Bird asked Pritchard to travel with the Pacers at one point last season in an advisory capacity. In July, Bird hired him in his current capacity, putting him in a triumvirate that includes GM David Morway running the club's basketball side.

'It's Larry Bird, my childhood idol,' Pritchard said. 'It's hard to say no to Larry.'

The new job has meant a return to Pritchard's roots growing up a Pacer fan in nearby Noblesville, Ind.

'And working with David and Larry has been terrific,' Pritchard said. 'They give me a lot of flexibility, take my input and make me feel part of the team. I talk to both of them almost daily.'

Pritchard estimates he is on the road 15 to 18 days a month, watching talent at the college, pro and international level in anticipation of the draft, potential trades and free-agent signings.

'I focus on nothing but basketball,' he said. 'In the GM position, there are so many other things you have to watch and manage. I love doing that, but I also love what I'm doing now.

'I love watching the games, trying to find deals, evaluating talent, finding players. I think I do it better now because I've been a GM before. I know the expectations. I know what it is to sit in that seat. I feel better-prepared to fill that role.'

The Pacers have added veterans David West and George Hill to a young team that features Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough.

'Reminds me of four to five years ago with the Blazers,' Pritchard said. 'We're up-and-coming, and we'll try to add the right pieces. Larry and David have done a great job establishing the culture here.'

Pritchard said Chad Buchanan has done 'an excellent job' as the Blazers' interim general manager.

'They're a bit of a darkhorse team,' Pritchard said. 'They have a chance to sneak up on some people.'

It was nice to catch up with Pritchard, always media savvy and an excellent representative to the Blazers during his time in town.

Wish he were able to offer his side of the story on what went down on draft night 2010. That's not the way it works, though, when you're working for Paul Allen. You are paid - well-paid - for your silence.