Trail Blazers in Turmoil

Hugh Baldwin

The Portland Trail Blazers and their beloved fanbase have faced quite the hiccup only 30-some games into the 2021-22 NBA regular season.

Chris McGowan, the president of the organization, resigned earlier in November. Cody Zeller, the center for the Blazers, has continued to blitz pick-and-rolls as if the wide-open roll man doesn’t exist. Only a few days into this month, general manager Neil Olshey was fired over an investigation over alleged “workplace misconduct.” And after a record-breaking opponent scoring game, the club dropped (once again) to last place in Defensive Rating. Head coach Chauncey Billups might just be nearing his boiling point. It does not end there, though.

Before I go in-depth, I want to start with some recent (at the time of this writing) news. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Portland’s franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard wants Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers to join him in Portland. This situation is not entirely new and has gone through many phases of legitimacy (I am not going all in-depth into Simmons’ situation, but you can check out my article on the 76er’s star here). What is new is the fact that Lillard himself reportedly made those comments. In September, Lillard liked a comment on Twitter that had photoshopped an image of him and Simmons standing next to each other in Blazer jerseys. Now we have definitive proof that the guard wants this change to happen.

(I just received an update regarding Lillard’s reported comments, which now, according to Chris Mannix of The Crossover, are “false.”)

This situation intertwines with the firing of Neil Olshey and possibly President McGowan resigning. Interim general manager Jim Cronin has to figure out if he can build a reputation and make the move or if owner Jody Allen will hire a new GM before any such moves are made. I have no doubt the Blazers’ 30th-ranked defense would improve if the 6’10 point-forward was traded to them.

Speaking of appalling defense, I see one man (besides the 6’3 backcourt duo and a heavy-footed Robert Covington) in particular whose defense I cannot stand. I remember Cody Zeller saying he was a good pick-and-roll defender in one of his pre-season interviews. He mentioned he wouldn’t be deterring shots at the rim, but would still stand as a presence in the paint on the two-man attack. I don’t know about you guys, but I have yet to see that. The guy will ALWAYS double the ball handler and leave the roller wide open, or at least throw the defense off entirely. I haven’t seen a team that hasn’t gotten a wide-open shot thanks to Cody’s flawed philosophy.

I’m not sure how much longer head coach Chauncey Billups can say ‘effort is lacking’ or ‘we have to do better’ to the press, but one thing is certain—many, many changes need to be made to create a winning culture in Portland.

Sources:

Basketball Reference. (2021). 2021-22 NBA Team Ratings | Basketball-Reference.com. Basketball-Reference.com. https://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2022_ratings.html 

Golliver, B., & Bonesteel, M. (2021, December 3). Trail Blazers fire GM Neil Olshey after investigation into his workplace conduct. Washington Post; The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/12/03/blazers-fire-neil-olshey/ 

‌Shams Charania, & Amick, S. (2021, December 6). Inside the Trail Blazers firing of GM Neil Olshey and what comes next with franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard. The Athletic; The Athletic. https://theathletic.com/2999270/2021/12/06/inside-the-trail-blazers-firing-of-gm-neil-olshey-and-what-comes-next-with-franchise-cornerstone-damian-lillard/?source=twitterhq 

‌(2021). Twitter. https://twitter.com/rtnba/status/1433529999605252098 

‌Image credit:

The Canadian Press. (2021, December 3). After investigation, Blazers fire GM Olshey – TSN.ca. TSN. https://www.tsn.ca/portland-trail-blazers-fire-neil-olshey-1.1729909