Friday, September 28, 2007

Kevin Pritchard's Blueprint for Success

Blazers’ barometer
GM Kevin Pritchard: The way to wins starts in the locker room
Despite loss of Greg Oden for the season, positivity and pressure flow to keep team on track
By Kerry Eggers

The Portland Tribune, Sep 28, 2007

Pritchard takes the helm of the Blazers, as announced by owner Paul Allen during a game last spring. Pritchard faces his first full season as general manager, already having overcome the disappointment of losing expected star Greg Oden for the season.

It’s a personal item the media and the public never will see. Pritchard has been doing it since high school in Tulsa, Okla., where he was the state’s player of the year his final two seasons at Edison High.

“It’s just a collection of my thoughts, notes about what I’m thinking, private things I believe in,” says the Trail Blazers’ general manager. “Every year since high school, I’ve written kind of a manifesto. I try to think about what’s important – what were the issues I faced today, and how did I handle them? I can look back a year from now and say, ‘These were my mistakes, and I learned from them.’ ”

Before this season – training camp begins Tuesday – Pritchard will list in his diary five things he wants to accomplish with his management team. He chooses to keep them private, but offers one hint.

“I want each of (the Blazer executives and coaches) to enjoy a balanced life,” he says. “I’m going to push you hard. If I’m not pushing you hard enough, tell me. If I’m pushing you too hard, tell me. I expect hard work and production, but I want them to have a life away from basketball, too.”

Pritchard is organized and ambitious. He wants to be inspirational as he begins his first season running the Blazers’ basketball operations. Those around him say they believe he is on the right track.

“Kevin is one of those guys you could pay to be a motivational speaker,” Blazer broadcaster Mike Barrett says. “After three years in our organization, he definitely has the staff behind him.

“I remember going to the press conference when he was announced as GM. The staff was gathered in an open area, and as he came down the hallway, people were chanting, ‘Kevin! Kevin!’ He told everyone it was a defining moment in his life, and he had to stop several times to hold back tears.

“Every time he speaks, people leave feeling better about the direction of the team. And it’s not like he’s selling us a bill of goods – it comes from the heart,” Barrett says. “The staff looks to him about how to feel about things, using him as a barometer. He knows he has that responsibility, and he thrives on it. He’s genuinely optimistic and looking for positives, and that’s exactly what we’ve needed after what we’ve gone through the last few years.”

Oden mishap is first test
“Kevin is a very loyal person,” says Chad Buchanan, beginning his first season as Portland’s director of college scouting. “That’s important in me having trust in working for him. If you work hard and do your job, he’s going to be very good to you. He also knows when it’s time to tell you you’re not living up to his expectations.

“That’s why his staff loves to work for him. He’s going to push you to reach your maximum potential. The guy is just a natural-born leader.”

Remember when Pritchard said Greg Oden felt the weight of the world on his shoulders after the rookie underwent season-ending knee surgery two weeks ago? To a degree, Pritchard feels the same way with those in the organization whose spirits were wounded when the budding franchise player was lost for the year.

Pritchard’s comments to the media were upbeat and encouraging, even though he surely felt depressed over what is really the first major setback since taking over the club’s basketball operations in March.

“The biggest thing is for me to stay positive, especially for Greg and our staff,” Pritchard concedes. “It’s a tough blow to take, but I have to make sure we keep on track. Once we get him back, we’re going to be better for it.”

Though a segment of the Blazers’ following second-guessed Pritchard’s selection of Oden over Kevin Durant and wondered whether the Blazers might have blown it in predraft medical exams, Pritchard won’t admit to such thoughts.

“We did our homework,” he says. “We did MRIs on both of his knees. It was reported there were a lot of concerns, but we were the one team that was allowed to do an MRI. We were comfortable with the results. We did our diligence.

“Obviously, we don’t feel good about what happened. It’s a setback, but we got a great player and a great kid. I’m very happy we have Greg Oden. He’s going to be a Blazer for a long time.”

