The Trail Blazers finished the regular season with 49 wins, earning the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They had a top 10 defense and their offense really started to come around near the end of the season. The team had plenty of encouraging signs heading into the postseason.
Although it felt as if progress had been made, the Blazers' successful regular season didn't translate into the playoffs. They were Pelicans on Saturday, leaving them asking serious questions about the future of the franchise. Is the pairing of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum a recipe for success? Do they have enough depth on the bench? Should Terry Stotts be kept? What is Neil Olshey's plan for the future? None of these questions can be answered right now, but they all came up during Sunday's exit interviews.by the
Olshey, the team's president of basketball operations, was very defensive of the season they had. He was quick to point out that there aren't any magical trades, draft picks, or free agents they can just add to the roster and become better.
"This (result) was so extreme, I don't want to overreact to one unfavorable matchup against a team that played outstanding basketball. We're not going to lose sight of the success we had this season."
Everyone wants to say there's some magical free agent. There's an incredible trade. There's a draft pick who's going to revolutionize your franchise."
Olshey seemed frustrated that he was being asked questions about the disappointing end to a rather successful season overall. He suggests that many people have gone back on the compliments they were giving Portland before the playoffs began.
"Where were all these people who wanted sweeping changes 10 days ago? They were the ones bouncing off the walls 10 days ago when we had the third seed for the first time since 1999-2000."
It makes sense that Olshey is proud of what his team accomplished this season. He is not in a position to and make drastic roster changes. That's certainly not how he was able to build this roster into one of the Western Conference's best teams outside of the juggernaut Warriors and Rockets. That said, this playoff series also pointed out why some things in Portland need to change.
Two summers ago, Olshey signed players like Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard to expensive long-term contracts. It leaves Portland without a lot of flexibility. They can attempt to make trades, but that will only get them so far in improving the roster as a whole. Right now, the Blazers' identity falls on Lillard and McCollum who shoulder the load by doing practically everything. It's limited. Even Turner said in his exit interview that they need to establish something new.
Evan Turner on what the Blazers are missing: "That’s tough to say honestly. We definitely all have to be more consistent. One thing that may help as well ... no jabs or anything, but building an identity outside of our two strong scorers." Says depth would help in playoffs.— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) April 22, 2018
McCollum told reporters he's no buying into the idea that the star duo potentially needs to break up in order to improve the team as a whole.
CJ McCollum on questions about pairing with Dame: “People have to write about something, so that’s a good narrative. But you have to be realistic. We lost to the best team in the league the last two years. A lot of teams would like to have 5 straight trips to the playoffs.” pic.twitter.com/1NJUP56oSO— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 22, 2018
A lot can change over the summer, but right now Olshey doesn't sound like he has plans to go away from that pairing.
Neil Olshey on the Dame-CJ pairing: "When 27 teams aren't jealous of our backcourt, that's when I'll start looking at it."— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 22, 2018
There's some obvious frustration right now in Portland. The players and execs want to be happy about the successful season they just had, but the elephant in the room remains, especially after another disappointing playoff exit. Have the Blazers reached their ceiling in terms of potential? And if not, how can they improve the roster? Also, is Terry Stotts' job safe?
This is going to be an interesting and important offseason for the Trail Blazers. They can either choose to make a lot of changes and swing for the fences, or they can stay the course and hope continuity leads to further improvement next season. Olshey sounds like he believes in the latter.