The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of changes that might sweep well beyond dismissing former President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. This is the thesis of a massive article by Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Olshey, the prime decision-maker for the Blazers for the last decade, leaves not only a gap in leadership behind him, but something of a mess: an underperforming franchise centered around a struggling superstar, the number of options to extract themselves limited.
The article is a must-read. It rehearses themes familiar to fans and analysts who have followed the team this season, but also brings out interesting revelations that, if not new, at least offer bits of information and perspective.
Fischer quotes sources claiming that franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard wanted the Blazers to pursue Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown and then-Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon last summer. He also confirms that franchise cornerstone Lillard has expressed interest in playing with Philadelphia 76’ers star Ben Simmons.
Olshey did have conversations with the Magic for Gordon, but a deal never came to fruition. Portland instead traded two first-round picks for Robert Covington ahead of the 2020-21 season.
This preseason’s trade talks between Portland and Philadelphia never advanced beyond early framework discussions, sources told B/R. Olshey believed the Blazers were constructed well enough to compete in the Western Conference and had little interest in parting ways with McCollum, the No. 10 selection Olshey handpicked during the 2013 draft and seemed to view as equally important to Portland’s eight straight postseason appearances as Lillard.
Continuing on the theme of trades, Fischer suggests that league observers think that, at this point, Portland might be more likely to trade one of their starting bigs.
There’s a greater expectation that any Portland roster shake-up would include starting center Jusuf Nurkic and/or swingman Robert Covington. The Blazers are presently known to be down on both players. Nurkic has not managed to recapture his impact from the Orlando bubble. And under Billups, Covington is playing his lowest minutes total since he first broke into the league with Philadelphia back in 2014-15.
Both Nurkic and Covington are playing on expiring contracts.
Head Coach Chauncey Billups is also coming under scrutiny. Fischer mentions Billups’ emphasis on defense during Portland’s training camp sessions,—describing them as “dogged” and “exhausting”—yielding no improvement on the court so far this season.
Billups clearly hasn’t yet been the missing ingredient either. League personnel far and wide have taken note of the first-year head coach’s penchant for blasting players’ lack of effort and heart during postgame media sessions. It’s a tactic often reserved for veteran coaches like Gregg Popovich.
Ultimately Fischer dives into the issue of Olshey’s replacement. The Blazers have named Joe Cronin as interim General Manager, but the plans beyond that are murky.
The Blazers announced plans to conduct a search for their next permanent general manager, but external outreach has not yet begun, sources said. Multiple figures with knowledge of the situation maintain there are no true candidates, other than Cronin, at this time.
The article also mentions the potential sale of the franchise, Lillard’s ongoing injury issues, Portland’s cap situation, and much more.