Character counts a lot
Pritchard’s basketball pedigree is top-drawer. He played for Larry Brown and Roy Williams at Kansas. Two of Brown’s assistants during his time there were Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, who run the San Antonio organization that has won four NBA championships over the past nine seasons.

Pritchard spent two years as a scout for the Spurs before coming to Portland in 2004. Brown, Williams, Popovich and Buford are his basketball mentors, and he wants to mirror their philosophies as he develops his own with the Blazers.

“San Antonio kind of put the stamp on me,” Pritchard says. “The common denominator of championship teams is that the locker room is great. Players don’t have to hang out or do everything together, but somebody was willing to step up and take responsibility. Good locker room, good people.

“Maybe I overemphasize it. Has it turned me away from talented players who maybe aren’t the best people? Absolutely. What it boils down to, I want to be a part of something really special, and I want to be in the trenches with people I admire.”

It’s why Pritchard traded Zach Randolph and wanted nothing to do with guard Steve Francis. He didn’t want their influence around his team’s young players. It’s why Pritchard says he will do everything he can to support coach Nate McMillan and help the Blazers’ young fleet of executives learn the business.

“I want to be a great assist person for Nate,” Pritchard says. “I want to make sure he has every tool to work with so he can succeed. I never walk into Nate’s office and say who to play. I know his challenges. I believe in him. He doesn’t do it exactly how I’d do it, but he works his tail off, he’s committed, and he’s a very good coach.

“I want my management team to learn and move up. I’d like to be like Coach Brown and Coach Williams, to have 12 or 15 guys move up in the management ranks around the league.”

Pritchard has lit a fire under owner Paul Allen, who ceded the Rose Garden to creditors, then considered selling the club as his once-proud franchise plummeted to the worst record in the NBA.

Owner comes around
The Blazers are once again Allen’s favorite toy, exemplified by multimillion-dollar expenditures that allowed the team to draft Brandon Roy and Sergio Rodriguez in 2006 and Rudy Fernandez and Petteri Koponen in 2007.

“Paul loves basketball,” Pritchard says. “I’ve been to a Seahawk game with him, and we talked basketball the whole time. He went through the emotions of owning a team and losing money, but the biggest thing to him is, winning is really important.

“The dynamics have changed for Paul. We wouldn’t have Brandon or Sergio without him stepping up.”

Allen agreed to the trade of Randolph to New York and the $31 million buyout of Francis’ contract because of his faith in Pritchard’s master plan. The Knicks deal included receiving a trade option that allowed the Blazers to acquire small forward James Jones from Phoenix and, in the process, procure the pick that landed Fernandez, a high-potential shooting guard who will wind up in Portland after playing one more season in Barcelona.

It’s a gamble, but an educated one, Pritchard insists.

“You can’t know everything in this business,” he says. “When I don’t, I tell Paul. No matter what the situation, he’ll do what he can to help me out. That’s where he’s really good for me.

“Our draft book is intense, and he reads every bit of it. He is very educated on all our opinions. I send him player videos throughout the season. We talk or e-mail at least every other day. I love that. One of the keys in this business is that the owner, general manager, coach and players all understand where we’re going and what we’re doing. It is one of the great challenges for a GM, but if you can accomplish that, you have a much better chance for success.”

Getting money under control
Pritchard’s master plan for the Blazers is to have salary-cap flexibility in 2009. It’s why he signed free agents Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake to two-year contracts, with conditional guarantees for the third season.

At a time when the league’s salary cap will be at about $60 million and the luxury-tax threshold about $70 million, Portland’s salary commitment (minus first-round picks the next two years) could be about $31 million – and $9 million less than that if Darius Miles’ surgically repaired knees force the enigmatic forward into retirement.

If Pritchard so chooses, the Blazers could have only Oden, Roy, Rodriguez, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla (plus draft picks) on their books for the 2009-10 season. That would leave ample room for the club to dip into the league’s high-ticket free-agent market for the first time ever.

