“Portland is the most disappointing team in the league, and it's not even close.”
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune pairs this common sentiment with one that is less commonly acknowledged among media types; President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey is accountable.
A stellar 2015-16 campaign had expectations soaring as the Trail Blazers entered free agency with money to burn on elite talent. Portland swung and missed on the most promising players, as is typical, before betting the farm on restricted free agents and additional role players.
Collectively, the Blazer players have performed below expectations, and fans and media are ranting about it. Coach Terry Stotts is getting deserved criticism, too, for being unable to find a winning formula after a promising 2015-16 campaign.
But Olshey has pretty much gotten a pass for his role in this hot mess, which shouldn't be the case. This is his roster of players — with an unprecedentedly expensive price tag at that.
The Trail Blazers owned the second-highest payroll in the league, at $119.7 million, and now the 20th-best record in the league (10th-worst), at 23-33. For the Trail Blazers to match their record from last season—when they were the team with the lowest payroll—they would have to finish the 2016-17 season 21-5, winning at a higher clip than the 43-13 San Antonio Spurs.
But that is no longer the aim, as indicated by the trade that sent Mason Plumlee to the 8-seed rival Denver Nuggets in order to acquire a first round pick and a younger center, though the trade was necessitated by the failed salary structure.
After Plumlee was traded, Olshey attributed Portland’s struggles, in part, to bad luck:
“Terry and the players have done a great job making comebacks, keeping us competitive, and a lot of them some fifty-fifty balls just haven’t gone our way. Some other teams have made big time shots and ours haven’t gone down, but, you know, we’re probably a six-point swing overall from being a six or a seven seed versus where we are today.”
Eggers notes that Olshey’s statements about the Trail Blazers’ season were not entirely accurate:
In recent seasons, Olshey has granted few interviews to local media, reserving time only for the more important national press, who have had his back when assessing the team's success and failures.
Last week, in a short on-camera interview with Blazers Broadcasting's Brooke Olzendam, Olshey suggested the Blazers "are probably a six-point swing overall from being a six or a seven seed, versus where we are today. We're right there, right on the cusp. …"
A six-point swing per game, maybe. Portland currently stands 10 games behind No. 6 Memphis and 8 1/2 games back of No. 7 Oklahoma City. The Blazers are 1-4 in one-point games, 6-7 in games decided by three points or fewer. If they'd gone 13-0 in those games, they'd still be only 30-26 and a game and a half-game back of OKC in eighth place.
Olshey's math doesn't work, and his offseason moves haven't, either.
At this point, we can empirically say that the season has been a bust, which is not something anyone likes to do before a season is over—much less in February. There is work to be done to ensure that the Trail Blazers’ future looks better than their present. Perhaps Olshey will do some of that work at the trade deadline tomorrow.
You can read Eggers’ full article here.