After the departure of Portland Trail Blazers’ Head Coach Terry Stotts, the focus has now shifted, reports Jason Quick of the Athletic in a recent mailbag. Now, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey is under examination instead.
Just as it was clear last offseason that Stotts could face dismissal if he didn’t improve the Blazers’ defense and his coaching in the postseason, the microscope this summer is acutely focused on Olshey.
His nine-year ledger has produced a consistent winner but never a real contender. He has made some good trades (Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington and Norman Powell), and some bad ones (Will Barton and first-rounder to Denver for Arron Afflalo).
Quick contends that while Olshey has done well in the NBA Draft, he has missed other chances and awarded big contracts that perhaps were not deserved.
He has drafted well (Lillard, McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little), and found diamonds in the second-round rough (Gary Trent Jr., Barton, Allen Crabbe, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman).
But he didn’t capitalize on his two biggest opportunities — the 2016 free agency and the 2017 draft. In 2016, flush with cap space, he signed Crabbe (4 years, $75 million), Evan Turner (4 years, $70 million), Maurice Harkless (4 years, $42 million), Meyers Leonard (4 years, $41 million) and Festus Ezeli (1 year, $8 million). Only Harkless and Turner came close to justifying their contracts.
The 2017 draft in particular stands out to Quick as one of Olshey’s biggest miscalculations.
In 2017, he entered the draft with the 15th, 20th and 26th picks and exited with Zach Collins (traded 15 and 20th picks to move up to 10th) and Caleb Swanigan, leaving on the board Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, John Collins, OG Anunoby and Jarrett Allen, and later Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Dillon Brooks and Monte Morris.
Nobody is perfect in drafting, but today 2017 is a painful miss considering the injury history of Zach Collins and with Swanigan no longer in the league.
Quick makes the point that Olshey’s history doesn’t matter, so long as he has the support of Damian Lillard.
The bottom line is we can debate his track record all we want and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what Lillard thinks. If Olshey is indeed losing traction with the franchise star, then this is likely Olshey’s last chance to make a difference.
Olshey’s postseason news conference didn’t help him, not with the public, and not internally with players who still respected Stotts even though they could see a change was needed. I believe it would have served Olshey well to take some ownership of the team’s shortcomings (a bench with Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter that struggled defensively? Who could see that coming?) and to be more graceful in ushering Stotts out the door after what was a memorable nine-year run of success and class.
Additionally, Quick notes that there is now no one else to blame for Olshey’s shortcomings.
But we should know by now that Olshey doesn’t care what we think about his tact. He has been short, hot-tempered and downright rude so many times over his nine seasons it’s become almost expected. But now, there are no more excuses. No room for spin. There’s no Paul Allen to blame for making him match Crabbe’s $75 million offer sheet. There’s no Stotts to blame for a lack of defense. These are his players, it’s going to be his coach, and for three years he has operated with an autonomy afforded to perhaps no other front office executive in the league.
However, Quick does have some praise for Neil.
I think Olshey is the smartest executive the Blazers have employed in my 23 years on the beat, and that includes Bob Whitsitt, who was razor-sharp. But just like with Stotts, there comes a time when the results have to improve. Making the playoffs, and making moves around the margins is no longer enough. Olshey has to hit big with this coaching hire. He needs to restructure a roster that will leave no doubt in Lillard’s mind that this is the place to finish his career. There is no time to wait for cap space. No time to wait for the likes of Simons and Little to develop. No time to blame other teams for not agreeing to a deal. The Blazers have to get better now, and if Olshey can’t deliver this summer, there is no one left to blame but himself.
You can read the entire mailbag here, which also touches on a possible CJ McCollum trade as well as Mike D’Antoni and Chauncey Billups as candidates for the head coaching job (subscription required).