Thunder general manager Sam Presti hopes to build a playoff contender like Kevin Pritchard has assembled in Portland. The irony is Pritchard said Presti is one of the people that influenced his career. Pritchard, a former Oklahoma high school basketball star, has taken over a franchise once mocked as "the Jail Blazers” and has them in position to end a five-year playoff drought. "I first wanted to change the culture, have both talent and good guys,” Pritchard said. "Quite frankly, I learned that with the Spurs from people like Sam Presti. It’s all about team, putting individual awards and statistics last and put the team first.” The foundation was laid when Pritchard was the assistant general manager. On the eve of the 2006 draft, Pritchard took out a red pen and wrote: "We’re Back!!!” on a board in a hotel room. The Trail Blazers made good on his promise when they set an NBA record with six draft-day trades in 2006. Following all the wheeling and dealing, Portland landed LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2), Brandon Roy (No. 6) and Sergio Rodriguez (No. 27). "Kevin is incredibly passionate and a very hard worker,” Presti said. "Clearly he’s done a good job in Portland. He’s put them in position with a lot of good decisions. They’re continually getting better and better and are having a good season.” Pritchard, who was a two time Oklahoman Super Five selection out of Tulsa Edison more than 20 years ago, has quickly ascended the NBA ranks. Coach of the Kansas City Knights in the ABA seven years ago, Pritchard got his NBA start when Spurs general manager R.C. Buford hired him as a scout. Buford knew Pritchard from his days as an assistant coach at Kansas, where Pritchard played. In 2004, Pritchard joined the Blazers as director of player personnel. In 2005, he was appointed interim coach for 27 games after Maurice Cheeks was fired. In 2006, he was promoted to assistant general manager. In 2007, Pritchard was named general manager. "What he is doing now is absolutely perfect for him because of his business aptitude,” said Roy Williams, who coached Pritchard his final two seasons at Kansas. "He loves to build things. He’s a competitive rascal.” But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Earlier this season, Portland threatened to sue any NBA team that signed Darius Miles for the sole purpose of negatively affecting the Blazers’ salary cap. Memphis ended up signing Miles, which has now hamstrung Portland. "I can only control what I can control,” Pritchard said. "There are a lot of opinions out there. We focus on us. We try to do the best we can do, learn from everything that happens and move forward.” The Miles situation doesn’t detract from Pritchard’s makeover of a declining franchise. Fans once again are flocking to Rose Garden Arena. Some see the Trail Blazers as a Western Conference power for years to come. "We’re not ready to anoint ourselves as a top contender,” Pritchard said. "We still have a long ways to go. We have a very good coach and guys that play the right way. You have to get lucky and gel together. There’s still risk. A lot of things can happen. "We’re a long way from (competing for NBA titles). We’re not even in that discussion. We need our young guys to grow. And they are growing. If it takes another piece or two, and we have that opportunity, we’ll certainly look at it.”
Trail Blazers at Thunder
→When: 7 tonight →Where: Ford Center →TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37) →Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640 Three things to know
→Portland is in fourth place in the Western Conference standings. →The Blazers allow just 94.8 points per game, the eighth fewest in the league. →The Thunder leads the league in turnovers with 16.7 per game. Probable starters
Did Pritchard get the shot off in time?
In his final high school game at Tulsa Edison, Pritchard drained a 25-foot shot at the buzzer in the 1986 Class 4A state title game. Official Terry Scott waved it off. Douglass won 56-55 to capture the state title. "(Scott) told me (a couple of years later), ‘If I had to it to do over I’d give it to you just because it was a heck of a shot,’” Pritchard said. "(On film) it’s really close. Too close to know whether I got it off in time.” Now Portland’s general manager, Pritchard won’t make this trip to Oklahoma but hopes to be in the Ford Center for the April 3 rematch. "I’m a big Sooners fan. I still follow them,” Pritchard said. "I get back there most summers. I’m an Oklahoma boy. It’s home.” By Mike Baldwin Working for the Spurs
Pritchard recalls working with Presti
Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard was a scout with San Antonio when Sam Presti was the Spurs assistant general manager. "Sam is one of the most organized guys I’ve ever been around,” Pritchard said. "He’s a very creative thinker and knows the game on a very deep level. Working for Sam definitely helped me. He’s going to do a great job and make that franchise very competitive for a long time.” What if the Trailblazers and Thunder were both Western Conference powers in three or four years? "That would be fun,” Pritchard said. "That means both of us would be pretty good. It couldn’t happen to a better person than Sam. He’s very humble. He does a great job of creating that culture of teamwork.” BY MIKE BALDWIN