With GM drama finally over, Blazers move on

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Trail Blazers president Larry Miller appeared somewhat uncomfortable when he finally emerged after a chaotic draft night, his words making it clear that Portland would like nothing better than to put the protracted drama involving general manager Kevin Pritchard in the past.

"I would hope that the fans would trust that we're going to do everything we can to make this organization better, because that's what we're going to do," Miller said. "The goal is to win a championship here and bring a championship to the city of Portland."

Time will tell. But for now the Blazers move into what promises to be a very active free agency season, which opens next week with LeBron James leading perhaps the deepest class ever. Portland is reportedly interested in New Orleans' Chris Paul.

Michael Born, Portland's director of NBA scouting, and Chad Buchanan, director of college scouting, will fill Pritchard's role until a replacement is found, the Blazers said.

The turmoil that had surrounded the Blazers' front office since late March came to a boil Thursday night. Pritchard met with billionaire Blazers owner Paul Allen in the hours before the NBA draft got under way, and was unceremoniously fired.

But Pritchard wasn't immediately escorted from the building. Incredibly he asked, and was allowed, to stay and direct his final draft for the Trail Blazers, Miller said.

After making the final pick, Pritchard ducked out without comment. He did not return phone messages for comment. Miller said the final year of Pritchard's contract would be honored.

Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, also left, leaving only a statement about the dismissal and Miller to face the dumbfounded media.

Miller refused to say exactly why Pritchard was let go. Rumors about his future had swirled for three months after the Blazers abruptly fired Tom Penn, Portland's vice president of basketball operations and Pritchard's right-hand man. Agent Warren LeGarie, who represents Pritchard and Penn, suggested Penn's dismissal was a warning shot.

"I'm not going to get into the details about what transpired or why," Miller said late Thursday. "But I would say the process itself took a lot of things into consideration and at the end of the day the decision was made that it was time to go a different direction."

The Blazers had already hired a search firm to target a new GM.

A rumored possible replacement, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, denied earlier this month that he had been contacted about the job. Miller said Denver Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien, also said to be interested, was not being considered.

But a new GM isn't the Blazers' only vacancy.

Assistant coach Monty Williams has left to become head coach in New Orleans, and assistant Maurice Lucas stepped down because of ongoing health concerns.

Fellow assistants Dean Demopoulos and Joe Prunty were conspicuously absent at some pre-draft workouts, leading to speculation that they would not be back next season. The contracts for both assistants expire at the end of this month.

"We make and we have to make tough decisions, that's part of the job," coach Nate McMillan said when asked about the future of his staff.

There were reports that the Blazers were interested in bringing in Bernie Bickerstaff, who coached McMillan while with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Meanwhile, the Blazers' actual draft was nearly lost in the shuffle.

The Blazers selected Memphis swingman Elliot Williams with the 22nd pick. Williams averaged 17.9 points, four rebounds and 3.8 assists with the Tigers last season as a sophomore after transferring from Duke. Portland also selected Nevada guard Armon Johnson with the 34th pick. Johnson averaged 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists with the Wolf Pack last season as a junior.

And finally, the Blazers also traded charismatic forward Martell Webster to Minnesota in exchange for forward Ryan Gomes and 16th overall pick Luke Babbitt of Nevada.

Amid all the drama, Webster — drafted by the Blazers in 2005 out of high school — took to Twitter for a heartfelt goodbye.

"Thank you everyone for all the love!!!" he wrote. "I will miss the fans in Portland you guys are the ones who keep us going!!! Thanks again sixth man!!!"