Neil Olshey gave an interview to 1080 AM The Fan recently (audio here) and there were several very interesting quotes from the article I want to explore. (If you would all be so kind as to bear with me, I'll get to the main point of my post in a minute.) Olshey is a very interesting interview subject. While much of what he says is run-of-the-mill general manager platitudes, sometimes what he says is very, well, honest. (Like him admitting his "very remedial" understanding of sports analytics.) Here are my three favorite quotes from his interview:
Do you use SportsVU tracking cameras? ...One nice thing about working for Paul [Allen], there is no resource we can't have or acquire if we feel like it's going to give us a competitive advantage.
This was one of the most reassuring things I have read from the front office in quite some time. For several years (beginning near the end of the KP era), many Blazer fans (myself included) felt Paul Allen micromanaged the franchise, letting his Vulcan, Inc. group have too much influence with the running the of team. I think it was actually a sign PA did not trust and believe in where the franchise was headed rather than him just being stingy. We've seen that distrust play out in the last year, with the wholesale cleaning of the front office and coaching staff, and a change in direction of the franchise's on-court identity from the Roy-Aldridge-Oden triumvirate to the new core of Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge.
What this quote tells me, other than, "Ha ha we have the richest owner in sports" (if you don't count international cricket and football), is that PA is on the same page as Olshey. He's engaged and willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship. It doesn't mean he is going to spend his money like a drunken sailor, but he believes in what Olshey is doing and trusts him enough to invest in his plan if Olshey says it can help.
Big picture, has this Blazers team been about what you expected? ...It's a process. It's not my job to react to things that happened prior to my arrival. It's my job to be proactive to build the organization from where I inherited it.
The second sentence is the most interesting part of the quote for me. Olshey is clearly acutely aware of the Blazers' tortured (recent) history, and recognizes how much the fans want a winning ball club that competes for a championship. But he has a plan for how to get the Blazers there and even though the Blazers have exceeded his expectations this year he is not willing to sacrifice that plan for a four seed and early playoff exit. The best front offices have a plan stick to it. They make necessary adjustments, but they are not reactionary. I'm glad Olshey is confident enough in his plan to recognize that and not make big sacrifices for moderate gains.
At some point you have to give action to get action.
Hands down, quote of the year.
Now here is the main point of my post:
Have you decided who is staying and who is going in the offseason? We have for the most part...There are certain guys that the organization had made commitments to prior to our arrival, both Terry [Stotts] and myself, that we were going to give an opportunity to compete, see how they fit into Terry's system of coaching offensively and defensively.
That was really interesting to me. Olshey, Stotts, and the rest of the front office have had about 75% of the season to evaluate the roster, so they pretty much know by now the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the roster. So, the question is, who is staying and who is going? Let's break it down:
For sure staying: Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldrige, Nicolas Batum. That's it. There are only three untouchables on the Blazers' roster unless someone gives Olshey a Godfather offer for Batum or Aldridge (which I don't see happening).
Most likely staying, except for a trade: Wesley Matthews, Wil Barton, Victor Claver, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland. Matthews and Leonard are the two in this tier that I think Olshey sees as part of the Blazers' core or foundation moving forward. However, if the right deal came along I don't think he would hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal involving either of them. Barton will be around next year because he is a very cheap, promising player. Claver and Freeland both signed 3-year deals, which I think speaks to the organization's commitment to see what they become. Although, once again, I think Olshey would trade any of them in a heartbeat if the right deal presented itself.
Would like to have back for the right price: Eric Maynor, JJ Hickson. Maynor probably belongs in the "most likely staying" tier, the only reason he is here is because the Blazers have only had nine games to evaluate him in the context of the Blazers' roster. His ACL tear might lower his cost this offseason, and I think it's extremely likely the Blazers bring him back next year as their third guard. Hickson is a different story. Hickson sees himself as a starter, but that is (or at least should be) no longer an option in Portland even if he is willing to continue playing center. He is an elite rebounder and good scorer, but is a well below-average interior defender and is not a shot blocker. His "true" value is about $4-5 mil/year, so if he is willing to play for that and accept a backup role I think the Blazers would like to have him to add some scoring punch to the bench (also by playing against mostly reserve bigs his defense would not be such a glaring issue). Of all the players on the team, Hickson is the best candidate for a sign-and-trade (the market will dictate his actual value and someone is going to want to give him $7-8 mil/year, so look for Olshey to get something useful back for him). Remember, if he signs outright with a team that team will not get his Bird Rights. However, if he goes to another team by way of sign-and-trade his new team will retain them.
For sure gone: Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, Jared Jeffries, Eliot Williams, Sasha Pavlovic. Babbitt, Smith, and Williams all are on expiring contracts, and I don't see the Blazers bringing them back into a crowded backcourt of Lillard, Matthews, Maynor, Batum and Claver. I could see them bring back Williams on a very cheap contract to see what he can give them, but he would be the only one I could see them bringing back. Jeffries and Pavlovic's contracts are only partially guaranteed for next season, and I think Olshey will release them to free up some cap space this offseason.
With all that said, here is an early look at the Blazers' likely depth chart for next year, without any draft picks or free agent signings (with the exception of Maynor):
PG: Lillard, Maynor
SG: Matthews, Barton
SF: Batum, Claver
PF: Aldridge, Freeland
C: Leonard, Freeland
Going off of that it's pretty clear the Blazers' biggest offseason needs are going to be center and both forward spots. A swing backup to Batum and Aldridge (pipe dream alert: I'd love Otto Porter on this team) and a legitimate starting center are going to be the Blazers' targets this offseason. I would look for Olshey to target the frontcourt and wing depth in the draft, and possibly find a stopgap center on the free agent market (either to give Leonard another year to develop or go sign someone like Larry Sanders after next year).