Neil Olshey

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Nance, Nurkic, Billups

Despite plenty of speculation this offseason that Damian Lillard may request a trade from the Trail Blazers, the star point guard is still in Portland and indicated at the team’s Media Day on Monday that he remains committed to the franchise.

Lillard wanted to see signs from the front office that it was serious about competing for a title, and while the Blazers didn’t make a huge splash in free agency or on the trade market, the 31-year-old expressed enthusiasm about the team’s roster updates, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.

“Obviously, at the end of last season I wanted to see our roster improve, I wanted us to have a better chance at winning,” Lillard said. “And we had our conversations throughout the summer about what that looked like and how we could take steps in that direction.

“… We’ve done some things that I like,” Lillard added, singling out the athleticism and versatility of newly-added big man Larry Nance Jr.. “I didn’t expect us to go out there and get Kevin Durant all the sudden. But I think the conversations we’ve had … I feel like it’s genuine that we are trying to move in the right direction and give our team a chance to actually go get another (title). That’s why I have faith — the fact that we’ve had real conversations and that’s what everyone’s intentions were.”

There was a sense that the Blazers might need to take a bigger swing – perhaps a trade involving CJ McCollum – in order to satisfy Lillard. However, as Quick writes, Lillard stressed that he didn’t want to see the team make a major move just for the sake of change and that he’s satisfied with the club taking smaller steps, as long as those steps are in the right direction.

“I think he knows we exhausted every opportunity to improve the roster through trade and free agency,” president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said. “And he knows we will continue to work on that throughout this early part of the season and up to the trade deadline like we always do.”

As for that persistent trade speculation surrounding Lillard, Olshey told reporters that the Blazers “will never be receptive of moving Dame,” according to Quick (Twitter link). The club may be willing to accommodate Lillard if he ever wants out of Portland, but that’s certainly not the case right now, per Olshey, who said the veteran guard is “fired up to be here.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • In a conversation with Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com, Nance spoke about making the “really difficult” decision to ask the Cavaliers if they could accommodate a trade to a win-now team, as well as the role he believes he can play on a club like the Blazers. “I didn’t come out here (to lose),” Nance said. “I had a comfortable, cushy situation in Cleveland; I lived close to my family, I was happy and it was all good. I did not come out here to half-ass this thing. I’m all in, and that means going for it all. Last year, we saw a few teams come out of nowhere; the Hawks came out of nowhere, the Suns came out of nowhere. There were teams that surprised some people, and that’s fully what I’m planning on doing here.”
  • At the end of the 2020/21 season, Jusuf Nurkic expressed frustration with his role and the situation in Portland, but he sounded far more optimistic on Monday about the future, as Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian relays. Echoing comments he made earlier in the month, Nurkic said he’s pleased that head coach Chauncey Billups envisions him taking on an expanded role. “I’m glad somebody wants me to be a bigger part of the organization,” Nurkic said. “… I’m looking for a big year personally for me and the team.”
  • Billups spoke on Monday about how he intends to prioritize accountability in Portland this season and will call out players who aren’t performing at the level they should be. “I think it does two things,” the Blazers’ new head coach explained, per Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com. “One, it let’s that guy understand and know that he has to be better. And two, it puts everybody else on notice. Nobody wants that, nobody wants to be the star of the tape the next day because you’ve blown five coverages. But it’s a respectful way to do everything and at the end of the day, it’s just coaching.”

Blazers Notes: Powell, Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic

Examining the Trail Blazers‘ plans going forward, Dan Devine of The Ringer suggests there are a few reasons for optimism in Portland. The team’s late-season addition of Norman Powell made an already strong offense even more potent, and the Blazers re-signed Powell to a long-term deal this summer. New head coach Chauncey Billups could also make an immediate impact and push the club harder on the defensive end, where improvement is necessary.

Still, Devine acknowledges that the Blazers didn’t exactly swing for the fences with their offseason moves, noting that there are a a lot of caveats and “maybes” in play when discussing their potential upside.

