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Which Players Will Stick With the Portland Trail Blazers?

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The Blazer's Edge Mailbag finds reasons to root for the team beyond wins and losses. Plus we answer questions about Neil Olshey's value and contract.

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Hi Dave,

I don't have a question as much as a comment. I became a Blazer fan in 1990 when I moved from the midwest to Oregon. I couldn't help but get caught up in Blazermania - it seemed like everyone watched the games back then. I guess I feel my fandom has finally run its course. I'm tired of the bad decisions: Martel over Chris Paul because we picked Telfair the year before; Oden over Durant; Nolan Smith over Faried; the Jailblazer era; Jermaine ONeal; Dunleavy for a coach; firing Pritchard; I lived in Southern Oregon for 14 years and couldn't get all the games no matter how much money I had (Comcast monopoly/league pass blackout); the LaMarcus fiasco (what a joke that was). This team isn't going to be good. Hard working - perhaps, but any unbiased person will put this team with the Lakers below the Kings and Timberwolves. At least we picked up a 2020 2nd round pick today.

No Longer a Huge Blazer Fan

I'll admit, it does hurt to read "with the Lakers below the Kings and Timberwolves". My first impression was, "No way! Things aren't that bad!" Then I realized you were probably looking at a 1- or 2-year window and that the Kings and Timberwolves had a head start and...yeah...ouch. But I still reserve the right to dislike this.

The other thing that struck me about your question was how long ago 1990 is getting to be. That was the last taste of unbridled, unabashed success this franchise has seen. 4-5 years is a long time in the NBA, often enough to turn over a roster. GM's tout their "5-year-plans" because that's as far out as you can possibly forecast with a straight face. The Blazers have been through almost 5, "5-year-plan" cycles since the last time they made the Finals.

That said, as anyone who's watched the team in that interim knows, up and down cycles don't kill fandom; you just have to watch for different things. For the last two seasons the Blazers almost got to the point where wins and losses became important on an empirical (as opposed to just provincial) basis. That was a huge relief after the seasons prior. But it's gone now. Portland fans will need to re-adjust, looking at individual development and evolving team style--plus a few highlight-reel plays--for their enjoyment. It'll be there.

As I've mentioned on the podcast several times, next season is all about seeing who sticks. That'll be a fun process to watch. Blazers fans have a buffet of young players before them. Some will look great, some lousy, and nobody's likely to play consistently for 82 games. That's a different kind of roller coaster than wins and losses, but it's still going to be fascinating.

Want to see? Go ahead and place bets in the comment section, predicting which 2-3 players will exceed expectations this year and put themselves on the "keeper" list.

In the meantime, my best advice is to love the players and the team, but hold on loosely. By the time the next 5-year mark hits, the team will look different.

Dave-

While losing four starters and a sixth man, the Blazers had two big contracts signed last year. One was Damian Lillard's. The other contract was a mid-season one if I remember and it has not been mentioned much and that is Neil Olshey's contract. It seems as if Olshey negotiated his contract with near-perfect timing and precision. I was wondering if you could interact with Neil Olshey's value league-wide after this off-season. Has Olshey's value gone up or down as a GM? Could you evaluate our GM's contract, its length, how much, and whether you think it is a good value for us as Blazers' fans?

Thanks-

BD

In general I believe it's good for management and coaches to be on longer-term contracts. They need some amount of freedom to make the moves they feel are best regardless of public perception or whether the owner woke up with indigestion this morning.

I agree that Olshey's contract timing was fortuitous. It would have been nicer to see this summer's results before making a long-term decision, but Paul Allen had to know what could be coming and appears to believe in Olshey anyway.

You also have to consider Allen's pre-Olshey history with GM's. Despite being reviled by fans, Bob Whitsitt was easily the most successful GM Allen has ever hired for the Blazers. He was also the first. After that Allen presided over the John Nash-Steve Patterson disaster, the abrupt termination of Kevin Pritchard, and the even more abrupt termination of Rich Cho, plus interim GM's in between. Look hard at that list. If this were a bar, Portland's owner would rightly be accused of picking up dates when his beer goggles were in full force, only to regret the walk of shame the morning after...time after time after time. Not only does Olshey look pretty good compared to most of Allen's one-night stands, Allen has to settle on a GM at some point or the franchise will dissolve into chaos and turmoil. If he hasn't married Olshey, he's at least given Neil a promise ring and let him wear his letterman jacket.

Banking on Olshey may not be the worst idea in the world at this point either...probably a safer bet now than when the roster was stocked with veterans as it turned out. The best way to describe Olshey's performance as a GM so far is that he's a far better tactician than he is a strategist.

Olshey excels at spotting developing players. That's how he came up in the league. Drafting Damian Lillard, finding under-valued veterans, sifting through NBA also-rans and former lottery picks for potential diamonds in the rough...that's Olshey's strength. You can't argue with many of his moves in isolation.

Piecing together the big picture, well...there isn't any. Or at least not a coherent picture. The longer-term plans he talks about don't come to fruition. The explanations of strategy change from season to season, sometimes from week to week. (We have contingency plans for every free agent leaving. This is not a rebuild. Naming all the possible uses for salary cap space but never actually using it. And etc.) The one thing Olshey has followed through on is maintaining flexibility to use multiple tactics...again back to his strengths, but not helpful as a longer-term answer.

In the end, the tactical decisions have led to a rebuild...not the desired position for any NBA franchise. But given the rebuild, tactics will be far more important than strategy over the next couple years, so Olshey has the chance to excel.

All of this adds up to an oft-repeated refrain: "This looks pretty good, but we'll see." Every summer of Olshey's tenure in Portland has led to another, "We'll see..." with this summer putting the statement in bold caps. We've seen more tactics employed than ever before. We're also less sure where this is going to end up than ever before. All we know is that the Blazers are taking even greater risks for the prospect of a more distant reward.

Has Olshey's national perception as a GM gone up or down this summer? I don't think there's much doubt it's down. No GM in this situation could (or should) come out unscathed. But I don't perceive the wounds as being critical.

Is this a good value for Blazers fans? Well...there's only one real answer to that question, the same one we've always had:

We'll see.

Send your Mailbag questions in to blazersub@gmail.com and we will try to answer them between now and training camp! Since we need plenty of material in this stretch, this is your best chance by far to see your question in print!

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge