The pressure was on for Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey to keep the title window open for Damian Lillard. As the Covington-Kanter moves have illustrated, he means business this offseason.
Over the last three days, the Portland Trail Blazers have made two major moves that will reshape their roster and add size and depth. Today’s key move will see Enes Kanter return into a Portland frontcourt fold that now includes Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Robert Covington, among others.
That promises to be an unusually sizable, colossal rotation in 2020-21. Yet even as tip-off remains one month away, he who has had the biggest, most forceful hand in Portland’s potential basketball success is none other than general manager Neil Olshey.
In a 72-hour span, Olshey has turned 35-year-old Trevor Ariza and Mario Hezonja — the antithesis of a fan favorite — into 29-year-old former All-NBA defender Robert Covington and Enes Kanter, a key cog in a machine that fueled the Blazers to the 2019 Western Conference Finals.
And all it cost them in today’s key move is $3.01 million in salary.
Perhaps more importantly, Portland hasn’t even touched their $9.3 million mid-level exception money, and has $3.6 million in their biannual exception, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
More importantly, it begins to send two messages: (1) the Portland Trail Blazers are about as invested as they’ve ever been in terms of keeping Damian Lillard’s championship window open, and (2) it tells prospective free agents — think Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka, or Paul Millsap — that they would be joining a team that’s much more proven than that of a project.
It also grants the Portland Trail Blazers with a player that know works well with Damian Lillard’s playstyle. Kanter landed with the Blazers last February, and without the benefit of a full regular season and postseason, he provided an instantaneous impact in Terry Stotts’ pick-and-roll-centric system.
In the 2019 Playoffs, only three players ran more rolls as a ball-screen big than Kanter. In return, the Turkish big provided 1.01 points per possession and a 51.5 percent field-goal percentage.
Kanter also somewhat addresses Portland’s average-level rebounding over the last few seasons. He got played off of the court in the Warriors-Blazers Conference Finals series in the spring of 2019, but this year, Portland could have something they didn’t have in abundance during that run: health.
There figures to be much more to uncover as Portland’s free agency continues to unfold. But for the time being, they’ve effectively located their weaknesses, and by the season opener, could find themselves surrounding Damian Lillard with his most-rounded roster since the Aldridge days.
And who would’ve thought?