Here’s more out of Portland:

  • Asked during an Instagram Live appearance whether he intends to leave Portland, Lillard replied, I’m not leaving PDX. Not right now at least” (video link via Landon Buford). Those who believe Lillard wants to stay will likely focus on his assertion that he’s not going anywhere, while those who think he wants out will probably zero in on the “not right now” portion of his response. I wouldn’t read too much into it either way — it sounds like Lillard was supplying a fairly generic answer while leaving all his options open for the future.
  • Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report spoke to new NBPA president CJ McCollum about whether he believes the Blazers are capable of winning a title, teams’ free agency spending, and a handful of other topics. “I think whenever we step on the court, we have a chance to win a championship. If you don’t have that mindset and that mentality, then you shouldn’t play,” McCollum said of the Blazers. “… I feel like every year we have a chance to win a championship. But in the NBA, there’s so many things that go into that. You need a little bit of luck.”
  • In the latest HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozzlan discussed the Blazers’ offseason, with Scotto noting that president of basketball operations Neil Olshey is going “all-in” on Billups and will either “sink or swim” with that head coaching hire. Scotto also suggested that McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic need to step up and play some of their best basketball in 2021/22 to give Portland a chance to contend.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Nuggets, Jazz, SGA

When president of basketball operations Neil Olshey told reporters last month that the Trail Blazers investigated the sexual assault allegations levied in 1997 against new head coach Chauncey Billups and came away confident Billups hadn’t engaged in wrongdoing, he declined to offer any details on that inquiry. Olshey simply asked fans and the media to trust that the team had thoroughly investigated the situation.

However, a new report from Conrad Wilson and Tony Schick of Oregon Public Broadcasting calls into question just how exhaustive the Trail Blazers’ investigation was. According to Wilson and Schick, the attorney for Jane Doe (Billups’ accuser) said the Blazers didn’t contact her or her client.

“It’s news to us that they conducted an investigation,” attorney Margaret A. Burnham said.

The Blazers’ review didn’t obtain information directly from several primary sources, per the OPB’s report. That doesn’t necessarily meant the team’s conclusion about Billups’ involvement in the 1997 incident was inaccurate, but it suggests that the franchise may not have done everything it could to get the full story.

Whether the latest revelation results in any blowback for Olshey remains to be seen, as Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report tweets. Either way, the fact that the story continues to create PR problems for the club doesn’t reflect well on the Blazers or their head of basketball operations.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com provides some takeaways on the prospects that the Nuggets brought in for pre-draft workouts on Monday and Tuesday this week. Tuesday’s group included Chudier Bile (Georgetown), Carlik Jones (Louisville), Makur Maker (Howard), MaCio Teague (Baylor), Arnas Velicka (Lithuania), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech). Details on Monday’s group can be found here.
  • The Jazz‘s biggest problems in the postseason were a lack of depth and a lack of versatility, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News, noting that the team figures to face some difficult roster decisions this offseason as it looks for ways to improve.
  • There have been no reports stating that the Thunder are thinking about trading Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but some writers have put the 23-year-old in hypothetical trades that Oklahoma City could offer to move up in the draft. Responding to those suggestions, Ross Lovelace of Daily Thunder argues that Oklahoma City should be building around Gilgeous-Alexander, not considering moving him.

Blazers Notes: Billups, Olshey, Lillard, Nurkic, Collins

At the introductory press conference for new Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups on Tuesday, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey confirmed that the team conducted an independent investigation into the 1997 sexual assault allegations against Billups, and came away confident that he hadn’t engaged in any wrongdoing, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

Billups, meanwhile, said the ’97 incident had a major impact on him and shaped his decision-making going forward, per Jason Quick of The Athletic.

However, a Blazers PR person shut down further questions to Billups on how exactly the incident shaped him, and Olshey declined to provide any details on the team’s investigation, calling that information “proprietary” and asking reporters and fans to “take us at our word” that the investigation was thorough. As a result, there was no real sense of transparency in the presser, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian.

As Quick notes, Olshey and the franchise are essentially asking for trust and forgiveness for the way the coaching search played out and the decision the team made. While Quick believes Olshey has earned that trust to some extent, he adds that the veteran executive hasn’t made “a bigger ask” during his tenure with the team than this one, and that the clumsy hiring process has “created unrest for Billups, for (Damian) Lillard, and the fanbase.”

