Damian Lillard is firmly in the prime of his career. As arguably the greatest ever Portland Trail Blazer, he is in the top five players in the league conversation every year. Because of this and his other-worldly talent, he is desperate to contend for a championship.
Like most MVP-calibre talents, Dame’s fire for a championship burns deeply. This fire may mean that Dame pushes the Blazers to make changes if things don’t work out for them this season.
President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey went all in this season to push the Blazers over the top. He used a trade exception to bring in Enes Kanter, traded two future first-round picks for Robert Covington, and then used the mid-level exception to sign Derrick Jones. Olshey used every tool in a team’s salary arsenal to improve this squad.
For Coach Terry Stotts, he was able to add these three players in, while also bringing back Jusuf Nurkic from injury.
Unfortunately, for management and the team, this hasn’t translated to success on the court. The results haven’t been terrible, but the defense and the record against playoff teams, has prompted massive concern amongst fans, the players, and Blazer management.
The trio of Olshey, Stotts, and Lillard has without a doubt been the key to the success of the last nine years. All three of them came to the organization within 3 months of each other way back in 2012. But, this partnership may be coming to an end.
We know Dame isn’t going anywhere, but the other two could be on the way out. Dependent on the playoff results, Stotts could be out the door as soon as this off-season.
But, it would be unfair if all the blame fell on Stotts shoulders. Yes, Olshey used all the tools at his disposal to improve the team this year, but his mistakes in the previous nine years have also held this team back.
The ill-fated summer of 2016 extensions hamstrung this team until 2020, and meant that the Blazers were unable to put another legitimate third option next to Dame and CJ. Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner were given a combined $150 million, and when these contracts finished, both players were out of the NBA. This waste of cap space was enough to stop the Blazers from getting premium forwards in free agency. It has taken until this season for the Blazers to get a couple of complementary players to Lillard.
Stotts hasn’t always had the best personnel, but now that he does, he isn’t using them to the best of their abilities.
For Dame himself, I can’t see there being any change in his attitude or loyalty towards this franchise. He may push harder for changes in the coaching setup or front office, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
There is still time to right the ship this off-season, but the issue is that a mini-rebuild of coach, POBO, and new roster pieces, can take significant time to bed in. Maybe it’s just a coaching change and different defensive schemes that can make a difference.
This post-season though, is likely to have major implications on the trio of Dame, Olshey and Stotts. One is likely to be on the outer if there is a first-round loss, and the other two are likely to have their careers altered significantly depending on this outcome.
Blazer fans may see a significant change in this franchise after the season. This run to the playoffs and then the post-season itself will likely decide the fate of the team.