Fair Game

Steve Patterson was neither hero nor villain during his nearly four years as president of the Trail Blazers.

He did some good things and made some mistakes. He was an emissary of a higher power - Paul Allen specifically, and Allen's Vulcan Inc., in general - who never quite had a grip on what he was supposed to do with the elephant in the kitchen.

Patterson was hatchet man for many dozens of layoffs during the time he was in power, employees with a combined annual salary that might equal about what Allen spends on his yacht crew. We'll never know whose idea that was, nor the ill-conceived notion to flutter the Rose Garden into bankruptcy. I'll guarantee you, though, that Patterson was not acting unilaterally.

You think he wouldn't rather have had 100-some more employees to try to keep the waning fan base from deserting?

When he arrived in 2003, Patterson inherited a public-relations disaster from the much-despised Bob Whitsitt. Patterson and General Manager John Nash had little choice but to light a torch to a 'Jail Blazer' roster that included Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Jeff McInnis and Ruben Patterson.

By the time the clear-cutting was done, the Blazers had gone from competitive to the worst team in the NBA. But the character issue had been addressed, and after what appears to be a remarkable 2006 draft - the combined effort of all those in the Portland front office, not just player personnel director Kevin Pritchard - the team appears headed in the right direction.

Darius Miles' bloated contract was Allen's idea, not Patterson's. Patterson never nixed the idea of drafting Chris Paul. It was a group decision to trade the third selection in the 2005 draft to Utah for the sixth pick (Martell Webster) and an additional first-round pick that wound up landing the Blazers' Jarrett Jack.

When the document negotiating a kickback of Miles' $150,000 fine for insubordination surfaced in the media, it made Patterson look bad. And he compounded the problem with a woefully scripted halftime news conference. But the document was only a draft of a proposal from Miles' agent, Jeff Wechsler, that hadn't been signed.

In place of the fine, Patterson's idea was for Miles to help repair his image by buying $30,000 worth of tickets for five years to donate to children's charities. Miles wasn't going to, and didn't, get off the hook for the $150,000.

The likes of Patterson's proposal, incidentally, is not uncommon in the NBA - the Blazers had done the same thing with Damon Stoudamire's $250,000 fine after his third marijuana arrest.

When Zach Randolph issued a single-fingered salute to a fan late in a game at Toronto in December, Patterson suspended the Blazer forward for a game, costing him $133,333 in salary. No question, Randolph was being made an example of - and not a bad idea.

When Patterson took over, the Blazers were incurring a record $120 million annual loss. That figure was down to $45 million to $50 million last year - still deplorable, but moving in the right direction. Patterson was instrumental, too, in facilitating the letter of intent for Allen to buy back the Rose Garden for what will be less than full value from Portland Arena Management.

Patterson brought beloved Bill Schonely back into the Blazer family, oversaw the hiring of Nate McMillan and had his hand in a new $130 million cable television contract that soon will be announced.

Initially, at least, Patterson brought about a détente with media turned off and tuned out by Whitsitt. Patterson's relationship with the media deteriorated, though, capped by the short-lived decision late last season to have public-relations employees tape all interviews for use on the team's Web site.

The Blazers' ex-president recently placed a media gag order on Pritchard, among other personnel, saying comments were to come from him. That made it appear Patterson was jealous of the credit Pritchard was getting for the 2006 draft.

Patterson stopped me on more than one occasion to condescendingly explain why Allen's decision to give up the Rose Garden was sound because he was losing less money that way - silly me, I thought the idea was to make money.

The Blazer franchise is in better shape than it was when Patterson hit the scene in 2003. That doesn't make him a genius or a saint. But let's not send him out of here wearing a dunce cap, with a 'kick me' sign taped to his derrière.

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