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Eggers: Petrie enjoys life sans NBA

Geoff PetrieFor the first time since the late 1980’s, Geoff Petrie isn’t doing everything in his power to improve the personnel side of an NBA club.

And he’s getting along just fine.

“I’m really enjoying other parts of my life that aren’t that much available when you have the jobs I’ve had the last 30 to 35 years,” says Petrie, whose contract with the Sacramento Kings was not renewed last June after 20 years as the club’s president/basketball

operations.

Such as?

“I exercise more,” says

Petrie, who lives with his wife of 22 years, Ann-Marie, in Loomis, Calif., 30 miles east of Sacramento on the way to Lake Tahoe. “I’ve been doing a lot of hiking, a lot of bike-riding — outdoor recreational stuff. I spend a lot of time

with my dog. I’ve done some traveling.”

Every five or six weeks, he says, Petrie heads north to Portland, where he visits with his daughters and spends time with “old friends.”

“We’ve started doing some bird-hunting around Wasco, by the John Day River,” says Petrie, an original Trail Blazer player who worked in the club’s front office from 1985-94. “When you’re running an NBA team, time just doesn’t get made for that kind of thing. It’s a totally consuming existence.”

From 1990 through last spring, Petrie was in the NBA fast lane, orchestrating drafts, making deals and maneuvering personnel groups for Portland and Sacramento.

“With the exception of the last 3 to 3 1/2 years,” Petrie says, “it was incredibly rewarding.”

The last few years were challenging under the failing ownership of Joe and Gavin Maloof, the Las Vegas hoteliers who had purchased the club from Jim Thomas in 1999. The team came close to a move to Seattle before Commissioner David Stern and Mayor Kevin Johnson stepped in to spearhead an 11th-hour deal to extend the arena lease.

By the end of Petrie’s time in Sacramento, the on-court product turned from very good to very bad, with seven straight losing seasons and no playoff appearances while winning fewer than 30 games in each of the last five years.

“We just didn’t have any (resources), really,” Petrie says. “Most of the trades we made were to make money, and we did a lot of that. We were still trying to do things in terms of talent, too, but the economics were always at at the forefront.”

The club was sold in May 2013 to a group led by Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive for $535 million. A month later, Petrie was gone.

“You’d like to write a storybook ending,” says Petrie, who turns 66 on April 17. “But life isn’t like that sometimes.”

For most of Petrie’s life, Cinderella could have been a main character.

The Blazers’ first-ever draft pick in 1970 out of Princeton, the 6-4, 195-pound Petrie was an instant success, sharing NBA rookie of the year honors with Boston’s Dave Cowens while averaging 24.8 points per game. The long-distance shooting guard (the 3-point line came in a decade too late) twice set the franchise scoring record of 51 points that season, a standard that held until Damon Stoudamire’s 54-point performance in 2005.

During the playoffs that season, Petrie beat Cleveland’s Barry Clemens in the finals of an NBA-sponsored one-on-one tournament at Madison Square Garden, winning $15,000 for himself and a collective $3,000 for teammates. Petrie beat Bob McAdoo, Bob Dandridge, Mike Riordan and Gail Goodrich en route to the finals.

Twice an All-Star, Petrie averaged 21.8 points during his six seasons in Portland. His jersey No. 45 hangs in the rafters at the Moda Center. But major knee surgery left him incapable of playing, and his career was over at 28.

“When you’re young and going through it, it doesn’t seem fair,” says Petrie, who has undergone six surgeries on the damaged left knee. “My healthiest season was my rookie year. I only had about four years where I felt like I wasn’t hampered.

“The way I look at it, the six years I played was a phenomenal experience. I was always a starter. I was part of history being made in Portland, when there were a lot of doubts about whether an NBA team could make it there. That’s a great story in itself.”

After several years in private business, Petrie began work with the Blazers in 1985, spending five seasons as radio analyst alongside Bill Schonely, the last four years doubling as the club’s shooting instructor. Petrie became vice president/business operations in 1989 and then moved up to head the basketball side as senior vice president/basketball operations in 1990.

“I was grateful Harry (Glickman, the team president) and eventually Paul (Allen, the owner) had the confidence to give me that kind of opportunity,” Petrie says. “I was really lucky in that the infrastructure was there, and I learned a lot quickly. There were so many good people there and good resources, and that helped in terms of growing into the job I eventually had.”

