5 Things Neil Olshey Must Do as GM to Turn Portland Trail Blazers into Contender
Welcome to Portland, Mr. Neil Olshey. Now here’s your to-do list.
At long last, the Portland Trail Blazers have hired a general manager. Portland pried Olshey away from the Los Angeles Clippers. With the Clips, Olshey was largely responsible for restructuring the franchise from cellar dweller into playoff player.
Now he comes to the Blazers with opportunities galore: two lottery picks, salary cap space and a handpicked head coach.
He has already won over the Portland media with his introductory press conference. His job now is to win over the fanbase by creating a team that wins games.
While Olshey won’t be able to get the Blazers back into the upper echelon with five simple steps, these tasks will get the franchise on the right track.
Hire a Coach Quickly
Whether Olshey decides to keep interim coach Kaleb Canales or find someone new, he must decide quickly.
From the sounds of Olshey’s introductory press conference, Canales will be the man.
However, Olshey also said in that presser, “I don’t think there’s any deadline for when we need to have someone in place.”
Regardless who Olshey chooses, he needs to make a decision soon.
The new GM needs to be on the same page with the incoming head coach as the NBA playoffs come to a close. That will allow the Blazers to enter free agency and the draft with a specific style of play in mind, enabling them to target players to fit a certain system.
Decide Nicolas Batum’s Worth
Nicolas Batum will be one of the most sought-after small forwards in free agency this year.
Along with former Blazer Gerald Wallace, Batum is at the top of the class.
The good news for the Blazers is Batum is a restricted free agent, meaning Portland can match any offer.
The bad news is he will command a big offer from someone.
If Batum is offered upward of $10 million, Olshey will be faced with a big decision immediately: Is the versatile defender with an emerging offensive game worth such big bucks? Or will that money be better spent elsewhere?
Like Canales, Olshey had nothing but praise for Batum on Tuesday afternoon. Unless he was just paying lip service, expect the Blazers to open the checkbook for Batum.
Win the Draft
To borrow a phrase from Oregon Ducks football coach Chip Kelly, Olshey has to win the draft.
He enters his first draft day in Portland with the luxury of two lottery picks.
That provides a number of possibilities. He can trade one or both of the picks for an established star, or he can pick prized prospects from a deep draft.
With a young nucleus and a lot of talent in this year’s draft pool, keeping the picks looks like the smart move.
Olshey must work closely with his college scouts to bring the best fits into Portland.
Upgrade Glaring Weaknesses
Assuming Raymond Felton is not in Portland again next year, the Blazers have two big voids in their starting lineup. One is at point guard, and one is at center.
The Blazers have to get better at both of those positions.
The draft seems the best way to upgrade at point guard, where the Blazers can add a Damian Lillard or Kendall Marshall.
There are some center prospects—Tyler Zeller, Meyers Leonard and Jared Sullinger—available as well, but free agency is a safer route to upgrade immediately.
A push for unrestricted free agent Chris Kaman or restricted free agent Roy Hibbert could be costly, but would greatly upgrade Portland’s interior.
Other centers who might be cheaper options are RFA Brook Lopez, UFA Spencer Hawes and UFA Omer Asik.
By targeting a center in free agency, Portland can draft for needed depth elsewhere.
Olshey spent nine years in Los Angeles. During that time he put together quite a resumé.
Portland, meanwhile, had been without a GM since May of 2011.
During the year Portland was a rudderless ship, Olshey traded for Chris Paul and Nick Young and signed Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin.
These players were all brought in to build around a power forward.
With LaMarcus Aldridge already in place, Olshey takes on the same task again. He needs to build around his guy—Aldridge.
Concurrently, the Portland organization needs to build around its guy—Olshey.
For Portland to become a contender in the Western Conference, the front office needs to have someone in place with a vision to surround Aldridge with the proper complementary pieces.
That someone—Olshey—needs to feel safe enough to make moves without looking over his shoulder for Paul Allen’s acceptance.
Olshey becomes Portland’s sixth general manager since 2000.
To create long-term continuity within the organization, Olshey needs must be effective enough to keep Allen from searching for a new GM anytime soon.
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