Portland Trail Blazers’ Frenzied Offseason Has Been Part of the Plan All Along
Friday, May 15, 2015
Following a disappointing end to the 2014-15 NBA season, free agency is on the horizon, and there are far more questions than answers. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the most-coveted free agents to hit the market across the Association, and high-profile teams are already rumored to have interest. Wesley Matthews is also set to explore his options while recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury. And Robin Lopez, despite seeing a late-season dip in production, will leverage his two-year body of work with the Blazers to earn a well-deserved pay raise.
When it comes down to it, the Blazers only have four guaranteed contracts looking ahead to next season. Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard will be back in 2015-16, but the rest of the roster could depart, either by their own decision or via the powers that be within management.
Who will be back? That remains the question. But while it’s the unknown that has fans nervous, it’s important to remember that this summer of mystery has been in the works for quite some time.
“It’s gonna be fun,” general manager Neil Olshey said recently about free agency, according to The Oregonian’s Sean Meagher. “When we took over three years ago, we knew we had a three-year window with this group under their current contract status.”
When Olshey arrived in Portland, fans were rightfully undecided. Not only had this particular franchise seen management come and go in mysterious, bizarre fashion over the past few seasons, but there was an arrogance with the guy that nobody was sure would translate to success.
In Olshey’s defense, he had the right to be arrogant. It wasn’t just the Hollywood hair and smile that gave him confidence; it was the fact that he’d been responsible for landing Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers. He’d also signed DeAndre Jordan to a massive contract extension, locking up one of the league’s most athletic big men long-term.
Jordan hadn’t yet earned the money, but Olshey knew that contracts aren’t awarded solely on past production. He was looking toward the future, and when you look at Jordan now (free-throw misery aside), it turns out the GM knew what he was doing all along.
That’s what fans in Portland need to remember. Say it out loud if you have to: Neil Olshey knew what he was doing all along.
As many questions as the Blazers have regarding who will return, this team has flexibility. If you think it’s a coincidence, or scary that Portland has so many free agents coming off the books, you’re not looking at the bigger picture.
Thanks to the GM’s crafty acquisitions, Portland has the ability to seek rotational help this offseason even with a max contract going Aldridge’s way. Conversely, the Blazers will be in immaculate shape to re-tool the roster with cap space should the four-time All-Star depart for greener pastures—as far from ideal as that would be.
Maybe the best news of all is that regardless of what happens in free agency, Olshey’s draft picks are finally showing their true potential. We’ve known what Lillard can do since his arrival, and now he’s eligible for a long-term extension. But McCollum had his coming out party during the 2015 playoffs, averaging 17 points on 47.8 percent shooting (including 47.8 3PT%). Leonard also showed what he can do during the second half of the regular season, transitioning from a joke in Portland to a legitimate threat from deep.
The question is: Will Portland be better next season? That answer won’t be known for quite some time, but as fans cross their fingers with free agency looming, remember that this team isn’t here by accident. Olshey didn’t create Plan A and hold his breath waiting; he established a blueprint that accounts for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and beyond.
For better or worse, Portland’s summer of 2015 is Olshey’s creation. Change isn’t something that should always be feared—sometimes it’s part of the plan.
Despite a putrid showing by the Blazers in the playoffs, fans shouldn’t mistake the mystery that’s around the corner for chaos. Flexibility trumps comfort, and Olshey has built this summer’s blueprint with long-term progress in mind.
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Alex Morgan, 25, is a forward for the Portland Thorns. She recently signed with the club in January of 2013 after playing for the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Sounders. She rose to prominence because of her success playing for the United States women’s national soccer team. Morgan was the youngest player to represent the U.S. during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She will once again represent team USA this summer as they prepare to head off to Canada for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Photo credit: Alex Morgan's Facebook page
Meyers Leonard, 23, was the 11th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Over the past few years he has been diligently working with the Portland Trailblazer’s coaching staff in order to refine his game. The Illinois alumni’s hard work has been paying off considering he’s having the best season of his career.
