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Canzano: Trail Blazers' fate hangs in the balance
NBA franchise promotes Joe Cronin amid uncertainty.
The summer of 2006 was a busy time at One Center Court. The Trail Blazers secured Lamarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy on draft day. They also hired a swath of interns, dispatching them on a variety of tasks.
Among them, young Joe Cronin.
Cronin was named Portland’s general manager on Tuesday. His “interim” tag was removed and he’ll be the GM of record when the franchise’s Draft Lottery fate is settled next week. Before that, though, Cronin was a basketball operations intern.
After that, he became a scout.
Then, salary-cap analyst.
Then, director of player personnel.
Before all that Cronin was a 6-foot-6, moppy-haired former high school basketball player from Colorado. Tuesday was a wonderful day for Cronin and his career path, but he’s not the most influential person in the franchise right now. Neither is All-Star guard Damian Lillard or team president Dewayne Hankins.
Unfortunately, it’s Bert Kolde.
Paul Allen’s former college roommate is the vice chairman of both the Trail Blazers and Seahawks. Jody Allen is the trustee of her late brother’s estate. But it’s Kolde, per insiders, who is steering the NBA organization right now.
For that reason, I fear none of this will end as it should.
A few things:
• Most everyone believes the Trail Blazers are being positioned for a sale in the next 6-18 months. Insiders at Vulcan, Inc. tell me that Kolde has assumed the lead role on this and is carefully studying the ongoing sale of the Denver Broncos.
• The Trail Blazers own Moda Center but the City of Portland owns the land beneath the arena. The NBA franchise pays the city $1 a year and operates and maintains Memorial Coliseum as part of the arrangement. The sides are currently engaged in discussions about renewing the lease.
• The Blazers had the sixth-worst record in the NBA last season. They have a 9 percent chance of securing the No. 1 overall pick in the May 17 NBA draft lottery. They desperately need a big break.
The sale of the franchise will be a significant pivot point for the Blazers. The prevailing hope is that Kolde and Jody Allen won’t just sell to the highest bidder, but to a select owner or group that would have local ties and continue Paul Allen’s legacy.
Said one Vulcan, Inc. executive: “Bert doesn’t think like that. He will do whatever he can to get the most money to impress Jody. He’s a major wannabe. Both leagues — the NBA and NFL — view him as a problem.
“The sales process should be more holistic than just who will pay the most. Paul would want the best owner for the city and state and he would take less to make that happen. Bert not so much.”
The Broncos sale could complicate matters and raise expectations to an unrealistic level. The NFL team is currently owned by the Pat Bowlen Trust. Initial estimates were that the Broncos might sell for as much as $4 billion. That figure bloated to $5 billion this week.
Cronin won’t have a say in a potential sale.
Nor will the GM have input into the lease negotiations. I reviewed the document last week and ran it past several legal experts who agreed the lease should be a fairly easy re-negotiation. Both parties should be motivated to get it done. The complexities, however, are rooted in Memorial Coliseum and the master development plan for the area around Moda Center.
Should Memorial Coliseum be there?
Could it be replaced with a new memorial to honor veterans? Could the lease agreement spark a massive development of the surrounding area? It should. But given the likely franchise sale, I doubt Kolde and Jody Allen are interested in collaborating with the city on a bold development vision for the arena district.
This should be a seminal moment for the city and NBA franchise. The neighborhood around Moda Center could finally be transformed into something amazing. But in order to do that, you need an invested and motivated brain trust.
Kolde is neither.
There are several clauses in the current lease that allow the Trail Blazers to sign a short-term extension and punt the negotiation down the road. The hope here is that the Blazers do exactly that and let whoever buys the NBA franchise negotiate a longer-term agreement.
Moda Center has good bones, a great location and decent aesthetic. It could be a special arena with some improvements. The fan base has been loyal, passionate and deserves it. The franchise is a goldmine with the right ownership.
Cronin was promoted to the permanent GM job on Tuesday. It’s a great story, rising from intern to boss in 16 crazy years. I wasn’t impressed with his work around the NBA trade deadline, but I’m skeptical that Cronin made those moves without Kolde whispering in his ear.
Portland landing the No. 1 or No. 2 draft pick in the lottery?
But more importantly, the Blazers need new ownership. The franchise also needs a lease agreement that keeps it in Portland and ensures the development of the arena district. Which is only to say the sooner Bert Kolde is out of the way, the better.
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