“We’re going to get offered some deals over the next year and a half,” Pritchard says. “I will under no circumstance trade the future of this organization for a short-term fix.

“The ultimate goal is to compete for a championship down the road. We’ve set it up so we have a good young core of players who can grow together, and in a couple of years still have financial flexibility to add pieces of the puzzle we don’t have.”

If it all comes together, Pritchard’s diary will include material Blazer fans could only dream of a couple of short seasons ago.

“We believe it will happen under Kevin’s leadership,” says Tod Leiweke, chief executive officer of Allen’s Vulcan Sports & Entertainment Inc. and the man in charge of hiring Pritchard as GM. “He’s one of the bright young minds in the NBA and a pied piper for his vision of the Blazers. We feel lucky to have him.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Western Conference X-Factors

After looking at the Eastern Conference X-Factors, the Western Conference has a handful of players that are equally important to their team. An X-factor is a player on a team who will largely help a team towards success or failure.

Dallas Mavericks: Devin Harris
For the Mavericks to get back to the NBA Finals, Harris needs to move up a step in the league's group of point guards. The Mavericks are at their best when Harris is distributing the ball and Jason Terry slides over to the shooting guard spot.

Denver Nuggets: Kenyon Martin
Martin is coming of a loss year due to injury, and the Nuggets could use a consistent scorer next to Anthony and Iverson. A big year from Martin could mean a long run in the playoffs for the Nuggets.

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Jackson
Jackson played his best late last season and the Warriors need him to do the same all year in 2007-08. With Jason Richardson being traded during the offseason, the Warriors will certainly look to Jackson to pickup the lost production.

Houston Rockets: Mike James
The Rockets will look for James to push Rafer Alston at the starting point guard spot. James' ability to score from the perimeter will also benefit the Rockets off the bench, which is something they struggled to get last season.

Los Angeles Clippers: Al Thornton
With Elton Brand lost for a majority of the season, the focus will be on the 2008-09 season. Thornton's progress in his rookie season will be vital to the Clippers success in the years to come.

Los Angeles Lakers: Javaris Crittenton
The Lakers hope that Crittenton can be ready to start at point guard by mid-season. Crittenton is a big point guard, who can do things that no other point guard that the Lakers have.

Memphis Grizzlies: Darko Milicic
The Grizzlies have a number of good, young players in Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and Keith Lowry. However, they are thin in post players that can score outside of Pau Gasol. If Milicic can provide consistent post scoring, then the Grizzlies rebuilding process will be a big success.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Gerald Green
Although still young, Green has now played two seasons in the NBA. Now with Minnesota, Green needs to have a strong season in order to remain as one of their core, young players. Minnesota knows what they will get in Randy Foye and Al Jefferson, but Green may be the wildcard here.

New Orleans Hornets: Rasual Butler
Butler will compete with Morris Peterson for time at shooting guard. Butler is the taller of the two and provides greater upside than Peterson. With a strong core of players in Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Paul, and David West, Butler would be a strong, versatile player if he can play at a high level this season.

Phoenix Suns: Boris Diaw
Coming off a disappointing season, Diaw needs to rebound with a year similar to 2005-06. The Suns are in need of Diaw to provide the offensive versatility and rebounding that he once brought them. If Diaw can play at a high level, then the Suns can afford to play Marion, Diaw, and Stoudamire at the same time. If not, Grant Hill will have to fill Diaw's role and the Suns will have to play smaller.

Portland Trail Blazers: Travis Outlaw
With Oden and Randolph off the team this year, Outlaw needs to provide the scoring that Portland will be missing. Outlaw played well at the end of last season, but needs to do that all season in 2007-08.

Sacramento Kings: Francisco Garcia
Garcia needs to have a strong year similar to what Kevin Martin had last season. Garcia played his best at the end of last season, but needs to continue to develop his all around game. As a long-armed, tall guard who can play three positions, he has the ability to become a very versatilite piece for the Kings.