Here’s more out of Portland:

  • During Billups’ introductory presser, Olshey downplayed the idea that Lillard’s frustration with how the 2020/21 season played out will lead to a trade request this offseason. “Dame and I talk all the time,” Olshey said, per Quick. “And Dame’s happiness revolves around winning, and having a chance to win at the highest level. Chauncey is going to inherit that now, but the ultimate responsibility for that falls on me and my staff to put a team together that we can walk into the beginning of the season and think it has a chance to compete for a championship. So the shorter answer is it’s on me to make Dame happy. And the way to make Dame happy is to put the pieces around him to where he feels like he can win a championship.”
  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic said in an interview with a Bosnian outlet that he’d want to leave the team if Lillard is traded. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian, using a translation tool, has the details on Nurkic’s comments. The big man previously cast some uncertainty on his future in Portland following the team’s postseason elimination.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype takes a look at which teams might be able to put together the strongest trade offers for Lillard should the All-NBA point guard decide he wants out of Portland.
  • Following a Tuesday report indicating Zach Collins has suffered another injury setback, the Blazers announced in a press release that the big man has undergone a second revision surgery to repair a left medial malleolus stress fracture and has been ruled out indefinitely. As we noted yesterday, Collins is eligible for restricted free agency, but seems increasingly unlikely to get a qualifying offer.

Trail Blazers Expected To Finalize Deal With Billups Despite Criticism

The Trail Blazers are receiving public backlash about their choice to hire Chauncey Billups as their next head coach, but the criticism won’t affect their decision, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (video link from “NBA Countdown).

The outcry is related to a sexual assault case involving Billups and some of his teammates in 1997. No criminal charges were brought against Billups, and the case was ultimately settled in civil court.

Wojnarowski says that after talking to Billups on Wednesday, Blazers management conducted an investigation of the charges. Billups’ version of the events in subsequent interviews with general manager Neil Olshey and owner Jody Allen were consistent with what the investigation found and he was offered the job Friday night, Wojnarowski adds.

Portland continues to work out contract details with Billups and is expected to announce his hiring sometime in the next few days, according to Wojnarowski.

The choice of Billups has been unpopular in the Portland media, with John Canzano of The Oregonian calling it “the most pathetic hiring charade in state history.” He points out that the Trail Blazers had a chance to make history by hiring Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, who was a finalist for the job, or they could have brought back Ime Udoka, a former assistant with the team, who was hired by the Celtics instead.

Canzano says the decision on Billups is the work of Olshey, who settled on him early as the primary candidate. Canzano suggests that Olshey has too much power in the organization and is ignoring the team’s history of alienating fans by having too many players accused of serious crimes.

The negative response has even reached Blazers star Damian Lillard, who identified Billups as one of his preferred choices shortly after the team parted ways with Terry Stotts, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

After being accused by a fan of being responsible for Billups’ hiring, Lillard tweeted, “Really? I was asked what coaches I like of the names I ‘heard’ and I named them. Sorry I wasn’t aware of their history I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8yrs old. I don’t support Those things … but if this the route y’all wana come at me… say less.”

Northwest Notes: Hammon, Billups, McCollum, Wolves’ Offseason

Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen is pushing for Spurs assistant Becky Hammon while president of basketball operations Neil Olshey prefers Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups to be the team’s next head coach, Marc Stein of the New York Times hears. The team is conducting second interviews with both candidates with Mike D’Antoni reportedly also in the running.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • There’s a strong possibility CJ McCollum will be traded this offseason, Jason Quick of The Athletic opines. Dealing McCollum is the most logical way for the Blazers to improve, or at least shake up their roster. Olshey seems more open to breaking up his star backcourt, which has posted a 15-30 record in the playoffs. However, with three big years left on McCollum’s contract, it’s tough to know what the Blazers could get in return.
  • There were a number of reasons why the Timberwolves didn’t tank, most notably to find out how D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns would mesh down the stretch, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. They also wanted to establish a culture of expectations for their youngest players. Minnesota had to convey its pick at No. 7 to Golden State after failing to move into the top three in the lottery.
  • Without a first-rounder, the Timberwolves will look to free agency and the trade market to shore up their roster, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. They’re particularly intent on upgrading the power forward spot to become a better rebounding team.

Blazers Rumors: Billups, Lillard, Roster Changes, Kidd

On Monday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report said there have been whispers among league personnel for weeks about Chauncey Billups being the most likely candidate to replace Terry Stotts as the Trail Blazers‘ head coach.

