Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Portland Trail Blazers hire former Sonic GM Rich Cho as new GM

Jerry Brewer, Seattle Time

Portland Trail Blazers's New General Manager Rich Cho

The Portland Trail Blazers — a sometimes acrimonious, sometimes ingenious NBA franchise — hired Seattle-bred executive Rich Cho as their new general manager. You might remember him from the Sonics' pre-demolition days. His is the story of a local guy who took a huge risk to dream, and now his ambition has led to the ultimate reward.

It would be a heartening thought if it weren't so disheartening.

You should be happy for Cho, very happy, but it remains impossible to be too enthusiastic about anything that happens in the league that's dead to you, right? From Jason Terry to Brandon Roy, the NBA lives on Seattle players. From Nate McMillan to Rick Sund, the NBA lives on coaches and executives with Seattle ties. But for all that Seattle deposits into the league, it withdrew the Sonics from this city two years ago. Since then, the success of homegrown talent has been a painful contradiction.

As Cho was introduced to Portland, most of the local sports media was focused on a story from Frank Hughes, formerly of The Tacoma News Tribune, that revealed the Sacramento Kings met in Seattle with former Sonics executive Wally Walker about a month ago. Some of Hughes' sources said the topic of relocation to Seattle was broached. But George Maloof, one of the Kings owners, denied it and deemed the meeting merely an opportunity for the arena-desperate Kings to learn why lobbying efforts for a new building failed in Seattle.

While it was nice to spend an afternoon daydreaming about the NBA returning to Seattle, it won't happen without a new arena, and taxpayers have expressed repeatedly that they have no desire to fund such a palace. It never hurts to stay on the relocation radar, but pro-hoops addicts in this city might be relegated to years of innuendo that leads nowhere. They might get their hopes up again and again, only to realize that Seattle is nothing more than a card that greedy owners show to try to get their cities to meet their demands.

That would get old quickly. The city deserves more than to be used for leverage.

But the league that's dead to you will beg to return someday. Seattle is exporting too much talent. It keeps a good chunk of the city engaged with the NBA, even if it's begrudgingly. When someone gets a clue and realizes that the NBA failed here because of bad business and not barren hoops prospects, then the game will be back, and you can celebrate the likes of Rich Cho.

Cho is an amazing story, and being the first Asian-American to hold this kind of NBA job is only part of it. Cho, 44, was born in Myanmar. His family moved to the United States in 1968 and settled in Federal Way.

He's a graduate of Decatur High School and Washington State. After college, he worked for five years as an engineer at Boeing, but then he decided to go to law school. While working on that law degree at Pepperdine, he took an internship with the Sonics in 1995. He became a lawyer and worked his way up the organization.

He was the Sonics' director of basketball affairs, then the vice president of legal, then the assistant general manager. He remained with them through relocation to Oklahoma City. Now, even though he's known more as a capologist, contract guru and statistics analyst than a talent evaluator, he is the man charged with turning a young and talented Blazers team into a title contender.

Of course, the Blazers already had a good GM in Kevin Pritchard, but that's another column. In Cho, owner Paul Allen may have rebounded from the dysfunction surrounding Pritchard's departure because he hired a classy, unassuming workaholic who will make well-reasoned decisions.

I'll always respect Cho for being kind and, well, human during the Sonics' final seasons. Along with GM Sam Presti and then-assistant GM Scott Perry, Cho was open and forthcoming and pleasant at a time when it felt like Clay Bennett wanted to alienate — and abuse — the media and all of Seattle. Cho is the kind of congenial, self-assured leader who can handle a cumbersome partnership with Vulcan execs.

But the one thing Cho can't do is bring a team back to Seattle and manage it. So another homegrown product excels in the league that's dead to you. At least the NBA is forced to be grateful for Seattle's basketball talent.

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