That's Cho business: Paul Allen parts ways with GM he didn't consider great communicator
In the end, what got Rich Cho hired as general manager of the Trail Blazers got him fired.
The private, introverted Cho was in many ways the polar opposite of his predecessor, Kevin Pritchard, an effervescent personality who charmed those around him and was instrumental in restoring respectability to a franchise mortally wounded by its 'Jail Blazer' era.
Cho's makeup was much different. He was shy by nature. His style was deliberate. He took time with every decision. He was a listener who preferred staying in the background as opposed to being in the spotlight. An advocate of statistical analysis, Cho blended that with the more conventional approach to scouting and rating prospective players for the organization.
All of that was considered a positive when owner Paul Allen and President Larry Miller chose Cho to succeed Pritchard last July. Cho didn't possess some of Pritchard's attributes that were resented by Allen's inner circle. After Allen chose to hand Pritchard his walking papers, Miller pushed the owner to hire Cho, who had spent 11 years in the front office of the Seattle and Oklahoma City franchises.
'When we first talked to Rich, I felt the connection (between Allen and Cho) would be there,' Miller said. 'I thought he was the right guy for us.'
But not long into Cho's 10-month reign, Allen began to come of the opinion that Cho was a poor communicator.
'It was a chemistry issue, mainly between Rich and the owner,' Miller said. 'The chemistry between the owner and general manager is even more important than the chemistry between my role and the owner. There's a lot of interaction. There needs to be a certain connection there that never happened.'
Pritchard once told me he spoke, emailed and texted with Allen several times a day, every day. Cho said he had regular communication with the owner, too, but evidently not enough.
Allen is an action owner. The billionaire has many business and entertainment interests, including the Seattle Seahawks, the Experience Music Project and Vulcan Productions, but the Blazers are his passion. Allen loves the challenge of trying to build a championship roster through trades, free-agent signings and the draft. He isn't afraid of change.
Cho, conversely, is more careful by nature. If change were on the table, he went to great lengths to ensure it made sense, both financially and professionally. For many owners, that is the correct approach. Maybe not so for Allen, who wants a general manager inspiring him, telling him, 'This is the way we should go.'
During Cho's time on the job, two major deals were struck - the trade that brought forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte and a contract extension for coach Nate McMillan.
Insiders say Miller - through his Nike relationship with Michael Jordan, now majority owner of the Bobcats - and assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff drove the Wallace deal, and that Miller was the one who pushed Allen to re-sign McMillan.
Not that Cho didn't spend numerous hours in the weeks leading up to the NBA's Feb. 24 trade deadline trying to drum up a deal. Maybe, though, he wasn't as aggressive as Allen would have preferred. Perhaps, too, he didn't do a good enough job selling himself to the owner.
The decision, incidentally, was not tied to Cho's leaning toward imposing a suspension on Brandon Roy for public comments the Blazer guard made about limited playing time after Game 2 of the Dallas playoff series. After discussion between Cho, Allen, Miller and McMillan, Roy was not penalized.
'We all talked about that situation and agreed Rich should have a conversation with Brandon and share with him that he can't do what he did,' Miller said. 'Those kind of things happen all the time. It was a discussion, and we all landed on what should happen. (Cho's dismissal) had absolutely nothing to do with that.'
The timing seems bad. Portland will go into the NBA draft with interim GM Chad Buchanan running the show along with the club's other three scouting executives - Mike Born, Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry. Cho never even got the chance to lead his scouting department through a draft.
'Paul's motivation is to try to put the best team of people in place to take the organization to the championship level,' Miller said. 'If there is a situation where the connection is just not there, where the chemistry is not working, it's better to deal with that sooner than later.'
There's an irony to the Cho firing. Allen, reticent to the point of eccentricity by nature, letting an exec go because he's not a good communicator?
Funny thing is, I've done at least a half-dozen interviews with Allen over the years, and he comes across as a pretty regular guy - fine to talk to, and a decent quote. It would behoove Portland's owner now to make himself available to the media to answer some questions about the Cho situation and the future of his franchise.
I'm not holding my breath.
The Blazers won't take the same haste in replacing Cho as they did in relieving him of his duties. It will be later, rather than sooner, that a replacement will be named.
'We're going to step back, assess the entire situation and work out a criteria of what it is we're looking for,' Miller said. 'We're not going to put a timeline out there. We're going to take our time to make sure we bring the right person to that role this time around. Once we do that, Chad or one of the other guys could be in a position to be a candidate for that job.'
Miller, Allen and Bert Kolde - the director of the board of directors and Allen's career-long sidekick - will select the new GM along with input from McMillan. That, folks, is pretty much the extent of the 'Vulcans' we often hear about.
It's fair to say that Cho was blindsided by his dismissal. On Friday, we spoke via phone from Seattle, where he was visiting his mother after she underwent some surgery. He had flown from Chicago, where he attended the pre-draft combine along with Buchanan, McMillan and other Trail Blazer representatives. We arranged for a Monday afternoon phone interview to discuss Blazer plans for the draft. The conversation, obviously, never came about.
'He didn't know it was coming until I called him' Monday morning, Miller said. 'I feel horrible about this. But Rich is a great guy, a smart guy. He will land on his feet.'
Cho will also be paid - by one account, $2 million - for the final three years of his four-year contract if he chooses not to work. Pritchard is just finishing up a paid year's non-work of his own. It's a good gig if you can get it.
That doesn't make the situation easy for Cho, who just last month was able to move his wife, Julie, and their two children into a Lake Oswego home after selling their house in Oklahoma City.
I may have gotten to know Cho as well as any member of the Portland media and enjoyed our conversations. There was no condescending air as eminates from some in pro sports management. He was careful with everything he said, but he was truthful with what he felt comfortable revealing. There's a lot to be said for that.
The Blazers knew they would take a pounding from their fans and those around the league for this, their second firing of a GM inside a year. Was it necessary to fire Cho before he even really got started on the job?
'I understand that sentiment,' Miller said, 'but in reality, it's just the opposite. The decision we announced today was one that is going to help us get better.
'When you bring someone in, you think they have the right criteria, you think you have the right person. Once you realize he's not, the sooner you make the move, the sooner you can make progress.'
Down the road, we'll see if getting rid of Rich Cho represents progress. For now, it just looks as if he got a bum deal, with the pot calling the kettle black.