On Sports
by: Jaime Valdez Trail Blazers President Larry Miller is who interim general manager Chad Buchanan will report to as the team prepares for the NBA draft and looks for a permanent successor to Rich Cho, was was fired on Monday.

As an undergrad at Division III Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, Chad Buchanan wasn't counting on any kind of professional basketball career.

'I grew up in Des Moines,' Buchanan says. 'The NBA was just kind of a far-off dream. Simpson College hasn't produced too many NBA players.

'I liked playing and coaching. But for me, it's about just being in the gym. I want to smell the popcorn. That's the most important thing for me - being around the game of basketball.'

Look where Buchanan finds himself at 38 years of age - running an NBA front office, if only on an interim basis.

As of Monday, Buchanan is the Trail Blazers' acting general manager, replacing Rich Cho, who was fired after 10 months on the job.

For the second time in less than a year - Buchanan and Mike Born shared the same duties last summer when Kevin Pritchard was let go - Buchanan is replacing the executive above him.

'It's bittersweet,' Buchanan says. 'I loved working for Rich. I feel for the guy. You feel bad any time somebody loses his job.

'But I know our team is on the verge of doing something pretty special. If we can make a couple of tweaks to the roster, maybe we can take a big step forward. I look forward to the challenge of helping the team improve.'

There's enough uncertainty throughout the NBA with a potential lockout that looms July 1. In Portland, the situation is doubly unsettled. The Blazers are left with Buchanan - the club's director of college scouting the past four years - handling draft and front-office responsibilities.

There is help in the form of Born, the director of NBA scouting, assistant GMs Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry and chief scout Joe Cronin. Last summer, with Buchanan and Born spearheading negotiations, Portland signed Wesley Matthews to a five-year, free-agent contract.

'We're going to be fine,' team President Larry Miller says. 'I have a lot of confidence in Chad and the management team in getting us through the draft.

'Last year, Chad and Mike drove the Matthews deal. We're going to be OK as we assess what we need to do to bring in the right person for the (GM) job.'

Make no mistake about it, there will be worthy candidates. The banter about potential GMs avoiding Portland because of what happened with Pritchard and Cho is poppycock.

There are only 30 of these jobs and about 30,000 people who would love to fill them. Paul Allen will pay top dollar if necessary, and his track record proves he'll provide financial support in lining up talent. The nucleus on the current roster is young and can win now.

Where does Buchanan fit in as a candidate?

He may not be ready, though he's a bright, up-and-coming basketball guy with excellent people skills who one day may get a permanent GM post. And unless he knocks the socks off of Allen, sidekick Bert Kolde and Miller with his work between now and July 1, he probably won't get consideration.

That doesn't bother Buchanan. He's not campaigning for the job.

'I wouldn't say it consumes my thoughts,' he says. 'If the situation is right, anybody in my position would like to be a general manager.

'At the same time, I just want to help this organization in whatever role they need for me now. For the time being, I'm focused on the draft and formulating a plan for this offseason for our team.'

Buchanan played both basketball and baseball in college - he was a two-year starter at shooting guard in basketball and a pitcher in baseball. He earned his master's degree at Iowa, serving two years there as a graduate assistant before returning to his alma mater for five years (1997-2002).

'I was assistant men's basketball coach, head men's golf coach, taught a class on sports leadership and was academic advisor for all freshmen student-athletes,' Buchanan says. 'I also lived in a dorm and was a hall director. I made $12,000 a year. It was great experience, and my golf game got decent for a while there.'

Buchanan was friends with Born, who introduced him to Pritchard, then head coach and general manager of an American Basketball Association team in Kansas City. Buchanan and Born served on Pritchard's staff for the 2002-03 season.

When Pritchard was named Portland's director of player personnel in 2004, he hired Buchanan - who spent 2003-04 coaching under Tom Davis at Drake - and Born as scouts. Three years later, Buchanan was promoted to his current position.

Last year's signing of Matthews was an unqualified success. The draft results are another matter. The Blazers' three selections - first-rounders Luke Babbitt (16) and Elliot Williams (22) and second-rounder Armon Johnson (34) - didn't get a lot done on the court this season.

Williams missed the entire season after surgery on both knees. Babbitt - acquired from Minnesota in the trade that sent Martell Webster to the Timberwolves - drew little playing time. Johnson got a shot early, then was beaten out by Patty Mills for the backup point-guard spot.

'It's hard to judge a rookie after one year, especially a rookie who comes to a playoff team,' Buchanan says. 'All three of those guys are developing players who are learning their position, our league, our system and their teammates.

'We believe in them long-term. I'm expecting all three to come back hungry to contribute. It's still way too early to make a determination on whether those guys are successes or failures.'

Only two players drafted after Babbitt made much noise last season - Greivis Vasquez of Maryland (28), who played well in the playoffs for Memphis, and Landry Fields of Stanford (39), who started for New York. It's not as if Portland's temporary brain trust blew it.

Buchanan deflects any attention that comes his way with his enhanced role.

'I view Mike as an equal partner in this deal,' he says. 'I'm the designated point person, but we (including Branch and Rosenberry) will all have the same amount of input and power.'

Buchanan's major decisions before July 1 will be the contract situations of center Greg Oden and point guard Andre Miller. Unlike his predecessor, who said he was leaning toward retaining Oden, Buchanan is noncommittal.

'We've had a lot of discussions about that,' he says. 'We'll continue having those. I can't give you much more than that on the situation with Greg or Andre.'

Through the week of June 6-10, Buchanan, his staff and the Blazer coaches will engage 35 to 40 prospects in workout sessions at the team's training facility. Oden's status can be addressed beginning the day after the NBA finals, as late as June 17. The draft is June 24. A decision on Miller is due June 29.

By then, we'll know a little more about Buchanan's GM skills.

'I'm going to do the best possible job I can, and whatever door it opens, you make a decision at that point,' he says. 'But individual titles and roles aren't what I'm thinking about. All of us - Mike, myself, the rest of our staff - we want to win a championship for Mr. Allen and the city of Portland. That's what consumes us every day.'

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