San Antonio Spurs: Ime Udoka
A player in the mold of Bowen, Udoka will be expected to defend the opponent's top scorer. As the Spurs only significant addition from last year, Udoka will most likely play an important role in the playoffs this season.

Seattle Supersonics: Robert Swift
In his third season, Swift will get every opportunity to win the starting spot for Seattle. Swift has struggled to avoid injuries during his career, but Seattle will rely on Swift to provide defense and rebounding. Swift will compete with Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, and Kurt Thomas for minutes - all of whom are proven commodities.

Utah Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko
With Kirilenko playing at his best, the Jazz have one of the most talented starting five's in the league. Kirilenko brings great versatility and arguably the best defensive player in the league. However, when he plays like he did towards the end of last season, Kirilenko is the most overpaid player in the NBA. A good year from Kirilenko means that Utah will compete for the championship.

Eastern Conference X-Factors

As we begin to move closer to the start of NBA training camps, I wanted to take a look at who I would consider to be the X-factor on each team in the Eastern Conference. I consider an X-factor to be a player on a team who will largely help a team towards success or failure - that player may be a rookie, young veteran, someone coming off injury, someone newly acquired, etc.

Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Williams
Williams is coming off a year where he missed 18 games because of injury. If he can provide versatility and consistency in what will be his third year, the Hawks will be able to suprise many teams in the East.

Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo
Rondo will be counted on to handle and distribute the ball on a team with three Hall of Fame players. It will be important for Rondo to develop all season so he is ready for playoff basketball at the end of the year.

Charlotte Bobcats: Adam Morrison
Charlotte comes into this season with a strong start five, but a very limited bench. If Morrison can develop into a consistent scorer off-the-bench the Bobcats could compete for a playoff spot this season.

Chicago Bulls: Tyrus Thomas
On a team with consistent veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith, Tyrus Thomas is the real wildcard on the Bulls. Last season, he played well during stretches, but this year he will need to bring consistency in points, rebounds, and blocked shots.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Hughes
In the last 40 games before the Cavaliers met the Spurs in the NBA Finals, Cleveland went 29-11. In each one of those games, the starting point guard was Larry Hughes. If Hughes can continue to provide stability and strong defense at the point guard position for Cleveland, then the franchise should again compete for the Eastern Conference title.

Detroit Pistons: Jason Maxiell
In playoff games against Chicago and Cleveland last season, Detroit saw what they hope to get each night from Maxiell this season. With Chris Webber most likely not returning, the Pistons will look for Maxiell and a group of other players to fil his minutes. Scoring and rebounding from Maxiell in the post will be key for Detroit's success this season.

Indiana Pacers: Jamaal Tinsley
Tinsley will get his last chance this season to prove he can be the Pacers lead guard. Although he had a strong scoring season last year, the team needs more from Tinsley on the defensive end. Tinsley also finished the year sixth among point guards in turnovers per game. Both of these concerns need to be addressed this season, or the Pacers will most likely be looking to select a point guard in next season's draft.

Miami Heat: Dorrell Wright
On an aging roster, Wright is one of the only younger players who should be ready this season to produce. Wright should add versatility and athleticism to a team badly in need of both. If Wright fails to produce, then the Heat will have to look for more from Anfernee Hardaway (36), Alonzo Mourning (37), Antoine Walker (31), and Jason Williams (31).

Milwaukee Bucks: Charlie Villanueva
In his third season, Villanueva has shown great potential, but is coming back from a season-ending shoulder injury. If Villanueva can provide consistent points and rebounding statistics - perhaps 15 points and 8 rebounds per game - the Bucks will have a proven scorer in the post. If he cannot, then they will struggle to get any consistency from their big men all season.

New Jersey Nets: Jamaal Magloire
Magloire was the Nets most significant addition this year to a 41-win season last year. The Nets need some production from their big men next to Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson, and Magloire may be just that guy.

New York Knicks: Quentin Richardson
Ricahrdson has only played 91 games over the last two seasons because of injuries. Richardson has the ability to provide three point shooting from the perimter that the Knicks will certainly need. The Knicks know waht they will get from all of their starters, plus Nate Robinson and Renaldo Balkman, but Richardson could be the real wildcard here.

