So he replaced the "Jail Blazers" with a squad of do-gooders, including superstar Greg Oden. Now that Oden is benched, will Portlanders stay in Pritchard’s court
TO BE A GENERAL MANAGER in today’s NBA is to manage complicated, often unrelated tasks and roles. You have to do everything a CEO does (delegate, set agendas, crunch numbers) and be everything a coach is (father figure, shrink, X’s-and-O’s guy). You’re the chief scout, lead negotiator and, whether you want to be or not, the top public relations man. Even the most essential schoolyard aspect of the job—choosing players for your team—demands the head of an economist, the stomach of a Teamsters’ lawyer and the nerves of Amarillo Slim. On any given day you just might stake your whole career on the maturity, ability—and, oh yeah, knee cartilage—of a seven-foot-tall teenager.
But most of all, you need to stay in close range of a power source. “I’m on my second charge of the day,” says Kevin Pritchard.
On a Friday afternoon in mid-July, the 40-year-old Trail Blazers general manager is tethered by his Blackberry to an electrical outlet on the sideline of a Las Vegas practice court. A little over two weeks ago, he’d made the most important call in his still-brief career: making Ohio State center Greg Oden the No. 1 NBA draft pick. Before him on the hardwood, other newly minted Blazers—like 19-year-old Finnish guard Petteri Koponen and 20-year-old former Duke forward Josh McRoberts—run drills to prepare for another contest in the NBA Summer League, which provides two weeks of dress-rehearsal action for young players. (Oden is no longer among them, having left Sin City to get his tonsils taken out after appearing in just two league games.)
It’s 2 p.m., and Pritchard’s PDA already has logged approximately 60 calls and messages, including a short note from team owner Paul Allen, information from the league office regarding details of a player’s contract, journalists asking about the Blazers’ signing of point guard Steve Blake, which has not yet been announced, and myriad bits of league gossip and “what-if?” trade proposals from his scouts and GM counterparts (which he is not about to share). Before the day is done, he’ll give the Blackberry a third charge. “That’s just business,” Pritchard says. “I’m in information-gathering mode all the time.”
Pritchard is trim and 6’4", though he doesn’t really seem that tall since he’s so often standing near an even higher-elevation player, or the Blazers’ 6’5" head coach Nate McMillan. He has gelled black hair that’s starting to go gray at the sides and prominent eyebrows that are sometimes underscored by cosmopolitan black glasses, worn in conjunction with a suit (and usually no tie) at press conferences. Today, in the 110-degree Nevada heat, he’s wearing contact lenses and appears resort-casual in a lime green, short-sleeved shirt; lurking around the Blazers’ practice facility in Tualatin he might also be found sporting head-to-toe logo wear, looking like the former coach and NBA player that he is. A native Hoosier who grew up in Kansas and Oklahoma before returning to the Jayhawk state for college, Pritchard has lived the game of basketball for almost his entire life.
As Blazers assistant coaches Monty Williams and Bill Bayno work with the team inside one half-court, a 13-year-old kid in a Kansas Jayhawks T-shirt and the same black shorts and red-and-white Reeboks that the coaches wear dribbles a ball near Pritchard, who played point guard for coach Larry Brown on the Jayhawks’ 1988 NCAA championship team. This is Kevin Pritchard Jr., or “K.J.”
“Hold the ball, Kage,” his father says when Williams gathers up the players for a talk. Pritchard, who is divorced and also has a 10-year-old daughter, Kendall, doesn’t care to divulge many more details about his family beyond that—but it might be fair to say that right now he’s married to the game. “The hardest thing in this business is balance,” he acknowledges. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘How many hours do you work?’ My response was, ‘How many hours am I awake?’ When you love what you do, you always tend to be on.”
Pritchard watches practice for a moment, then takes a few steps onto the court, his Blackberry now freed from its charging cable. He holds the phone up to his ear with one hand and tries for a half-hearted steal on K.J. with the other. Then he sits back down to take a call: “This is Kevin.”