After another disappointing end to the season for the Portland Trail Blazers, it was clear that major changes needed to be made. With head coach Terry Stotts having another lackluster coaching performance, partnered by a mediocre playoff effort from guard CJ McCollum, it seemed that both of their conclusions in Portland were soon to come. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey acted quickly by firing Stotts shortly after the playoffs. He then decided on replacing him with former L.A. Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups. Many thought that a McCollum trade of some sort would soon follow, but that has yet to happen. This has caused outrage throughout the Blazers community because many feel that Olshey needs to trade McCollum for a second star that fits better around Damian Lillard. Personally, I agree that McCollum should be traded, but I’m going to tell you why this off-season was not the right time to do it.
Although a majority of the fan base wanted a trade for a second star, including myself, who would have wanted to give up McCollum for any of the players that have moved this off-season? Would you want someone like DeMar DeRozan, Russell Westbrook, or Jonas Valanciunas in exchange for McCollum? For me, the answer to that question is no because all those players would make the team worse than it is with McCollum on it. Until a player that does fit that mold is actually moved, my point is that there were no players available that were worth trading for this summer. Therefore, I think we might look back on the disappointment from a lack of a big move at some point and be happy that we still had McCollum as a trade piece should the right opportunity arise.
With that being said, I do think a major trade needs to happen for this team to become a true contender. Whether or not Olshey can make that happen in the near future is questionable, as he has yet to trade for a legitimate star in his nine-year tenure with the team. So ultimately, yes, trading McCollum should be the team’s number one priority moving forward, but that deal must be for someone that legitimately makes the team better. Unfortunately, none of those players have been available to go after this off-season. So Olshey is left in a very tough spot because not only does he want to make the team better, but he also must make sure that he’s not making a trade just to make a trade. Given the circumstances Olshey was presented with this off-season, I think keeping McCollum was the right move.
However, I still believe that a move at the trade deadline involving McCollum is bound to happen. Knowing the history of Olshey, a move near the deadline wouldn’t be out of the ordinary either. He traded Gary Trent Jr. for Norman Powell at the deadline just last season, leading to one of the better starting lineups in the final stretch of the regular season. Olshey was able to land Trevor Ariza two years ago in a deal that similarly impacted the team. Of course, at the 2017 trade deadline he traded for Jusuf Nurkic and “Nurk Fever” ran rampant through Rip City.
Waiting until later in the season or the deadline will give McCollum a chance to increase his trade value, which could be vital if the Blazers want to land a true second star. Considering McCollum’s playoff performance, his value is lower now than it could potentially be. Mix in that some teams that aren’t willing to start their rebuild now may change their tune if they get off to a bad start, waiting appears to possess the best chance of landing the caliber of player everyone is hoping for.
The other moves from Olshey should prove to be very underrated once the season starts. The most notable move was re-signing Norman Powell to a five-year, $90 million contract. Keeping Powell allowed the McCollum trade possibility to still be an option without plugging one hole by opening up another. This was Olshey’s main priority going into free agency, and he got it done on a reasonable deal, along with guaranteeing that he didn’t trade Gary Trent Jr. for nothing. After that, I would say the trade involving Derrick Jones Jr. and a protected first-round pick in a three-team trade for Larry Nance Jr., was the next best move. I truly believe this was a huge success for Olshey to bring in an extremely underrated veteran to fill in the backup power forward spot. Olshey signed Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore, and Tony Snell, all on minimum contracts. Despite the mocking these signings received, I think all three players are worth more than a minimum contract, especially Cody Zeller, who I believe will play an impactful role off the bench. Olshey also traded into the second round and drafted Greg Brown III, who is looking like a potential steal after his summer league performance.
When I see all these players Olshey brought in, I feel confident saying that this team is significantly better than it was last year. I think replacing Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony with Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller, will hugely benefit the team. Not to mention, I believe head coach Chauncey Billups will bring the full potential out of this roster, something Terry Stotts was unable to do for most of his time in Portland. With their current roster, I feel as if they are on the same level when it comes to talent as teams like the Suns, Jazz, Nuggets, and Warriors. On top of that, I believe this team can have a Utah Jazz type of season from last year if Billups is the coach that I think he is.
Regardless, the off-season was productive for Neil Olshey and the front office. Although a McCollum trade hasn’t occurred, I think it’s clear that this summer was not the time to make that happen. The talent is there for Portland, maybe not quite enough to truly contend for a championship, but enough to stay near the top of the Western Conference. Nonetheless, given who Olshey was able to bring in from the coaching staff to the new players, along with keeping CJ McCollum after a dry trade market, I can confidently say that Neil Olshey had a very solid off-season.