The flight to Salt Lake City to lure hall of fame coach Jerry Sloan to Portland took just under two hours. The offer to Roy Hibbert, the best center in free agency, was a no-brainer. Both moves were made swiftly and with conviction. Both were home run swings. Both left the Blazers with absolutely nothing…
And it was the best two moves this franchise has made in a long, long time.
When Neil Olshey was brought over from the Clippers in June, he was tasked with one thing…make the Blazers relevant for years to come. Under Larry Miller’s presidency, fans were pushed to believe that this team was a few pieces away from being in the upper echelon of the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge was the star, and it was a matter of surrounding him with the right players. Last season’s debacle, however, proved that the Blazers are far from contenders.
And then Neil Olshey walked through the door. And the home run swings started flying.
Roy Hibbert, a top-5 center, was offered a max deal. Indiana promptly matched the offer, leaving Portland with nothing. No problem. Jerry Sloan, master of the pick-and-roll, and one of the best teachers of all-time, was given the keys to the franchise. He said thanks, but no thanks…
And still Neil Olshey and the Blazers push on.
On Friday, he said the team would truly begin its coaching search now that Sloan was out of the picture. And with the way he’s been swinging, you get the vibe that Olshey will go after the best available coaches in the attempt to land his head man.
It’s about time. This franchise has been stung by years of bad contracts, bad characters and bad PR. Max deals to mid-level players were a staple under Bob Whitsitt, Steve Patterson and John Nash. Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho were seemingly on the right track, but were given pink slips before the impact could be felt.
Neil Olshey brings the confidence and bravado of Kevin Pritchard. He seems to have the basketball eye of Rich Cho, and unlike Trader Bob, he seems to care about character. Is he the perfect combination of all those who have come and gone? That remains to be seen. His first draft was solid, if not unspectacular. He got the best available at positions Portland needed immediate help. He didn’t pull the trigger on a dicey move, or take a stab at an unknown Euro who is 4 years away from making an impact. He made the smart moves and didn’t try to send shockwaves. He did what was best for the franchise.
And then he went after the biggest fish in a small pond.
“We were going to go after one major guy. We were going to push all our chips in to get him. We thought he's a big time piece now and in the future.”
That was Olshey’s words on Roy Hibbert. He loved him. The team loved him. And they went for it. All in. No waiting, no plodding, no hesitation. It didn’t work, but you have to love what the Blazers are doing now under Olshey. Go big, or go home.
Upon arriving in Portland, Neil was quoted, “The big thing is we don’t want to jump at B-level players and take away all our flexibility.” Hibbert and Sloan are not B-level. They’re A-list players and coaches, and there’s no reason those guys should be anywhere but Portland. Hibbert left his meeting with Olshey saying he was “blown away” by the Blazers and what they had to offer.
This is a proud franchise with an amazingly dedicated and patient fanbase. They deserve a championship caliber team. Portland is the 24th biggest market in the country. There’s no palm trees, no real nightlife. We don’t have sun 9 months a year. What we have is a basketball franchise that could have the city eating out of the palm of its hand if it simply tries to win. The fans want a team that they can be proud of, and is not here to market themselves. Not campaign to win affection. Just win.
And now, it seems, they have a GM that agrees with them. Keep swinging, Neil. Fans are ready for the first home run swing to connect.