Will Olshey’s ousting lead to the end of the Lillard era in Portland?


The Trail Blazers sacked Neil Olshey on Friday, ending the reign of one of the NBA’s longest-serving top executives and intensifying the intrigue over what will come next for a tumultuous franchise.

The ouster of Olshey follows the resignation of Chris McGowan, the Blazers’ business manager, and four weeks after the team launched a “workplace misconduct” investigation prompted by employee complaints about the environment at the Portland Practice Center. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the investigation began after staff members said they “had been subjected to tirades of intimidation and swearing, among other bullying tactics” for the past 10 years. .

“He’ll talk to you however he wants and treat you however he wants,” a former Blazers employee told Jason Quick. athleticism in an article describing Olshey as “a full-time hole.”

On Friday, the franchise declined to “disclose or discuss” the details of the independent investigation, but said the dismissal was “due to violations” of the team’s code of conduct. It should be noted, however, that the decision too came the next morning Portland’s worst loss of the season: A 114-83 destruction at the hands of a Spurs team that entered the Moda Center 6-13 and with the NBA number. 24 offense.

In all fairness, the Blazers lacked the centerpiece of superstar Damian Lillard, who has been out of training for at least 10 days while suffering from lower abdominal tendinopathy, and lost replacement Anfernee Simons to the profit from a sprained right ankle at the start of the second trimester. There’s only a little grace you can extend, however: it was the Blazers’ fourth loss of 20 points or more in the season. Only the Erratic Grizzlies and the no. 1 Magic, Pistons and Thunder pick-chasing have more.

“My biggest concern right now is that I want us to be more competitive,” head coach Chauncey Billups told reporters after the loss. “I want us to be more competitive in every game. And I don’t feel like we do this every night. And that worries me. “

The loss dropped the Blazers to 11-12, ninth place in the West. It’s probably not the comeback that team owner Jody Allen has been expecting for a $ 137 million list that could cost an additional $ 4.5 million in luxury tax at the end of the season. The fact that he came to the house probably didn’t help matters either… especially since it happened in front of over 3,000 empty seats. Portland, home to one of the most passionate fan bases in the NBA, has ranked in the NBA’s top 10 for average home attendance for 13 straight seasons from 2008 to 2020. This season, however, the Blazers rank 13th, with the average crowd below 90 percent capacity for the first time since the 2006-07 season of 32 wins. The already tough job of selling yourself as a visionary leader capable of pushing the franchise past internal strife and overcoming the bump becomes much more difficult once door revenues start to decline.

Whatever straw that broke the camel’s back, the decision to fire the third-longest-serving basketball decision-maker in the NBA – only Sam Presti of Oklahoma City and Bob Myers of Golden State have been with their teams since. longer than Olshey, the late Paul Allen hired. the Clippers in June 2012 — represents a significant change for the Blazers. It could also serve as the impetus for a massive overhaul within a squad that appears to have blunted.

The Blazers had a 0.556 winning percentage under Olshey, ninth-best in the league during that span. They made the playoffs for eight straight years, the longest active playoff streak in the NBA. They’ve won 50 games four times, won four playoffs, and reached the Western Conference Finals once – in 2019, when Dame said goodbye to the Thunder and CJ McCollum said goodnight to the Nuggets before Stephen Curry put them on. Blazers in bed. .

These successes, combined with Lillard’s rise to MVP and folk hero status, helped keep the ’90s dream alive in Portland, supporting the belief that with a few roster tweaks and a bit If the luck comes from the playoffs, the Blazers could break through and return to the NBA Finals for the first time since Clyde the Glide still hovered over the Pacific Northwest. The 2021 playoffs, however, served as a wake-up call. After the Blazers lost in the first round for the fifth time in eight years under head coach Terry Stotts, it was clear that a change was needed.

Olshey responded not by continuing a rotational exchange, but rather by sacking Stotts, the most successful coach in franchise history, and insisting that the Blazers’ failures, especially defensively , were “not the product of the list” that he had compiled. . He left thinking that a new coach and a new defensive system could elevate that list, which led the NBA in points scored by possession after Olshey traded for Norman Powell, with a starting lineup that bombarded them. opponents 14.2 points per 100 possessions in the regular season and hammered the Nuggets 20.8 points per 100 in the playoffs, in his right place among the real contenders for the NBA title.

