An experienced Blazers group is underachieving with a 21-31 record. Franchise superstar Damian Lillard continues to sit out due to an abdominal injury. And interim general manager Joe Cronin is auditioning for a long-term job in Portland.
Change is in the air and what happens before Feb. 10th will play a big role in determining the future of the franchise. In a Q&A piece for NBA.com, writer Mark Medina sat down with Cronin and discussed what that future could look like.
One question hovering over Portland’s season is whether they’ll make a push for the playoffs or establish better position for a run in future seasons. When asked about the team’s plan at the deadline, Cronin emphasized the team is viewing things from a more long-term perspective.
It’s delicate. I think we all take a big-picture approach knowing that one season is a small vacuum of a larger picture. It’s hard. We’re all so competitive that we want to win consistently. Sometimes to do that, you have to take a step back at times. Sometimes you just have to be patient. So, you’re trying to balance deal by deal what accomplishes the overall big-picture goals.
However, Cronin made it clear this doesn’t mean the franchise is entering a rebuild.
But you guys aren’t looking into thinking now is the time to do an overhaul or reset for the long term?
We’re looking at all different scenarios. Reset is a big word. We’re too competitive to want to do that. So it depends on what you mean by reset.
‘Reset’ meaning a long-term rebuild?
No, I don’t think we have the appetite to tear it all the way down. We have too many good players and too many ways to get better without taking too big of a step back.
Medina asked Cronin if there’s any clarity about Lillard’s return from abdominal surgery. The six-time All-Star hasn’t played since Dec. 31st. Cronin said there’s still no timetable for Lillard’s return, but the team has no desire to rush him back.
I understand he won’t return until fully healthy, but how much of his return will also hinge where the team is at in the standings once he’s fully healthy?
With our whole approach, it’s going to be big-picture. We’re not going to rush him back just to win a few ball games. We’re going to make sure he’s healthy and right and perform for many years, not just this closing season. We’ll address it and look at it. But I don’t want to put any pressure on him. He can come back once he’s fully healed.
Since 2017, Portland’s core has been built around Lillard, backcourt mate CJ McCollum, and center Jusuf Nurkic. Trade speculation surrounding McCollum and Nurkic this February has possibly never been higher. Cronin said the two, alongside Lillard, are still strong building blocks.
What do you think of how Lillard, McCollum and Jursuf Nurkic have been as a trio when they’ve all been healthy?
Together, we’ve won a lot of games. Nurk is entering his prime. Dame and CJ are in their primes. Those are three high-level players. When we put the right pieces around them, we’ve shown that we can be very competitive.
In regards to his own future in Portland, Cronin said he’s still in the running to lock down the general manager job and shed his interim status, but there are no guarantees.
What is the latest message from ownership with your long-term future?
They’ve been very open with me as far as I’ll have an opportunity to keep this job. But there’s going to be a search. They showed a lot of trust in me by allowing me to make some decisions with staffing and going into this trade deadline with some roster decisions. So, the trust they’ve shown is really I can ask for and it’s a big compliment. We’ll just take it as we go as far as what the job search looks like and what my chances are.
Cronin took over as Portland’s interim general manager Dec. 3rd.