Photo credit: Meyers Leonard's Facebook page
Kaylyn Kyle, 26, is a Canadian soccer player who currently plays for the Portland Thorns. She is also a member of the Canadian women’s national team. Kyle was part of the 2012 Canadian national team that defeated France in the bronze medal game. She is also an ambassador for, Right To Play, which is an organization dedicated to using soccer as a resource to educate and empower children from disadvantaged communities.
Photo credit: Kaylyn Kyle's Facebook page
Gaston Fernandez, 31, is a striker for the Portland Timbers. The club signed the Argentinian striker back in January of 2014. During his MLS debut with the Timbers he scored an equalizer goal that extended the Timbers unbeaten home record to sixteen.
Photo credit: via forums.bigsoccer.com
Marcus Mariota, 21, is coming off one of the best seasons any Oregon Duck quarterback has ever experienced. He is the first Hawaiian-born athlete to ever win the Heisman trophy. This season he also led the Ducks to a 12-1 regular season record. Duck fans everywhere will be anxiously waiting to see where Mariota goes in this year’s NFL Draft.
Photo credit: via Oregon Football's Facebook page
Ellie Cribbins is a second year Blazer Dancer for the Portland Trailblazers. Cribbins is originally from Portland, Oregon but attended Oregon State University. This season proved to be a unique one for Cribbins since her sister also made the Blazer Dancers last August.
Photo credit: via Ellie Cribbin's Facebook page
Jake Gleeson, 24, is a New Zealand born goalie that is currently playing for the Portland Timbers. He signed with the club in February of 2011. Gleeson has taken pride over the past few years of being a young player who has worked his way up the ranks.
Photo credit: via solofutbol.cl
Janie Takeda, 21, is a senior outfielder for the University of Oregon. The Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch League recently drafted her 26th overall. Takeda was also selected to play on the United States women’s national team during the 2015 summer season. She is set to graduate from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication this spring.
Photo credit: Janie Takeda's Facebook page
Damian Lillard, 24, was the NBA’s 2012 Rookie Of The Year. He was the 4th Portland Trailblazer to ever win the award. Since then he’s been named an All-Star twice, as well as an All-NBA Third Team selection. Lillard had one of the most rememberable performances in Trailblazer history after he hit a three-pointer that defeated the Houston Rockets in game 6 of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
Photo credit: Damian Lillard's Facebook page
Maggie Rouse, 20, is a junior cheerleader for the University of Oregon. She just completed her third year on the team. When she tried out as a freshman she never expected to make the squad. Yet, here she is two years later. She is currently majoring in Educational Foundations.
Photo credit: Maggie Rouse's Facebook page
LaMarcus Aldridge, 29, is widely considered to be one of the best power-forwards in the NBA. The Texas native is averaging 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season for the Portland Trailblazers. He is also a four-time NBA All-Star. On March 10th, 2015 Aldridge became the Trailblazers all-time leading rebounder.
Photo credit: LaMarcus Aldridge's Facebook page
Kaytianna McMillan is a gymnast for the Oregon State Beavers. Over the course of 2014 McMillan battled a series of injuries, yet she was still able to overcome them in order to become the Co-Champion of the 2014 NCAA University Park Regionals. Oregon State will be lucky to have her for the next couple of years.
Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics website
Devon Allen, 20, just completed his freshman year as a wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks. Not only is he the starting wide receiver for the Ducks he also runs track for the Oregon Outdoor Track and Field team. He recently earned a Gold Medal in the 110 meter hurdles during the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Although he is recovering from a torn ACL we hope to see him back on the field during the 2015-2016 season.
Phot credit: University of Oregon Facebook page
Chase De Leo
Chase De Leo, 19, currently plays center for the Portland Winterhawks. His quickness and overall creative offensive game earned him an invite to Team USA’s selection camp back in December of 2014. Of all 30 players who were invited, he was only one of 2 WHL players.
Photo credit: Chase De Leo's Facebook page
Darron Thomas, 24, is a professional quarterback for the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League. During his college days he played for the Oregon Ducks. While starting for the Ducks he led to the team to the 2011 BCS National Championship game, as well as the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Texas native recently partook in the NFL Veteran Combine with the hope of upstarting his NFL career.
Photo credit: Portland Thunder Facebook page