The odds were against them, but the Blazers managed to stay in the playoff hunt until late March and in doing so, showed promise for the future. Portand didn't do it with flashy upgrades either. They added just one player at the trade deadline, point guard Eric Maynor, at the cost of a $2.2MM trade exception. Recently, General Manager Neil Olshey sat down with Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune to discuss the state of the club. Here's a look at the highlights..
Would you judge this season a success?
It went well. We had a good season. We stayed in the playoff race longer than anybody thought. Our young guys have all gotten better. We've won close games, which is a testament to how (coach) Terry Stotts has managed the games. The assistant coaches have done a great job with the development of rookies like Victor Claver and Meyers Leonard. We fell short of our hopes to get into the playoffs. But based on preseason prognostications, for how long we remained competitive with how young we were and how limited our bench was, we had a positive year.
Where must the team improve?
I don't think we're talented enough right now. It's not position-specific. The first player acquisition vehicle after the season is the draft. You have to hone into whether (acquiring talent) means using your pick to select a player or to construct a deal that involves the pick. But we have to add talent to this team. We win a certain number of positions each night, but we lose a lot more than we win. We have to shore up areas on this roster through the draft, trades and free agency, where we can compete one through 15 against teams that have more depth in their talent base.
What is on the docket once the season ends?
After our exit meetings with players, we have the Nike Hoop Summit in town (on April 20). I'll stay for that. Then on Monday (April 22), myself, (assistant director of scouting) Joe Cronin and (assistant general manager) Steve Rosenberry are on a flight to Europe to cover all the European guys. I haven't had a chance to scout them yet, because I've been focused on our team and the American players.
Can you get the center you want with your first-round draft pick or through free agency, or might you move the pick to swing a deal for a veteran?
I'm open to anything. Every move we make this offseason has to be made where we maximize our flexibility. Every penny of cap room. … the mini-mid level, our draft pick, our second-round picks. It's not just about adding one player. We're not deep enough right now. We're not talented enough. We have to make moves that increase the talent base at least one through nine. That's what we have to get to, no matter how we go about doing that.
What are the odds on keeping J.J. Hickson?
We have J.J.'S Bird Rights. He has a very high cap hold ($7.98MM). It's not just a question of whether you bring him back. It's within the context of … what positions would you not be able to bring in if you sign him? We are the worst team in the NBA in points in the paint and protecting the rim. We've been disguising J.J., who has been a warrior and played hard all year, but there's a certain reality to playing a 6-8 power forward as your 5-man. That's not an indictment of J.J. He has played out of position and done all we've asked him to do. But we've become a 3 (small forward) and rim type of league. We have the 3-man down. Now defensively, we have to protect the rim better.