PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers fired general manager Kevin Pritchard after six seasons with the team, ending months of speculation that he had fallen out of favor with billionaire owner Paul Allen.
The Oregonian newspaper reported about an hour before the draft started that Pritchard had been dismissed.
The team confirmed the firing at the conclusion of the draft.
"This process was more public and took longer than any of us would have liked, but that was indicative of how critical a decision this was for the franchise," Allen said in a statement. "We want to thank and acknowledge Kevin for his solid work in getting us to where we are today. Parting ways with a popular general manager is not something we take lightly. In the end, we decided to make a change."
Pritchard ducked out of the Blazers' practice facility before the conclusion of the draft. He did not return phone messages.
He said last week he understood that a search firm had been hired to find his replacement but vowed to fight for his job. He was under contract through next season with a team option for 2011-12.
One of Pritchard's rumored replacements, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, recently denied that he had been contacted about the job.
Pritchard joined the Blazers as director of player personnel in 2004 and briefly served as interim head coach after the Blazers fired coach Maurice Cheeks in 2005.
He was promoted as general manager in 2007 and charged with rescuing the Blazers from their "Jail Blazers" reputation as a team of malcontents who couldn't manage to stay out of trouble.
Pritchard built a promising young team around guard Brandon Roy, who was chosen the league's rookie of the year before becoming a three-time All-Star. Pritchard was also a staunch supporter of 7-foot center Greg Oden, the top pick in the 2007 draft who has been plagued by injuries.
Pritchard appeared to have the support of Portland's fan base. Several online petitions backing him surfaced when the rumors about his uncertain future began to swirl in late March, after the Blazers abruptly fired Tom Penn, Portland's vice president of basketball operations.
Penn was widely considered a salary-cap specialist and key to many of Pritchard's past player moves.
The Blazers said only that Penn was dismissed for "philosophical differences." But Warren LeGarie, who represents Pritchard and Penn, made comments to several reporters suggesting Penn's firing was a message to Pritchard.
At the time, Allen issued a statement in support of Pritchard but added that his performance would be evaluated at the end of the season.
The ultimate timing of Pritchard's dismissal was awkward at best.
"I admire the professionalism he exhibited tonight. He deserves a lot of kudos. He ran the draft," said Timberwolves president David Kahn. "I just think that he deserves to be commended for acting that way. You would have never known from dealing with him on the phone tonight that this is a guy who that happened to. And he must be a pretty special guy to be able to withstand that. I admire him greatly."
SUNS KEEP GENTRY: The Phoenix Suns have exercised the option year of coach Alvin Gentry for the 2011-12 season.
Gentry guided the Suns to a 54-28 regular season, third-best in the West. Phoenix eliminated Portland and San Antonio in the playoffs before falling to eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The Suns also have signed assistant coaches Bill Cartwright, Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov through the 2011-12 season. John Shumate, an assistant last season, is expected to return to scouting duties.
Phoenix is 71-42 since Gentry took over following the firing of Terry Porter at the All-Star break in February 2009.
Owner Robert Sarver said Gentry "has done a phenomenal job." The moves came after Steve Kerr announced he would not return as general manager. Kerr's contract expires on Wednesday.
LEBRON'S NEW HEADPHONES: LeBron James already sported Dr. Dre's headphones in an NBA commercial. Now the basketball star can rock his own.
Monster Cable Products Inc. CEO Noel Lee told The Associated Press that the Cleveland Cavaliers forward is set to launch his own headphones line.
Lee says "sound quality really matters when you enjoy music." He says athletes such as James need that kind of high-quality sound experience because "it's their way of focusing energy" before games.
Monster Cable is synonymous with expensive video and audio cables. The San Francisco Bay-area company partnered with Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine and rapper Dr. Dre to release Beats by Dre in 2008. They released Heartbeats by Lady Gaga last year and Diddy's Diddybeats in May.
Lee didn't say when James' line would be available.