“I thought he was the general manager,” Brandon Roy says of his contact with Pritchard before being drafted. “He came to Seattle to watch me play, and when I worked out here in Portland I met with him, and he told me the things they were going to do. Even when [the 2006-07 season] started, you could sense he was really hands-on with the team. I could kind of tell one day he was probably going to be the general manager.”
In June, after the Blazers’ draft-lottery win, the respected NBA blogger Tom Ziller of AOL Sports wrote that Pritchard “completely destroyed everyone else in the 2006 draft thanks to massive balls; will destroy almost everyone this year thanks to ping-pong balls.” (The NBA draft lottery works the same way as the Powerball lottery.) But while Pritchard’s fortuitous top pick played out publicly as a PR campaign—the Blazers marketing team put up billboards around town urging fans to “honk once” for Oden or “honk twice” for University of Texas guard Kevin Durant—Pritchard and his scouting brain trust pored over everything they could find regarding both potential picks. Pritchard’s the kind of guy who thinks due diligence is sexy.
“Eyes, ears and numbers,” is how Pritchard sums up the calculus he uses to make a decision, meaning (in reverse order): what you learn from a player’s statistics (including all sorts of obscure measures and formulas you won’t find in the average game program); what you hear about from other people (in Oden’s case, everyone from his mother to his college coach to his high school principal); and what you see yourself, firsthand. “He asked a lot of questions,” says Oden of his pre-draft visit—in contrast to Paul Allen, who, according to Oden, was reserved, and McMillan, who has publicly admitted he was already drawing up plays for Oden in his head before the draft. “Kevin,” says Oden, “was the guy trying to figure out a lot more about me.”
Oden reminded Pritchard of San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, someone with a certain generosity of spirit and an eagerness to make his teammates better. At the Rose Garden press conference on the night of the draft, Pritchard dubbed Oden “The Caregiver,” explaining that the rookie had not just the raw talent, but also the character that embodied the “culture” of the NBA teams he most admired (namely, the Spurs).
For years, a quote from 19th-century muckraker Jacob Riis has hung in the San Antonio locker room: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone on before.” No doubt this remains in Pritchard’s mind when he explains his goal for the Blazers as “not just wins, but sustainable growth for a long time.”
At the Pioneer Courthouse Square rally for Oden on June 29, McMillan fêted Pritchard as “the guy who’s really responsible for the change in the last two years.” The crowd already knew it: “KP! KP!” they chanted, having fully bought into the Pritchard mantra: Culture, culture, culture. “If you’ve got a good culture, you can withstand a lot of issues,” he says. After two months on the job, Pritchard had used the word so many times that Dave Deckard’s Blazers Edge fan website and blog had a batch of $13 T-shirts printed up as a tribute: The Cult of KP: Changing the Culture One Interview at a Time.