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Fitting in With the Fans

You may all remember the hiatus Paul Allen created when he fired General Manager Kevin Pritchard last June. Telling him that he can finish preparing the team for the 2010 NBA Draft, then draft for us, and then pack his stuff and leave – real classy. Allen soon hired Rich Cho to fill Pritchard's shoes due to his good work in Oklahoma City.

The fans of Portland are infamous for acting as general managers. Newspapers, online articles and signs are packed with ideas directed to the Blazers front office. However, internal decisions are not based on popular vote, but that doesn't mean fans are to be ignored completely. When Cho came to town, he immediately promised a trade. Pritchard and general managers prior would publicize potential trades that in retrospect would have benefited the team greatly. Last year, Pritchard backed away from shipping off reserve guard Sergio Rodriguez and back-up forward Travis Outlaw for New York super star David Lee. Instead, Rodriguez retired from the NBA and went back to Spain, while Outlaw was basically thrown away. Lee went on to average more than double points and rebounds than Outlaw and fans erupted with disappointment at Pritchard.

Cho promised a trade at a news conference to win over the fans and it worked. By building relationships with the fans, he gained support, which keeps attendance high, along with the energy in the constantly sold-out Rose Garden. Cho gambled with support when he sent fan favorites Joel Przybilla and Dante Cunningham to Charlotte along with two future first-round draft picks. Normally when a Blazers fan favorite is rumored to be traded, the fans react with negative shirts or signs. The “Fire Whitsett” signs became so popular in the Rose Garden, fans were ejected for bringing them in, because he made trades and decisions that went against the opinions of fans.

Cho avoided this by asserting future plans for the Blazers at his news conference, something Pritchard and Whitsett failed to do. Cho said the Blazers weren't a title competitor right now but explained that we would be soon and deals needed to be made to get us to that level. Portland fans have always thought the Blazers were title contenders, even when they finished 21-61 in 2006. Cho took a different approach than Whitsett and Pritchard. Rather than play along with fans in wonderland, he told the truth. The truth that led to support in bringing all-defensive first team and all-star Gerald Wallace to Portland. Wallace wouldn't have earned the support on his own accomplishments, fans love Blazers and losing Cunningham and Przybilla normally would strike them harder than it did but Cho built a strong relationship and trust with fans that allowed him to work freely without being micro-managed by Paul Allen or the Portland fans. By being positive, realistic and futuristic, he controlled the news-conference, answering every question with a smile and told the fans the truth, not just what they wanted to hear. Which is what Portland needs because in a couple years, Cho will prove himself right. The top teams in the NBA feature players towards the end of their careers, who will retire soon and make way for the Blazers. Rip city, baby!

~Jacob Rogers~

02.28.11

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