Orlando Magic: Trevor Ariza
The Magic would ideally like to play their top five players each night: Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Trevor Ariza, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard. To be able to do this, Ariza needs to start off the season strong and provide the defensive effort they need. If Ariza fails, then the Magic will have to go with a taller lineup and start Adonal Foyle.

Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young
This year's first round pick, Young is an important piece in Philadelphia's rebuilding process. Young is an excellent athlete and an emerging shooter who has potential to be a great complement to Andre Iguodala. If Young can succeed this season, then Philadelphia will have a bright future.

Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
Bargnani had a nice rookie season improving his points per game each month. Playing in a much improved division, the Raptors did not made many upgrades on their roster. Therefore, the development of Bargnani will be essential towards the Raptors' return to the playoffs.

Washington Wizards: Oleksiy Pecherov
Pecherov is a young, Ukrainian forward who can play multiple positions and shoot the ball well. The Wizards have an experienced starting lineup, but could use some scoring punch off the bench. Pecherov has the ability to provide what the Wizards need in order to return to the playoffs.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Garrick Barr & Synergy Sports Technology

"An inside game, a high-tech way: Barr's product provides a clear picture behind the stats"
by Bob Young
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Maybe Garrick Barr was born to revolutionize the way professional basketball teams use technology.

He might change the way you use it, too, if you happen to be a basketball fan.

What Barr, a former Suns video coordinator, has done is build Synergy Sports Technology, a Web-based service for NBA teams that is expanding into colleges, international basketball and soon might become part of an interactive fan feature at

Essentially, his company puts statistical data and video together, and makes it available to teams almost immediately and for many different uses, from player evaluation to scouting to coaching.

"He played college basketball, coached in college, son of an engineer. It's the perfect marriage of the technology and the person," said David Griffin, vice president and assistant general manager of the Suns.

"He's the most qualified person on the planet for what he has done."

Barr launched the company three years ago. This is the first NBA season in which the company has provided full service to teams, but Barr said the company will be cash-flow positive by next year.

Right now, five NBA teams are using the service, paying between $50,000 and $75,000 for the season, and several others are considering it.

It's less clear when his investors will begin seeing a return because the company already is looking into growing the core business by expanding to other sports while exploring other ways to leverage the technology.

Among Barr's backers is the NBA's biggest techie, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who made his fortune by co-founding

How it works

Let's say that Cuban's Mavericks have just lost to the Suns and gave up too many fastbreak points in the loss.

Mavericks coach Avery Johnson wants to know what went wrong. About 20 minutes after the end of the game, his video scouts can use Barr's service to provide video "edits" - clips - of every Phoenix fastbreak in the game.

He also can get every Dallas transitional situation for the entire season to see how that night's game compared to others.

Or, he could ask for:

• All the plays in which Steve Nash came off to his left in the Suns' bread-and-butter pick-and-roll game - in that game or all season.

• The plays in which Nash went all the way to the basket, pulled up for jump shot or passed.

• A breakdown to determine how successful Nash is when he goes left, whether he's more likely to shoot or pass in that situation and whether he's more likely to go to the rim or pull up - all with links to video clips to see why it all happens.

And it can all be done online with a couple of mouse clicks, or downloaded and put on a DVD - just in case the Mavericks have a plane to catch and Johnson wants to look at it all of this in the air.

"The system allows us to look at every play, in every way, and to tie it back to stats," Cuban said via e-mail. "So, we can watch how we played every pick and roll, track our success rate and also see how other teams are doing it.

"It's an invaluable resource that makes us smarter when combined with a lot of advanced statistical analysis we do."

Basketball background

It helps that Barr knows the game as well as the technology.

A former high school teammate of Paul Westphal's at Aviation High in Redondo Beach, Calif., Barr played at UC Irvine and later worked as an assistant coach under Westphal at Grand Canyon College.

