Blazers President Neil Olshey Really Wants You To Know That None Of This Is His Fault

The structure of professional sports teams makes it so that, often, the person in charge of evaluating the roster is the same person who was tasked with building the roster. As such, they can have a difficult time admitting fault or avoiding looking at their creation through rose colored glasses. It’s why the first person to get fired is always the head coach, because that’s someone else to put the blame on for a team falling short of expectations, but at some point, all eyes turn to the person in charge of it all.

This is what is currently playing out in Portland, where longtime head coach Terry Stotts “parted ways” with the Blazers with two years left on his contract, which is the nice way of saying he was fired — a courtesy Charles Barkley pointed out is rarely extended to Black head coaches who just get fired. A coaching search is underway and it has already gotten off to a rough start, with Damian Lillard publicly stumping for Jason Kidd who quickly withdrew his name from consideration because he didn’t want that endorsement to become a distraction.

While coaching certainly could play a factor in turning Portland around, particularly defensively, one can’t help but see some roster holes that need to be addressed. The backup center position come playoff time was untenable and there are so few positive defenders on the roster that it will be hard for anyone to come in and make significant improvements on that end without some upgrades. It is widely accepted that changes need to be made, including by Damian Lillard, but the one person who needs to understand that seems to be pushing back on that idea and trying to lower the expectations of what changes could come this offseason.

President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey did his exit interview with the virtually assembled media in Portland on Monday, and while no one expects a GM to bury themselves going into an offseason, the brashness with which he shrugged off responsibility for the Blazers’ first round exit was truly breathtaking.

Not even a little bit? Like, at all? Roster construction was just a complete non-factor in the Blazers losing to a shorthanded Denver team in six games? Sure. Still, surely you can look at this roster and note that it’s just not filled with strong defenders and that you need to be there to assist your new coach with roster upgrades on that end to bring more balance to the team, right?

Oh, alrighty then. To be sure that no one expected the Blazers to be able to do much this offseason to make drastic upgrades, he got on the old “woe is me” train about being the poor little general manager of a small market club no one wants to sign with.

There are absolutely hurdles for smaller market teams to landing top free agents. No one would dispute that, but complaining about it rather than trying to make your pitch of how you can come play in a fantastic place with one of the league’s absolute best players seems like just a weak way to go about this.

No one is asking the Blazers, who don’t have much cap space, to make a huge move in free agency, but just to simply construct a roster that, top to bottom, has a bit more balance. Everyone knows any major move the Blazers make is going to have to be via trade — we only need to look back a few months to them dealing for Norman Powell, which worked out pretty well all things considered. The only real trade chip they have is CJ McCollum, who would be incredibly difficult to part ways with as a player who has grown and developed his whole career in Portland, but those are the decisions you have to be able to make as a GM for the betterment of the team when you yourself can point out that this team has plateaued.

Changing the voice at head coach isn’t going to fix all of their shortcomings. Roster changes are required and likely more than just a few new complementary pieces. Maybe this is a massive smokescreen, but Blazers fans are understandably frustrated after hearing Olshey shovel blame on just about every possible person that isn’t himself for falling short of expectations this season. No one expects him to necessarily come out and say he failed the organization or something that dramatic, but simply saying, “we’ll be evaluating the roster and ways we can make this team a championship contender around a championship player in Damian Lillard,” would’ve been a much smarter way to have gone about this rather than insisting nothing could possibly have been the fault of him.