Things aren’t good in the Portland Trail Blazers community at the moment. After an early playoff exit, the departure of long-time coach Terry Stotts, and then Neil Olshey’s strange 2020 exit interview, the first few weeks after the season finished weren’t great.
Fast forward another week or two, and it seemed like things were looking up. Controversial coaching candidate Jason Kidd took himself out of the running as Stotts replacement, and excellent options Becky Hammon, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike D’Antoni were mentioned.
It was then announced by NBA Insiders Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania that the final two candidates were Becky Hammon and Chauncey Billups. Hammon, the experienced San Antonio Spurs assistant, and Billups, the LA Clippers assistant who had slightly less experienced but also some things in his past that made a fanbase uneasy.
This is where things started to get messy, as Damian Lillard was quoted as saying that he endorsed Billups. That in itself was harmless. But, when on Friday night Portland time, it was announced by NBA insiders Woj and Shams that Billups had the job, Blazers Twitter exploded.
Billups, in 1997 had a civil sexual assault case that was settled out of court. He was never convicted, but the case and its details were disturbing, and a section of Blazer fans are upset about Billups being hired.
Whether Dame was taken out of context or reported on incorrectly, he clarified in a tweet that he was asked which of the coaching candidates he liked, and he mentioned Billups as the candidate that he liked. He was clearly unaware of Billups history even though the Blazers organization knew.
This is where Neil Olshey has messed up. He and the Blazers front office and ownership knew of the allegations, but Woj had still quoted that Dame wanted Billups as the next coach.
If Dame is so important to the direction of the team, and its choices around personnel and coaching, then he should have been in the loop on this stuff. There’s obviously more to unpack on this, but Olshey is doing himself no favors with this hire or the way the team has gone about it.
His exit interview after the season where he said that the playoff exit had nothing to do with the Blazers personnel, smacked of arrogance, and a lack of personal accountability. The playoff exit was never on one person, but not taking any responsibility and basically blaming it all on Terry Stotts, made Olshey come across poorly.
When you add in the questionable draft and free agency decisions that don’t at all align with the above comment, Olshey is starting to alienate himself from this fanbase.
If he is quick to denounce the roster that he built as not being the problem, after another first-round exit, then it also becomes tough to support his vision.
Billups, a controversial choice of coach, is a move that has to work out now for the organization. The public backlash for this firing means that Billups has to work out now in terms of taking this team to another level.
Olshey’s combination of lack of results in playoffs combined with massive payroll spending on sub-par players means that he is likely to be on the hot seat. With Stotts now gone, there is no one else to take the blame for sub-par results.
Olshey has put himself on the hot seat since the season ended. There is mistrust and apprehension around his decisions and his role within the organization. If there isn’t success in the 2022 season, Neil may find himself without a job.