Portland Trail Blazers Priorities and Head Coaching Position

Dave,

What are the Blazers' priorities now that they've hired a GM? What does Mr. Olshey need to put at the tippy top of his list to improve this team? I see four choices.

  1. Draft
  2. Free Agency
  3. Trades
  4. New Coach (Do you think it will be Kaleb?)

You didn't say how you wanted priorities ranked. If it's chronologically, as in what's on the top of Neil Olshey's stack of post-it notes right now, the only real variable is hiring a coach. The draft will come in a couple weeks with trades possibly accompanying that. Free agency opens in July. Along with it comes a whole host of other trading possibilities. I imagine they'll hire a coach in July as well. I'd like to see the vehicle they build before they put somebody in the driver's seat. Perhaps they'll wait to see that too.

As far as importance, that's trickier. Since picks and proximity are both high right now, everybody's going to want to point to the draft as the most important item among the four. The players acquired will be young and with the team for a long time, so the argument holds. But I tend to think that draft and trades will be intermixed for the Blazers this year. I don't see them sitting with #6 and #11. I think the other opportunities are going to be too tantalizing. So if I had to guess, I'd say a trade was going to be at the heart of Portland's off-season strategy, followed closely by who they draft either around or because of that trade. Those will be the most significant moves. After that, I see trading in July as being #3 with free agent signings #4. I think they'll use the latter to fill around the edges. The most significant free agent signing they'll make will likely be re-signing Nicolas Batum, assuming they choose to do so.

That just leaves the coaching situation. This could have a huge effect long-term but I'm not sure the immediate moves will allow a coach to make that much of a difference, so I'm putting this at the bottom of the priority list. After all, you can always changes coaches again.

As to whether they'd keep Kaleb Canales, the only situation in which I see that happening is if the Blazers go young with their new talent and don't mind giving the brew a year or two to percolate while other moves unfold. The advantages to Kaleb (beyond the obvious energy, popularity, and familiarity with the organization) are that he'll work cheap, he'll work on a limited-duration contract, and he won't get in Olshey's way. If they don't think an extended playoff run is forthcoming this year anyway, I could see them giving Kaleb a trial run.

Over the long haul, though, Olshey's likely to make his imprint with his own coach. Management may also want to see a more proven name heading the bench if they make significant investments in talent. My guess is that they'd love to see Canales stay as an assistant. If they hired a venerable head coach they could even make him Assistant Head Coach, letting him be the understudy for a couple years then making a decision whether to retain him. I could see Canales going for that latter arrangement without any qualms. (But it only works if you get an older coach.) I think he'd also return even if offered a regular old assistant position. Consider that he started last season well down the assistant coach ladder. By virtue of his interim head coach status he's been bumped up now. He might even be lead assistant, primed for getting hired by another team should Portland succeed. Even being lead assistant would be an incredible promotion...more than he could have foreseen starting 2011-12. I don't want to diminish the work he put in last year or the significance of his heritage and the head coaching seat, but even though he held the big title there was still an asterisk by it. He was a head coach under a particular set of circumstances for a limited duration. His best move would be to glean all the good parts of that experience without relying on it as the definitive line of his resumé. It would be a shame to have the best opportunity of his professional career so far keep him from other great opportunities because he insisted on rounding it up when a team was willing to use him if he rounded it down a little.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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