Portland Trail Blazers: Does Neil Olshey undervalue forwards?

Portland Trail Blazers - Neil Olshey
Portland Trail Blazers - Neil Olshey /

The Portland Trail Blazers watched all their forwards leave this offseason bringing into question how much Neil Olshey values that part of the frontcourt.

This offseason the Portland Trail Blazers watched Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Jake Layman all depart for different teams leaving the Blazers with a lack of true Small Forwards and Power Forwards on the roster.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as General Manager Neil Olshey’s track record provides some evidence that he may not value that area of the roster as much as the rest of the league. That or he finds the endeavor futile because finding productive 3-and-D wings is a difficult business, one that can be more luck than skill.

In his time in Portland Olshey hasn’t used many resources to bring in forwards. He’s been successful when he has though. He acquired Aminu through free agency on what ended up being a bargain four-year $30 million contract and got Harkless for basically nothing, surrendering just a top-55 protected second round pick.

Hitting on those two lessened the urgency for forwards, but the Blazers went into the past few off-seasons needing either reinforcements or upgrades at the forward spots. Instead more Guards and Centers were added to the roster forcing players to play up a position such as Rodney Hood and Evan Turner or play down a position such as Zach Collins.

This offseason could prove to be the epitome of Olshey’s apathy for forwards. Not only did the Blazers see Aminu, Harkless, and Layman leave, they also saw very little in the way of replacements come in.

The Blazers were somewhat limited in what they could do because of luxury tax concerns, but they also took on $5 million in salary trading Harkless in a package for Hassan Whiteside – A guy who plays a position so interchangeable that the Blazers made it to the Western Conference Finals with a starting Center on the minimum.

They also traded Turner for Kent Bazemore who can moonlight as a Small Forward but is going to struggle in matchups because he gives up a good three to four inches against most of his counterparts at the position.

The only players they brought in that are your prototypical forwards were Nassir Little and Anthony Tolliver. Little, whom they got with the No. 25 pick, is a player who might have some potential, but late first-round picks can’t be counted on to contribute as rookies. Tolliver was brought in on a minimum contract, while he’s been a solid contributor in the past, struggled a bit last year shooting only 38 percent from the field and looks to be on the downside of his career.

None of these options inspire a ton of confidence in a conference that features LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George.

In Olshey’s defense, finding good players who are in that 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-10 range is the hardest thing to do in basketball. Teams have struggled with it for years. The Thunder for example spent numerous resources trying to find the right combination to put around Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and then Westbrook and George.

They never were able to find the ingredients to a championship formula and now none of those players are in Oklahoma City anymore.

Olshey has shown that he has a keen eye for the position when he does take a swing, but has clearly felt more comfortable in his assessments of players at other positions. It’s possible that Olshey sees how much of a coin flip the 3 and D forward is and takes his chances on surer bets.

If that’s the case his strategy has panned out, there is talent on this roster outside of just Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The talent is just all clustered with bigs and guards.

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The optimistic view is that all that talent is setting up for a potential trade to even out the roster. Whether that trade happens will not only tell us how far the Blazers advance this season but will also tell us a lot about what Olshey values in roster construction.