For the second time this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder has lost a key member of its basketball operations staff.
Thunder Assistant General Manager Rich Cho has been hired by Portland to fill the Trail Blazers' open general manager job created by the firing of Kevin Pritchard, who was released on draft night last month.
Cho's departure ends weeks of speculation surrounding his potential jump to Portland and completes a scenario first reported as a possibility by The Oklahoman in March.
In June, the Thunder lost lead assistant coach Ron Adams, a defensive-oriented coach who helped reshape the team's defensive principles while developing the roster's young talent.
“Rich is the perfect fit for our organization,” Blazers president Larry Miller said in a release. “He has the right balance of basketball acumen and tremendous people skills.
“Everyone I spoke to about Rich commented not just on his qualifications but on who he is as a person. He is well known for his ability to connect genuinely with people. Rich will be a great fit for our organization and for Portland. He is an executive on the rise and we're thrilled to have him as a Trail Blazer.”
Cho was as integral as any person in the Thunder's organization. He spent 12 seasons with the Thunder/Sonics franchise. Last season, he handled contract negotiations, salary cap and Collective Bargaining Agreement matters, player contracts and all player personnel issues.
Cho had a hand in coups such as Thabo Sefolosha's contract extension last October, a deal that helped OKC avoid having the defensive stopper's restricted free agency tie up its salary cap room this summer, Nenad Krstic's offer sheet in December 2008 that New Jersey couldn't afford to match and the lopsided financially-motivated trade with Utah that brought Eric Maynor to town.
Cho also oversaw operations for the Thunder-owned Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League.
“We are thrilled for Rich,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti in a release. “He has been a valuable member of our organization and we appreciate all of his steadfast work and dedication. He will do a great job for the Blazers and is very deserving of the opportunity in Portland.”
It's unclear whether Presti will replace Cho. But with Assistant General Manager Troy Weaver, another fast-rising basketball man, Director of Pro Player Personnel Bill Branch, Director of College/International Player Personnel Rob Hennigan and Director of Basketball Administration and Technology Paul Rivers, the Thunder still has a more than capable front office.
Losing Cho, however is a significant blow to the Thunder because of Cho's vast knowledge of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement and the minutia of the league's salary cap. It also doesn't help that Cho, 44, is taking the reins of a roster that is the Thunder's foremost rival as the league's best young team. Cho joins a ready-made organization that currently has Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, rookie Luke Babbitt and veterans Marcus Camby and Andre Miller.
“I am extremely humbled and grateful for this opportunity, and I will do everything I can to help this great team get even better,” said Cho, who grew up just outside of Seattle. “When I met with Mr. (Paul) Allen, Larry Miller and coach (Nate) McMillan, it was immediately apparent to me that this organization has an incredible commitment to winning.
“As someone who grew up in the northwest, I'm aware of the unbelievable passion and support that Trail Blazers fans have, and I'm excited to be a part of this rich tradition.”