To that end, Olshey hired former All-Star playmaker Billups to lead the team. The choice of Billups – who had never been a head coach at any level – raised questions about the extent to which Olshey and the Blazers had investigated the 1997 case in which Billups settled a female lawsuit who claimed to have sexually assaulted her.

In a press conference introducing Billups as the Blazers’ next head coach, Olshey insisted the organization “takes the allegations very seriously, and we treat them with the seriousness they deserve” – ​​a process which included a background check and an independent investigation that “corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of the events that nothing non-consensual happened.” Pressed for more details on this investigation, Olshey called his findings “proprietary” and told reporters they “were just going to have to take our word for it that we hired an experienced company to conduct an investigation that gave the results we have already discussed. A subsequent report from Oregon Public Broadcasting raised doubts about the “thoroughness and intent” of the investigation.

The Blazers continued, with Olshey praising “natural gravity, leadership skills” and “Billups’ history on the defensive.” Those characteristics, however, have yet to produce the expected improvements: Portland’s more aggressive defense still ranks third among the worst in the NBA, and last in opponents’ effective field goal percentage. Asked recently about the challenges of backlash, Billups told reporters, “We give up the waistline every night, man.” When it comes to finding lasting success on defense with a three-guard starting lineup consisting of Lillard, McCollum and Powell, plus the 6-foot-3 Simons, Ben McLemore and Dennis Smith Jr. off the bench, Billups has said, “We will see. ”

Director of player personnel Joe Cronin has been elevated to interim general manager and will try to get Portland out of its nose dive early in the season. Cronin, who is said to be the team’s “salary cap guru”, should not be a candidate to replace Olshey full-time; the first names on this list include frames Tayshaun Prince of the Grizzlies, Brent Barry of the Spurs, Marc Eversley of the Bulls, Scott Perry of the Knicks and former general manager of the Celtics and native of Oregon Danny ainge.

In the short term, we’ll see if Billups can find a way to get Lillard (shooting just 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point range), McCollum (43 percent from the field and 70 percent of the foul line), and the center Jusuf Nurkic (on average a double-double, but very high and low in terms of his defensive work) on the right track and, perhaps, find another way to motivate his struggling veteran squad than to repeatedly call them off the mat. If he can’t, and the Blazers continue to fight down the game mix, or worse, as the February trade deadline approaches … players who should hit free agency l next summer, with $ 92.6 million owed to Lillard, McCollum and Powell in 2022-2023, could reach an overwhelming volume.

If Cronin is empowered to make deals while wearing the provisional label, he may be trying to tinker with the margins, leaving the main building blocks behind and seeing what sort of value the league places on veterans like Robert Covington and Larry. Nance Jr., or youngsters like Simons and Nassir Little. Maybe the Blazers’ new brains are thinking bigger, taking a hard look at a move Olshey would have long been reluctant to make: trade McCollum in search of the type of player who could balance the roster better, hiding Portland’s defensive flaws all the way. by accentuating its Talent game. (Coughs coughs.)

Or maybe it’s it: the reset button, the crisp pause, the inflection point when Dame decides it’s time for him and the Blazers to start over.

Lillard made it clear this summer that he wanted everyone in the Blazers organization to “look at themselves in the mirror, because we have consistently failed.” He expressed doubt that replacing Stotts with Billups would be enough to turn Portland into a championship team. He feels the urgency: to fix what’s broken and win a title, or at least compete meaningfully for a title. What if Dame, who is in the first year of a four-year supermax stretch, looks at the lay of the land after Olshey and decides the time has finally come to say the magic words and become the latest superstar player to push himself to a ready-made title contender? (This is where we remind you that in about two weeks, on December 15, the majority of players who signed free agent contracts during the last offseason become eligible to be traded, opening the door to all kinds Lillard’s potential suitors and deal structures previously unavailable to the Blazers.)

It’s a lot of maybe, ifs, and contingencies; there is too much flow in the hours after Olshey’s release to predict with much confidence the directions the next round of decisions might go. This, however, is certain: change is coming to Portland. The only questions now are how much, who will be left to build something new and if those who leave could change the shape of the league.


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