Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey has a tough job over the next month. He has to reinforce the roster of a Western Conference finalist despite several key players being free agents, and a dire salary situation. Fans won’t know, truly, if he has succeeded until several months into the 2019-20 season.
Because of that gap between the end of free agency and the start of actual games, observers necessarily resort to post-hoc breakdowns of a team’s personnel decisions. Often, these grades are biased by what the observers want to believe — people will talk themselves into (or out of) a player so that he fits the desired narrative.
As such, conversations about how well the team did often reflect more about personal preconceptions than actual reality. For example, if the Blazers strike out on bringing back Rodney Hood the optimists will be inclined to sing the praises of Anfernee Simons, while pessimists will argue that putting even more burden on Damian Lillard is an iffy proposition.
The cumulative effect is that it becomes easy to argue that Olshey did a great job if one is optimistic about the season and similarly easy to say he did a terrible job if the observer tends toward critique.
The question at hand: Is there a fair way to evaluate the Blazers’ offseason moves? The best way to do this is probably to set standards before the team makes any moves, and then compare those standards to the actual moves after free agency/trade season has ended. Here are my suggested pre-free agency standards for how to grade Olshey and the Blazers:
New starting forward
Look, it’s time to swing for the fences. The Blazers just made the freaking Western Conference Finals. The Warriors are in injury disarray, James Harden has apparently finally figured out that Chris Paul is annoying as fork, and the Lakers General Manager literally didn’t know how to make a trade while maximizing cap space. Push those chips in, Olshey.
The most obvious way to significantly improve the team is an upgrade at starting forward — Al-Farouq Aminu as a fifth starter is fine but the playoffs revealed what happens when he’s a fourth starter (hint: nothing good).
A successful offseason will be anchored by a move that finally brings in a true replacement for LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum (yes, we’ve been waiting that long). If that doesn’t happen, then Zach Collins had better be ready to step up everything about his play immediately.
Bench is at least as good as this year
This one seems obvious but, well, Olshey does not have a strong history of improving the Portland’s bench. Specifically, the summer of 2015 — the last “push your chips in” moment — he signed Steve Blake and Chris Kaman while letting Mo Williams walk. Blake and Kaman were out of the league as soon as those contracts expired. Last year Nik Stauskas was the Blazers’ midnight July 1 signing.
In the likely event that Olshey can’t retain Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, and Enes Kanter then replacements need to be brought in. Adding a new starting forward cannot be used as slight of hand to distract from the fact that Meyers Leonard is the only back up center on the roster while the starting center is going to miss the first half of the season.
Players are retainable to maximize use of assets
Any player that is signed this offseason needs to be signed to a multi-year deal or paid enough that he can be retained next summer. Again, this seems obvious, but there’s a real question about whether or not Seth Curry can be retained while part of last year’s taxpayer MLE went unused.
Put another way, when the MLE and other exceptions are used on one year rentals it does not help build an asset base that could be used in a consolidation trade or bolster the bench in the long term. This year, anyone signed with an exception needs to be on a contract that makes it possible to keep them for multiple seasons.
Continue to spend money (smartly)
The Blazers were willing to go deeper into the luxury tax when by acquiring Hood and Kanter at the trade deadline. That was a true relief. It signaled that putting the best product on the floor is more important than ducking a tax payment. The Blazers will need to continue that trend this summer to improve the roster.
tl;dr: The perfect offseason
- A new starter-quality forward
- Bench strength is maintained
- Players signed with exceptions are retainable
- Money is spent (wisely)