Rick Adelman — Petrie’s road roommate with the Blazers that first season — took over as head coach for the fired Mike Schuler midway through the 1988-89 season. During Adelman’s first full season, the Blazers reached the finals, losing to Detroit in the ‘90 finals.

Under Petrie’s front-office guidance, the Blazers won an NBA-best 63 games and reached the Western Conference finals in 1990-91, then got back to the NBA finals the next season, falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

“That group had three chances to win a title,” Petrie says. “The first team probably wasn’t quite ready. The next year, when we were knocked out by the Lakers, was the best opportunity. When you get to the highest level, sometimes winning and losing turns on circumstance. But those were incredibly dynamic years.”

After the Blazers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in both 1993 and ‘94, Allen and henchman Bert Kolde chose to fire Adelman. Petrie felt Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis — chosen by Portland in the 1986 draft and destined to arrive in 1995 — could make the talent base a title contender again, and wanted Adelman to stay. During a feisty post-season meeting with the pair in Seattle, Petrie chose to resign.

“All those years before that, I had been going to Europe and meeting with Sabonis and his people,” Petrie says. “I knew he was coming. I felt with Rick’s style of play and Sabonis’ skill set, that team had another run at it. You’re always having the debate about when to break it up and retool. I wasn’t too much in favor of that at that point.

“Taking all that together, I felt it was best for me to move on. I had no idea where. It turned out to be Sacramento.”

Petrie’s relationship with Allen, he says, “was fine. I enjoyed all those years. We used to talk a lot. A lot of times it would be late at night. Our conversations would drift off to other things, but he loved basketball, loved talking about players. As a young owner, he probably thought it was a little easier than it really is. He bought the team at a point where it was ready to explode. But getting a team to that level is not easy to do.”

Petrie did it again in Sacramento, but it took awhile.

When he arrived in Sacramento in 1994, the Kings had not made the playoffs for eight years and had experienced 11 straight losing seasons.

“Portland had a heritage, a lot of good, built-in infrastructure,” Petrie says. “Sacramento didn’t have that. The eight to 10 years before I got there, they hadn’t won more than 30 games.”

Beginning in 1998, with Adelman at the coaching helm, Sacramento got to the postseason eight times in a row, winning at least 50 games for five straight seasons (2000-05), including at least 55 the first four.

Petrie took low to middle first-round draft picks and made them gold with Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu and Kevin Martin. Petrie acquired Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Brad Miller via trade and signed Vlade Divac as a free agent. During that period, Arco Arena was sold out every game, the electricity inside as good as any building in the league.

With Webber, Bibby, Stojakovic and Divac leading the way, the Kings made it to game seven of the Western Conference finals before losing to the Lakers in 2002. Petrie was named NBA executive of the year in 1999 and 2001.

“That was a phenomenal group, with the combination of style of play and the level of talent,” Petrie says. “The best years for both Rick and I in the NBA were when we worked together. He has one of the best concepts of free-flowing offense of any coach in the game in the last 20 to 25 years.

“When you’re winning like that, you have chemistry. Those guys were fun to be around and they were fun to watch. Offensively, I haven’t seen many teams as cohesive and creative, night in and night out. The teams in Portland were more athletic; the teams in Sacramento were more skillful.”

Adelman was fired after the Kings went 44-38 and lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2006. Beginning with the 2006-07 season, the Kings were never winners again. Adelman’s successors — Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal and Keith Smart — didn’t pan out. The Kings were always on the low end of the NBA payroll, staying under the luxury tax threshold serving as a priority for the Maloofs.

“They were incredibly dynamic,” Petrie says of the brothers. “It could go off the reservation at times, but in general, they could be really nice and were always respectful to me.

“When they fell on financial hard times, though, that changed a lot of things. Faced with the seriousness of the situation they had, anybody in the same place would have done a lot of the same things they did to survive. It’s really unfortunate the set of circumstances that happened.

“In spite of all that, you still feel completely responsible for the end result. We had some good drafts, but we weren’t able to utilize all the pieces to keep on building a team. Through it all, though, I still liked to go to work. I had a great group of people working with me.”

Petrie isn’t complaining about his lot in life.

“Not many people live to get to live their boyhood dream — be a professional athlete and be successful at it,” he says. “I spent the better part of 45 years playing and working in the NBA. You’d always like to do better. There are things I would have done differently, but I don’t have any regrets at all. I enjoyed it.”

So is Petrie retired?

“I don’t know,” he says. “That would all depend. I’m waiting to see where life takes me.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers