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Kevin Pritchard Q&A: The State Of The Trail Blazers At The Break

  1. Written by: caseyholdahl  / avg. rating: 5.0

    After the All-Star break ends, the stretch run of the season begins. And with the Trail Blazers in the midst of the fierce Western Conference playoff race, the final 27 games of the season will decide which teams will continue to play come the middle of April and which teams will start their offseasons early.

    With the stretch run and the trade deadline looming, Trail Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard discusses his thoughts on a interesting season, the difficulties of assessing a team with so many injuries, the trades he didn't make and how the 2010 free agent class is changing the NBA landscape.

    What are your general thoughts on the season with the stretch run on the horizon?

    KP: "It’s been unfortunate because we’ve had a rash of injuries, and it makes for a very difficult job for us as managers and coaches because we’ve never seen this group healthy and together. So we really don’t know, with a full complement of everybody, what we are. So that makes it very challenging.

    "That being said, I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when I’ve been more proud of how we’ve played. We’ve done two things, in my opinion, that have been incredible. I think we’ve played incredibly hard, game in, game out. And I think we’ve played unbelievably unselfish, so much that I’ve had players come to me and say ‘Listen, I know you guys could be looking to do things.’ I’ve had guys come to me and say ‘Let’s keep this team together. Let’s look at what this team can do. We’re playing as hard as we can, so don’t we deserve the benefit of the doubt?’ I’ve got to take that into account.

    "That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do anything; what it means is we have guys that are giving it their all because they want to do it, and they want to do it the right way. And that, for me, holds a lot of weight."

    With so many injuries, how do you balance the team’s short-term and long-term goals?

    KP: "Well, there is no balancing act in that we’ve always looked at the long term. Now I’m saying that with one caveat, and that is ultimately at some point we’re going to say ‘Today is the day.’ Today is not the day. The Cleveland’s, the Dallas’, there’s a lot of teams that are ‘We want to go for it right now.’ Boston, Lakers, they’re in that upper echelon and they’re in go-for-it mode. We will be but when? I’m not sure, but we’ll know at the time. It will be apparent."

    So right now is not that time?

    KP: "I don’t think so."

    In your mind, do you ever say to yourself ‘We need to make the playoffs this season’?

    KP: "No. I’ve never been like that. I’ve never said ‘We’ve got to win this many games.’

    "What I want – and this is the biggest thing around here, I talked to Nate this morning about it – what I want us to do is go out, continue to play with a lot of passion, play the right way, improve as the season goes on and then let the chips fall where they may. What I don’t want to do is have us ‘Oh my gosh we’ve got to get into the playoffs’ and then we turn into a nervous team. No. What I want us to do is go out there, compete every night and have a ton of fun, like we’re doing right now."

    Is that the message you send to your staff, that you don’t want anyone to panic at this point?

    KP: "We always say ‘calm waters.’ I’m a big believer in that. Sometimes after games I’ll watch the replay and I’ll say ‘Gosh, I want to make a move right now to help this team,’ but patience has served us well. We’ll do a deal if it makes sense and if it makes us better for the long term."

    Could you estimate how well you do think you know this team, or is that even possible?

    KP: "If you were giving a grade it would be incomplete, with too many absences. There have been too many absences, I can’t tell. That’s what I would tell a kid after being gone or having so many absences; I’d just say ‘Look, grade incomplete right now.’ And I don’t mean grade in terms of how I think they’ve done. We just don’t know.

    "We always think of ourselves in, OK, we have this vision, but it is a bit of an experiment at all times how things are going to work together, and we don’t know. We don’t know what Brandon, Oden, LaMarcus looks like after 50 games. It takes 50 games, in my mind, to get even a comfort level. Then you throw Andre in there and now Bayless, who has really played well, and now we have Batum back. What are we with our full complement? I don’t think anybody knows. No one could even predict that."

    Does that keep you from looking at other options? How does that incomplete picture factor into your decision-making process?

    KP: "It makes me somewhat cautious because we don’t know how the talents blend together yet. If I knew that then it would be easy, but that’s what this year was all about: seeing how everything blends together and then making the appropriate changes."

    How do you feel the reintroduction of injured players back into the rotation has been?

    KP: "It’s been terrific. Everybody is trying to fill out their roles and where they fit in. That’s going to be a balancing act for Nate for the rest of the year, but it’s a good act to have. I like that versus not having the players. We know how important Rudy and Nicolas are. They’re critical to our success."

    With Nicolas, would you have expected him to be this far along even if he hadn’t been injured?

    KP: "There is nothing separating Nicolas from greatness, in my opinion. I think he has a chance to be a very special player in this league because he can affect the game on the defensive end."

    Can you feel the effects of the 2010 free agent class during the discussions you’re having now?
    KP: "Oh, there’s no doubt that people are looking to 2010. There’s the perception of 2010 and then there’s a reality. Some teams are looking for the perception, for whatever reason. ‘We want to show that we’re going to be active in the summer and maybe that generates a little more buzz around the team.’ Or there are the reality teams that are saying ‘We want 2010 and we’re going to prove it with our dollars.’

    "I think there are two things going on, and I’m not sure which ones are which. Only they know. It’s going to be an exciting summer. What I’ll tell you is there’s going to be a huge degree of variability. If A goes here and B goes here, where does C go? We’ve modeled all that, we’ve looked at all that. The one thing I’ll tell you is this: It’s going to be unique to any other summer we’ve ever had."

    So you and your staff break down hypothetical scenarios for other teams when it comes to things like free agency?

    KP: "Absolutely, because we have to figure out how we can best use our abilities to go get a player that we want. Are there players that sort of miss the boat that we can get active with?"

    You hear a lot about teams overvaluing their players. Do you think that exists or is it more of an issue of teams having different values for players?

    KP: "First of all, I think you start with each individual team and what they’re about. We’re about hard working, good kids, talented, who will always put the team first. So that’s kind of what we’re about, and that trickles down to every decision we make.

    "So you look at our team, every player sort of fits that criteria, which makes them maybe more valuable to us than anybody else. So I don’t see it as overvaluing our players; I’m saying that to us, they mean more. So to give up or to move, it’s the known versus the unknown.

    "Now, I’m a risk taker by nature. I always have been, I always will be. The key is to know when to take that risk. That’s the key in this business, at least for us.

    "Sometimes you sit, you let things cook and you like what’s happening, so you don’t make the moves, and those could be the best. The best moves are sometimes the ones where we sit on our hands. I tell you what, my management staff and Mr. Allen, sometimes they tell me to sit on my hands because we just don’t know."

    Do you feel like you’ve been successful when it comes to risk-taking on this team?

    KP: "At the appropriate times we’ve been pretty good. I would tell you that we’ve made a lot of deals in the draft and in the summer and in my opinion, the best deals that I’ve ever made have been the ones we didn’t do. I think it’s one, and two and three, and then our actual trades that we did."

    Do you think about those could-have-been trades?

    KP: "Only all the time. What I know is we’ve said ‘No’ and it’s been very difficult. I give Mike Born and Chad Buchanan and Tom Penn so much credit because I tend to want to move and make things happen. That’s my nature. And they’ve said ‘No, lets be patient here.’ I’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit that way. And they were the right moves, at least they looked to be the right move. You never really know until three to five years out. As of today, the deals that we’ve passed on ended up beneficial to us and give us more flexibility for the future."

    Talking about NCAA, it seems to the casual observer that the depth of talent isn’t there this season. Can you compare how this class rates?

    KP: "I have a certain knowledge, I wouldn’t say I have a deep knowledge like I’ve had in the past as a director of scouting or assistant general manager. What I would say is Chad Buchanan and the scouting staff are as prepared or more prepared with our midseason reviews, documentations and analytics than I’ve ever seen, which is a huge testament to Chad. We take a lot of pride in having the information, and he’s taken it to another level."

    How about the talent this season in Europe?

    KP: "(Blazers international scout) Jason Filippi is as good as they get. As we sort of grow as a management team together, we challenge each other all the time. We challenge our thesis, and we feel like it’s ever evolving because I don’t think it ever stays stagnant. It’s always dynamic. In this business, if you think one way, it’s this: it’s always changing. One metric that worked for the previous year may not work for next year. We challenge those. We’re always challenging those."

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