Paul Allen was emphatic: He’s not selling the Portland Trail Blazers.
In a rare and wide-ranging discussion with reporters on Monday night, the billionaire owner shot down recent talk that he wants to put the Blazers on the market in the near future.
”I have no plans to sell the team,” he declared.
Allen would not, however, say how long he expects to keep the Blazers. He says numerous factors would play into that decision, including his health. The co-founder of Microsoft was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy in 2009, but was declared cancer-free late last year.
Allen was optimistic that the NBA’s new labor agreement would help smaller-market teams like his that have been losing money. He corrected one reporter about his losses saying they were in the ”hundreds of millions, let’s be clear.”
The labor deal, ratified by players and owners on Dec. 8, ended a 161-day lockout. It included several owner-friendly provisions, like expanded revenue sharing, a 12 percent reduction in players’ salaries, and a limit on certain contracts.
It also included an amnesty clause which allows teams to waive a player and have their salary fall off the books for salary cap and luxury tax purposes.
Allen hinted that he will be more fiscally conservative, but the new labor agreement helps create more competitive balance.
”I think as an owner, you really want to do the team right, the fans right, and the community right and build a winning organization. It does eventually come back to the desire to win and be able to enjoy with the fans and the community the success you have,” he said. ”So I’ve invested a lot, but the crazy luxury tax days and all those things, those are gone. … With the carefully, newly crafted luxury tax, hopefully they are gone for everybody and everybody is on a much more level playing field.”
The Blazers benefited from amnesty last week in dealing with All-Star guard Brandon Roy, who abruptly decided a day before training camp opened that he was retiring because of ongoing problems with his knees.
Using amnesty for Roy helped Portland in signing free agent sixth-man Jamal Crawford to a two-year deal, significantly shoring up the Blazers’ depth.
Roy’s retirement after just five NBA seasons was a blow to the Blazers, who at the same time learned that former No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden had suffered a setback after missing all of last season recovering from left knee surgery. The team also learned that forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the top scorer last season, required a procedure to treat a heart condition.
The Blazers have since rebounded. Aldridge will return to full practice on Tuesday and should be ready for the season opener against Philadelphia on Dec. 26. In addition to Crawford, the Blazers signed forward/center Kurt Thomas and forward Craig Smith, giving the team additional depth.
But Portland is still looking for a permanent general manager to replace Rich Cho, who was fired in May after less than a year on the job. Allen confirmed speculation that the two did not mesh.
”Sometimes you realize it’s not a good fit,” he said.
College scouting director Chad Buchanan has been served as acting GM since Cho’s dismissal, but he is not a candidate to fill the job on a permanent basis. Allen said Monday he would like to find someone with experience from outside the organization, and that he has yet to interview anyone personally.
Allen became animated when talking about chatter that he wants to be the Blazers’ general manager.
”No! No! I just want to ask the questions and I want a great general manager,” he said. ”So, we are going through that process.”
Allen did not speak to reporters about the team last season. He commented for the first time on Portland’s bizarre June 2010 draft, when general manager Kevin Pritchard was fired.
Allen said he was preparing for the draft and went out to get some fresh air, and Pritchard followed him out. During the conversation, Allen said Pritchard ”asked to be let go, multiple times.”
Allen said he finally acquiesced.
”He just kept coming back to it – `Let’s just part ways,”’ Allen said.
Last season the Blazers went 48-34 and got ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA champion Mavericks. They opened the preseason on Monday night with a 110-90 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Allen said he’s interested is seeing how the lockout-shortened season plays out.
”People will talk of handicapping the usual suspects at the top of the conference, but then there are a bunch of us right below that. Are we just barely a playoff team, are we going to have potential to get out of the first round and do more damage?” Allen said. ”That’s what makes sports exciting. I will have to see how it all plays out.”
Allen, who co-founded Microsoft, has owned the Blazers since 1988.