Today, John Hollinger of The Athletic echoed that point, writing that league sources view Billups as the likeliest choice for the Blazers. That belief may be one reason why Jason Kidd removed his name from consideration for the Portland job so quickly, Hollinger speculates.

Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said on Monday that the team will look at upwards of 20-to-25 candidates, so it doesn’t sound like he has zeroed on Billups quite yet. However, it’s worth noting that Billups – along with Kidd – was one of the candidates Damian Lillard endorsed last week. And Olshey confirmed during his press conference on Monday that Lillard will have a say in the hiring process, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.

“Obviously, Dame’s opinion is very important,” Olshey said. “If you ask him, we have very rarely made a big free-agent decision, very rarely made a trade without his participation and his insight. And it will be the same thing (with this coaching hire).”

According to Olshey, when the team made its decision on Stotts, Lillard was the first player to be informed.

“I called Dame to let him know we were making a coaching change, and I kind of told him the model of what we are looking at in terms of profile and the kind of candidates we would be looking at,” Olshey said, per Quick. “And I said, ‘Hey, if you have a few names, let me know.’ And he gave me a couple names. It’s unfortunate it was made public, because it didn’t actually serve the guys whose names were thrown out there. It certainly didn’t serve them well in the ensuing 48 hours.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Olshey said on Monday that finding a coach capable of improving the Blazers’ defense will be a top priority. As Quick writes, Olshey pointed to certain teams – such as the Knicks and Hawks – that made defensive improvements after changing coaches without major roster shakeups. “Teams that made big jumps on the defensive end were led in part by coaches who players knew on day one they were going to have to defend and be held accountable on that end of the floor because that’s what the coach valued,” Olshey said.
  • Although Olshey didn’t close the door on roster changes, he argued on Monday that the Blazers’ first-round loss “was not a product of the roster,” according to Hollinger. He also suggested that the coaching hire is Portland’s top priority since it’s a decision that the team can fully control. “We don’t control whether or not a superstar player wants to come to Portland or not. Or whether we have the pieces to get a deal done for that level of player,” Olshey said, per Quick. “But right now, we do control one element where we think we can find someone who can make more of an impact — with the current group, with improvements coming in the offseason — to get us to the level we expect to be at.”
  • Asked on Monday about changes to the roster, Olshey declined to specifically discuss any players, stating his preference not to do in a public forum. “We are going to look to make our team better; nothing is ever off the table if it advances us closer to a championship,” he said, per Quick. “But I’m not going to start bandying names about because people in the media think that there is some predetermined resistance to making a trade.”
  • Following Lillard’s public endorsement of Kidd, there was some back-and-forth between Lillard’s camp and the Blazers’ front office, according to Quick, who believes that conversation may have revolved around the team’s concerns about Kidd’s domestic violence history.

Trail Blazers Notes: Lillard, McCollum, Stotts

Damian Lillard will wait to see what the Trail Blazers do during the offseason before making a decision on his future, a person close to the star guard told Jabari Young of CNBC. Lillard has stated repeatedly that he wants to stay in Portland and help the franchise win a title, but that could change if he’s not convinced that the Blazers are moving in that direction. The team’s willingness to pay the luxury tax could figure into the decision, Young adds.

Lillard is under contract for the next three seasons and Portland has no plans to trade him, but he could change the situation by requesting a deal. He is coming off the best playoff series of his career, averaging 34.5 PPG in the six-game loss to the Nuggets. It marked the fourth time in five years that Portland was eliminated in the first round, and Lillard could be pondering a move to a more legitimate title contender.

The Blazers began what could be an offseason of change Friday night when they announced that coach Terry Stotts won’t return next season. Lillard quickly made a statement about his coaching preferences, with Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups topping the list.

Another factor will be what Portland’s management decides to do with the roster, and especially Lillard’s backcourt partner, CJ McCollum. Young notes that the Cavaliers have been mentioned as a possible destination for McCollum and the Spurs have considered him as well, although they aren’t currently considering an offer.

Young cites a Western Conference executive who believes the Clippers may try to move Paul George if they don’t make a long playoff run, adding that a deal involving McCollum and George is conceivable. The Heat could also be a destination, though they might prefer to target Lillard.

