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Monday, July 19, 2010
A quick chat with Rich Cho

By Henry Abbott

On Monday the Blazers announced Rich Cho, former Thunder assistant general manager, as the team's new general manager. The key part of the hiring process came when Cho flew to Helsinki, Finland to meet owner Paul Allen on his yacht. We spoke by phone Monday evening, and he described the process:

Everybody went to Las Vegas to do their NBA networking last week, but little did they know the real action was in Helsinki! How'd that process unfold?

I met with [team president] Larry Miller on Tuesday in Las Vegas. And then I met with Nate [McMillan]. Larry wanted me to connect in person with Mr. Allen on his yacht in Helsinki.

What's he doing in Helsinki?

Just vacation. Going around Europe.

So on Wednesday I flew from Vegas to Toronto to Helsinki, and with the time change I got there Thursday evening. I went straight to the yacht, and I met there for more than three hours with Mr. Allen. Just the two of us. He asked me a lot of questions.

Later that night at the hotel Larry called me and offered me the job.

So you've been working away since you started law school in the mid-90s, with the goal of getting this kind of job, years interning ... and when you finally get one, you're all alone in a strange city? How'd you celebrate?

I had a quiet dinner. I went to a great seafood restaurant.

Paul Allen says you are "part of the new generation of NBA executives." What does that mean to you?

I look at things a little bit differently. There are all these different elements. From my background, I have these mathematical, engineering and legal aspects ... On top of that, I'm a big data collector. It's a thought process, not just stats. I apply data and analysis to a lot of what we do.

Can you give me an example?

Sure. If we pick somebody with, say, the 52nd pick, the agent is going to come at us with all kinds of data about the range of contracts for that pick. How much was guaranteed, what dates things were guaranteed, what conditional income there was and all of that. For instance, a contract might have no money guaranteed on signing, then $100,000 is guaranteed as of August 1, and $350,000 on October 1 if the player is still with the team. With second-rounders, there's a lot of negotiating to do.

I studied every single second-round contract since 2003. The salaries, the full, partial or conditional income guarantees, whether it's one, two, three or four years, whether there's a team option or not. I have all of that in a spreadsheet. My thought is that before we enter into any negotiations we want to know everything that there is to know.

That's just one example. When I'm talking about being analytical, I'm not just talking about stats. I'm talking about a way of thinking, and it's a little bit of everything.

You had a job at Boeing as an engineer. But then you went through a lot of years -- law school, interning and all that -- to get this NBA career going. What drove you?

Sports was always my passion. Growing up I played everything, basketball, tennis and baseball. Sports was my passion. I liked being an engineer at Boeing, but not for the rest of my life. So I did some research, and I found that lots of the higher-ups in sports had gone to law school, so I did too.

So, is this a rivalry cooking between the Blazers and the Thunder?

The Thunder are a well-coached, up-and-coming team, and the Blazers are a well-coached, up-and-coming team. Both teams have good guys. And they're in the same division. So it probably is a rivalry in the making.

Not to mention, those two teams will be forever bonded by the 2007 lottery.

Now I feel I have a unique perspective on that [Greg] Oden and [Kevin] Durant draft. There were two number one picks in that draft. I'm sure the people who were in Portland at the time saw it the same way.

I'll tell you this: Greg was playing really well before he got injured and I'm glad to have him on this team.

Besides Coach McMillan, you know or have worked with a lot of people in the Blazer organization before, correct?

Cheri Hansen in media relations, strength and conditioning coach Bob Medina, Nate McMillan ... and I have seen Chad Buchanan and Mike Born on the road plenty. ... A lot of quality people in this building.

If you're from Seattle, does going to Portland count as a homecoming?

I have lived on the West Coast, the East Coast, Oklahoma City, I do feel like I'm coming home to the Northwest. There's no prettier place in the U.S. than the Pacific Northwest. There's natural beauty, great people.

I have written a lot about William Wesley, who now works representing NBA executives at CAA. You're represented by CAA. How'd you choose them?

I'm represented by CAA. Terry Prince is the guy doing my contract. I've known [CAA agent] Leon Rose for a long time, Wes is with CAA. But Terry Prince is my agent at CAA, and it just felt right to go with them.

You've hardly talked to the media at all in the past. Why?

Our philosophy in Oklahoma City was that we would speak with one voice to the media.

Is it going to be the same way for your staff in Portland?

I have to sit down with the people here and talk over the pros and cons.