Barr came with Westphal to the Suns, and in 11 years as the team's video coach he came up with a lot of ideas about how to combine statistical information with video to more efficiently analyze players and teams.

Usually, he gave those ideas to the various vendors, who called on the Suns with their latest video editing equipment.

"Everybody that came in wanted to hire him," Griffin remembers.

Barr noticed as he went around the league with the Suns that much of that equipment ended up gathering dust.

So in 1998 he founded Quantified Scouting Service, which logged virtually every possession of NBA games to provide offensive tendencies reports.

It was a first step, and in 2003, Barr decided it was time to take it further, quit giving away his ideas and launch a company that could combine the statistical analysis with video and make it available in real time.

He left the Suns.

Tech support

With the advantage of a coaching background, he knew what his clients would want, and with an intimate knowledge of his competition, he knew what they were - or were not - getting.

What he didn't know was whether technology would support it or what it might cost.

A family member hooked him up with Nils Lahr, a former Microsoft engineer and chief architect of iBeam Broadcast Corp., which once was one of Silicon Valley's first big online content providers.

To say Lahr is an expert on streaming video is an understatement. In the tech world, he is Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, a superstar.

"Garrick knew what he wanted to do. He could imagine the workflow. He just didn't know if the technology would get him from point A to point B," Lahr said.

Lahr got him there.

"When I was at Microsoft six years ago, there is nothing we're doing now that we couldn't have done then," he said. "But the startup cost at that time would have been millions and millions. We had to invent a few things that didn't exist for this, but the technology at that time would have worked. However, the business model would have killed it.

"Now, every two or three months you read a press release about somebody in sports trying to do something else on the Internet. The industry has grown by $200million just from last year. It's growing exponentially.

"With streaming video and stats together on the Internet, we can include fans in ways that have never been possible. And people are willing to experiment. Verizon and Comcast, companies like these need content for their portals. There is a lot of money involved."

Future development

Barr's real satisfaction comes from seeing something that he envisioned come to life - and in full-color streaming video.

Pat Riley, Miami Heat coach/president, signed up first. Four other teams followed. Several others are testing the service and three recently inquired about it.

"The word is starting to spread," Barr said.

In the next few weeks, SST also will begin logging defensive situations and player tendencies, which will make it even more applicable.

NBA Entertainment is in talks with the company to use the technology for an interactive feature that fans can use if they sign up for's "Velvet Ropes" service for the playoffs.

"Everybody in the NBA will have Synergy's service," predicted Donnie Walsh, president and CEO of the Indiana Pacers, one of Barr's clients. "They're way ahead of all their competition."

And this technology evidently is not gathering dust.

"If you played video 24 hours a day, seven days a week, non-stop for 2 1/2 months, that's the amount of video our clients have viewed in the last 5 1/2 months," Lahr said. "That's a fairly small set of teams, but their usage is extremely heavy."

And Barr's company also provides in-arena "cache" servers for clients. All SST's logged info goes right to the servers, which will hold a season-and-a-half worth of data and video, allowing people throughout an organization to utilize the service in-house all at the same time without tying up valuable bandwidth.

"Garrick was right," Lahr said. "What we're providing is what NBA teams needed."

The Pacers' Walsh agreed.

"It's exactly what NBA teams want and can use," he said. "From our team's standpoint, we can have everything we want on a team we're playing tomorrow before we even get on a plane after a game tonight.

"From a college scouting standpoint, if we want to draft a guy and we expect him to be able to post up, in minutes you can look at every post-up play he's been involved in and break down what he does when he posts up.

"From an international scouting perspective, it can be a big cost saver. It's really pragmatic."

Griffin, who said the Suns are testing the service, is hoping to sell USA Basketball on Barr's technology to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And he believes it might be an even easier sell once NBA front-office types figure out that it can help them as much as their coach.

"A lot of times, guys are going to say, 'I'm not spending $50,000 on that for my coach,' " Griffin said, laughing. " 'But I'll spend $50,000 on me!' "