There’s more from Portland:

  • The Blazers will replace their coach, but general manager Neil Olshey’s job appears to be safe, Young adds. Ownership sees him as a “solid executive” who has done as much as possible within budget limitations to build a competitive team around Lillard.
  • Several teams around the league, including many in “top markets,” are keeping an eye on Portland to see if Lillard might become available, sources tell Shams Charania and Jason Quick of The Athletic.
  • Stotts wrote a farewell letter thanking the organization, players and fans for his experiences during the past nine years as head coach.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Sixers, VanVleet, Anunoby

New Nets coach Steve Nash envisions a versatile role for Kevin Durant that would have him see time at all five positions, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Nash discussed Durant during an appearance this week on J.J. Redick‘s podcast, saying Durant has the skills to succeed anywhere on the court.

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “(Kyrie Irving’s) excellent off the ball. Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions. I get excited to use some of the guys on the roster: Caris (LeVert), (DeAndre Jordan), Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris.”

Scouts and other league personnel who spoke to Lewis believe Brooklyn could have some devastating lineups with Durant at center, especially in a conference where the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam have succeeded in that role.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers are considering a front office shakeup that would include the addition of a president of basketball operations, sources tell Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. One source indicated that Trail Blazers executive Neil Olshey may be interested, but only if he has complete control over basketball decisions as both president and general manager. Rumors have surrounded former Hawks executive Danny Ferry, but the Sixers are denying that he’s a potential candidate. A source says the team plans to ask about Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, but the source doesn’t expect either to wind up in Philadelphia.
  • Fred VanVleet will be the Raptors‘ priority in free agency and they’ll find it expensive to keep him, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith estimates that Toronto could could give VanVleet a new deal starting at around $20MM per season while still retaining a maximum salary slot for the summer of 2021. He adds that the team may have to sacrifice Norman Powell or convince him to rework his contract to make that happen.
  • Raptors small forward OG Anunoby has signed with Klutch Sports Group, the agency announced on Twitter.

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Blazers, Nuggets, Conley

For Michael Porter Jr., focusing on the postseason is significantly more important than being snubbed from the Rising Stars Challenge this past week, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes.

“He knows I deserve to be a Rising Star, be in that game, but I’m gonna be playing in the playoffs, and that’s worth a lot more to me than playing in that game,” Porter said, mentioning that he sent coach Mike Malone a lengthy text after the Rising Stars rosters were announced. “So I’m just gonna keep working, get my rest during that All-Star break and be ready for that second half of the season.”

As noted by Singer, six of the 10 players selected to the annual game for the United States are currently out of the playoffs. Porter has given consistent production in his first NBA season, averaging eight points, 4.4 rebounds and 14.3 minutes through 39 contests.

“I’ll use it as motivation, but I don’t really try to play the game out of anger,” Porter said. “Like I’m not going to go out there and be mad I didn’t make it, so try to go score a bunch of points. Like I just go out there and try to play the game that I love. To not get picked, it definitely adds some fuel to the fire. It is what it is. Man, that’s other people’s decision.”

The Nuggets currently have a 34-16 record through the season’s first 50 games, good for the third-best record in the Western Conference. Porter missed the team’s game against Detroit on Sunday due to an ankle injury, with Denver losing in overtime 128-123.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey should take the week off and not make any monumental changes to his team, Jason Quick of The Athletic opines. Portland has been red hot over the past 1-to-2 weeks, led by Damian Lillard‘s incredible production (48.8 points per game in his last six contests). The team has won four straight games and is 7-3 in it’s last 10 outings. “I think it’s definitely a conversation,” Lillard said when asked if this group needs to be kept together to continue its momentum, according to Quick. “We are moving, and it’s against good teams. Golden State, Indiana, Houston, Lakers, Utah … I mean, good wins, so there’s something to be said about it.”
  • Nick Kosmider of The Athletic explores various trades the Nuggets could consider ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, labeling Jrue Holiday, Robert Covington and others as potential targets. Denver is 34-16 and sports one of the league’s best offenses.
  • The Jazz shuffled their lineup against Portland on Saturday, choosing to start Mike Conley at point guard and bring Royce O’Neale off the bench, ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes. Utah thrived off a Mitchell-O’Neale-Ingles-Bogdanovic-Gobert starting lineup without Conley, who missed several games due to a hamstring strain. “I know how frustrated he’s been because he’s wanted to play,” coach Quin Snyder said. “You hear about someone’s character, and until you go through things with them and you see how they react to that adversity … that’s what he’s demonstrated in my mind.”