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Rich Cho finds a fit with Bobcats

by: JAIME VALDEZ RICH CHO

Though Rich Cho has left the Northwest, the Northwest hasn't left Cho.

The former general manager of the Trail Blazers, now filling the same position with the Charlotte Bobcats, spent only 10 months on the job in Portland before being fired by owner Paul Allen.

A Seattle native, Cho misses the area.

'I love the Northwest,' he says. 'It's a great part of the country.

'And I enjoyed my time in Portland. I love the city and the fans. I'm proud of the work we did as a group in the front office there. I had a great relationship with (president) Larry Miller, and I liked working with the people in the business office.

'I still get complimentary emails and letters from Blazer fans. They have some of the most supportive fans in the NBA. I miss that.'

Cho, 46, has virtually nothing to say about his dismissal from his Blazer post in May, less than a year after taking over for the fired Kevin Pritchard.

Like Pritchard, Cho is bound by a non-disclosure agreement signed in order to receive severance on the three years owed on a four-year contract he signed the previous July.

Allen has no such limitations, of course. Last week, in a meeting with Portland media, the Blazer owner explained that, as the months of Cho's tenure went on, it became clear his performance was unsatisfactory.

'You can have a good interview with somebody and be optimistic,' Allen said. 'But then it comes to getting into the season, sitting next to him, talking about the players, where you're going, trades ... and sometimes you realize it's not a good fit.

'That's basically what happened with Rich. He's a great person, and I wish him well, but ... if you don't think the working relationship and what he is doing is as good as it could be, it doesn't make sense to keep that person. So we had to make that change.'

The move stunned Cho, who felt he was making headway as he dealt with injury issues (Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and others) while trying to put the Blazers in better position to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

You won't hear Cho say that, of course. And he won't bash Allen. That's not his style, anyway.

'I really have no comment about what happened,' Cho says. 'I'm thankful for the opportunity I had in Portland, but I'm happy where I'm at here in Charlotte.'

Like Allen, Cho is a private person by nature. That's why it's ironic that Cho's communication skills were seemingly called out by a boss who has been compared with Howard Hughes in terms of accessibility and, quite frankly, eccentricity.

Somehow, a disconnect grew between owner and GM. Maybe there was something to the report that Allen didn't like Cho's suggestion that Roy be suspended for his comments about desiring more playing time following Game 2 of the Dallas playoff series. Maybe Allen didn't like what he was hearing in player evaluations from Cho.

Under Cho, the Blazers pulled off a great trade with Charlotte, landing Gerald Wallace for three reserves and two first-round draft picks. They also signed Chris Johnson to a two-year contract - only $75,000 of it guaranteed this season, not a bad deal for a young big man with some upside.

The day after being let go by Portland, Cho received a call from Rod Higgins, Charlotte's president/basketball operations. Soon, Cho was in Charlotte, meeting with Higgins, majority owner Michael Jordan, president/business operations Fred Whitfield and Curtis Polk, Jordan's financial advisor. Shortly thereafter, Cho was hired.

Though set financially for the next three years, Cho - with a law degree from Pepperdine - considered not only taking a break, but getting away from the business altogether.

'I thought about taking a step back and teaching at a law school, or coaching high school tennis,' Cho says. 'After I met with Rod and (Charlotte's ownership/management team), I jumped at the opportunity.'

As Charlotte's No. 2 basketball executive behind Higgins, Cho - for a decade a member of the front office in Seattle and Oklahoma City - says his duties have included 'a little bit of everything,' including player personnel, salary cap, accounting and contracts. He'll be doing a lot of college and pro scouting through the season.

During the lockout, Cho began to overhaul the Bobcats' scouting system.

'One of my goals when I got to Portland was to have the best database in the league,' Cho says. 'There was so much going on last year, I didn't get that in place.

'With the lockout this summer, that's one of the things I focused on here in Charlotte. We're still in the process, but I think it's going to be pretty powerful once it's complete.'

The Bobcats don't figure to have a lot of success on the court this season, but there are hopes they'll have as much as $20 million in salary-cap space next summer.

'We're going to have some flexibility down the road,' Cho says. 'We are trying to build the team similarly to how we built it in OKC. We want to have sustained success, not just make the playoffs every few years and then be one-and-done in the playoffs.

'That's why it's been so great to work with Rod and Michael. Michael is still competitive. He really wants to win at a high level. That's one of the things I was struck by when I came here to interview.'

At least the timing of Cho's firing in Portland was fortuitous. He had just moved his family - wife Julie and daughters Miranda, 6, and Annika, 4 - from Seattle to his Portland condo and had bought a house in Lake Oswego.

'We were supposed to close on the house the weekend I got fired,' Cho says. 'We wound up getting out of that.'

Now the Chos are ensconced in Providence Plantation, a suburb a 25-minute drive from the Bobcats' Time Warner Cable Arena. An avid tennis player, Cho has membership at Olde Providence Racquet Club, 10 minutes from his house.

Charlotte, Cho says, reminds him of Portland.

'A nice city - not too big, not too small,' he says. 'Family-friendly.'

Cho was here too short a time for me to tell how he'd have fared as the Blazers' general manager.

I can write with some confidence, though, that he didn't get a fair shake. Cho was jettisoned almost before he got going. I couldn't get anyone who worked with Cho in Portland to say anything remotely critical of him, though none wanted to be quoted. You can understand why.

As interim GM Chad Buchanan dutifully goes about his business, Allen says he'll likely wait until after the season to hire a new GM. Fair warning to the next guy in line: Watch your back.