After finishing the regular season with a 49-33 record and entering the playoffs seeded third in the Western Conference, the highest conference finish since 2000, the Portland Trail Blazers suffered a disappointing four game series sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. The swift defeat has left fans with many questions and the team entering the offseason in a tailspin. While some are calling for a total team overhaul, Blazer’s General Manager Neil Olshey knows this team is a work in progress.
“Nobody thinks this roster is a finished product … it’s a work in progress,” Olshey told reporters at his post-game press conference following an eight-point defeat in game four of the first round.
Although the Blazers finished the season with eight more wins compared to last year, the Blazers entered the playoffs in somewhat of a slump, losing four of their final six games. Despite a decisive four game sweep in the first round, after being eliminated, Olshey urged Blazers fans to focus on the broader picture of the season rather than the disappointment of defeat.
“It doesn’t change anything about the season. I think we’ve got to bifurcate those two things to a certain degree. We lost four games coming into the playoffs and that didn’t change anyone’s overall outlook on a macro level. I think the playoffs brought a couple issues to bear in terms of teams that can go small. I think (there are) some things we need to address. But playoff series are always going to illustrate deficiencies. That’s what coaches do. They get to play you four different times. They find your weaknesses, and we’ll address those in the off-season.” Olshey explained at the same press conference.
While it may be Neil Olshey’s job to build off of the positives moving forward, there is growing suspicion that this Blazer’s team truly never was well equipped enough to take on the elite teams of the Western Conference.
“Portland may have been the No. 3 seed in the West during playoffs, but it felt to me like the Blazers moved one step forward and two steps backward in the last 12 months,” John Canzano, a Reporter for the Oregonian, wrote.
In spite of the frustration, this was the franchise’s second longest winning streak, a 13-game streak spanning over a month long. They were also the youngest team entering the playoffs, but the Trail Blazers roller coaster ride of a season has made one thing clear: something isn’t working. Canzano argues that the Blazers need to make some major changes and can no longer rely on using youth as an excuse.
“No doubt, the Blazers executives will regroup after this series loss and emerge this week crowing about how young the roster is. Olshey will try hard to sell the locals on the notion that the Blazers were the youngest team in the NBA Playoffs. He may even announce plans to raise the “Northwest Division Championship” banner on opening night next season. If so, he should be watching the ceremony from home. Portland wasn’t just young this season. It was overmatched. Age this exact roster by three seasons and you’ll get the same first-round result.”
With several players gearing up to test the free agency market, most notably center Jusuf Nurkic, and their star powered back court of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum contributing underwhelming post season performances, many are now arguing that nobody on the roster should be safe.
“Without question, something must be done to the Blazers roster. A massive shake-up. That’s what a first-round sweep signals. And nobody should be off limits. That includes Lillard and McCollum, who should never be compared to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson again” Canzano wrote.
With cap space and lack of depth on the roster a major problem for the Trail Blazers, it’s going to take some creativity.