Take a second and think about your boss. If they were replaced tomorrow, would you care? Are they so amazing at their job that you just can’t even imagine things happening around the office without them, in particular?
Maybe your boss is a super genius. They have a robot arm, or they do multivariable calculus in their head. But, more likely than not, the best thing you can say about your boss is that they’re fairly capable, you’re used to them, and it would be a pain in the ass to acclimate to a new boss. Bosses aren’t really valuable like that. They’re not irreplaceable. They’re just a person serving a function. Someone has to do it and they are, currently, doing it.
An NBA team’s general manager, or President of Basketball Operations, or whatever they’re called, is, more or less, the boss of an NBA team’s basketball product. (The team president, a different guy, supervises the money and marketing part.) They draft dudes and make trades, the main frontward-facing duties of the office, but they also smooth over internal conflicts, supervise coaching decisions, allocate money towards conditioning and performance shit. Like your boss, most of them are fine.
A few of them are extraordinarily good at their job, but I would be hard pressed to name anyone who is just totally irreplaceable. An example: Masai Ujiri, probably the best GM in the league, worked for the Denver Nuggets for a while, where he made a name for himself by putting together a wild team of oddballs that got escorted from the first round. Based on this performance, the Toronto Raptors offered him more money than the Nuggets wanted to match. Ujiri went to Toronto, made the brass balls move of the decade by trading for Kawhi Leonard even though he had a mere season left on his deal, and the Raptors won the championship in 2019. Good job, Masai!
You might think the Nuggets regretted this decision, rued the day they crossed Masai and collapsed into irrelevance forever. But actually, they’re fine! There was a rough patch there. But they were the third seed this year and their big, psychedelic center just won MVP. More tangible success than Masai ever brought the team, honestly. Tim Connley, who has been their GM since Masai left, has done a pretty good job. Masai’s terribly skilled, but the Nuggets have kept on chuggin’ without him.
A GM only brings so much to the table. Their usefulness is proportionate to how little they screw up. Blazers GM Neil Olshey is a massive screwup and the Blazers need to move on.
The relevant event that is prompting this sentiment is that this weekend, Olshey hired Chancey Billups to coach the team next year, despite his settling a civil suit for sexual assault in 2000. A large portion of the fan base, particularly survivors of abuse, is extremely mad at the team for making this decision, especially after they publicly flirted with the idea of making Spurs assistant Becky Hammon the league’s first woman head coach. Olshey, who has a track record of maintaining relationships across his NBA jobs, worked with Billups on the Clippers and is generally seen as the driving force in the hire.
The question of whether Damian Lillard, the team’s star point guard, was consulted in this is a matter of public disagreement at this point. Bleacher Report says he was, Chris Haynes, who worked in Portland at the beginning of Lillard’s career and could probably be termed “Dame’s guy,” in the media, says otherwise. Like most public-facing institutions, the truth about what happens in a sports organization is rarely known in any purely objective way. Whatever the case, the backlash in the matter, along with the team’s recent dead fish playoff performances, has Lillard making noises about wanting out.
It’s a mess that seems poised to steer the Blazers into a garbage dump in the near future—totally preventable if the team would have done its due diligence in taking the public temperature on the matter in Portland.
Neil’s response when asked about it?
Trust me dude, it’s fine, no biggie!
Also: Don’t ask again! Or I will do the most obvious shit in the world to act like someone else is telling you not to answer the question!
Sitting in the cold world of rational analysis, I can’t really say that I think Lillard is so good at basketball that the Blazers should bend to his every whim to retain his services. Whenever the team’s shortcomings are noted by media, Lillard is generally able to avoid criticism, but he really is very bad at defense, he doesn’t do a lot to move off the ball (a particular problem when Terry Stotts, a motion offense savant, was coach), and the extent of his clutch heroism would probably not be necessary if he and the team weren’t prone to giving up leads. Stars leave teams, and even if the fan base has developed a Cult of Dame, all this shit comes to an end someday. Sunrise, sunset.
But. BUT. It’s clearly not worth it to lose Lillard in a power struggle with fucking Neil Olshey, who has done everything in his power to turn the team’s roster into a clunky muddle for his entire time with the team.
In the Aldridge years, it was the bench: Lillard-Matthew-Batum-Aldridge-Lopez was a powerful single unit, but the team’s devotion to Mo Williams, Dorrell Wright and former Clipper Chris Kaman made its second units completely useless. Later, it was his slavish devotion to players he drafted.
CJ McCollum, an excellent player who simply doesn’t fit with Lillard stylistically, has never been on the market. After a season when he shot 40% from three, Olshey gave his sweet draft boy Meyers Leonard, the most widely loathed Blazer of my lifetime, a big contract to just sort of come off the bench and routinely kick the ball out of bounds.
Olshey’s only decent move during this time was signing Al Farouq Aminu, who was drafted by Olshey for the Clippers. And, even then: Aminu’s cruddy 3-point shooting didn’t exactly create the space Lillard needed to get to the rim. OK, there was a second good move: Olshey also bought low on Jusuf Nurkic. But that probably only worked because of Lillard’s gifts in Molding Young Men With His Excellent Leadership™.
Since getting Nurkic, Olshey has continued to double down on his own draft savvy, which isn’t real. Olshey, you see, is not a “numbers guy.” He trusts his abilities as a drafter. Don’t get me wrong: McKinsey weirdos who run the office on every sports team that is owned by a former tech guy are also bad. But at least they base their decisions on something tangible, and not My Gift for Drafting, the world’s shallowest enterprise. Don’t base your organization around it, and especially don’t base your organization around one dude’s intuitions about it. The draft is bullshit, it’s impossible to master, anyone who says otherwise is grifting.
In following the sweet scent of his own drafting majesty, the team Olshey has built around Lillard is nonsensical. The lack of defense or shooting on the wing has been a problem ever since Aminu left. The team had, I shit you not, the 29th-worst defense of 30 teams in the league this year. Nurkic is the squad’s only consistent plus defender, and even that is pretty useless when he’s drowning in fouls on account of every player in the league charging the rim at every opportunity.
The Blazers backcourt consists of two smaller scoring guards. When the time came to improve the roster for a playoff run, Olshey traded for Norm Powell…another scoring guard. Neil’s signings don’t complement Lillard so much as they attempt to replicate his production in different degrees, as if enough Lillards is all the team needs to make Lillard succeed. I was happy to have Melo on the team, but also…he’s big Lillard! Enes Kanter: center Lillard! Anfernee Simons: Lillard, but kind of bad! It goes on, Lillards all the way down to an insanely bad defense that spent all year getting bailed out by Real Lillard tossing up 30-footers and clanging his brass balls together.
After the team fired Terry Stotts (a good coach who probably needed to move on) a few weeks ago, Olshey appeared in front of the media and told them he was pretty sure that the roster was A-OK and that, anyway, it was impossible to make a big move because, uhh, damn, these guys make a lot of money or whatever. It was akin to Rabbit Angstrom standing at his child’s grave and letting everyone know that actually, he didn’t do this. (In case you haven’t read Rabbit, Run: he kind of did!)
Seriously, man, if there’s nothing you can do to improve the roster, you’re prone to wildly screwing up what should be a routine coaching hire, and Lillard is leaking on you left and right, then what are you even doing here, aside from excusing ownership from paying someone better to do your job?
GMs are nearly all expendable and Olshey is particularly expendable. Just pay out his contract and move on to someone who won’t screw up for years at a time, and has better sense than to choreograph a blatantly obvious bottle sip dance with a PR person to keep Jason Quick from asking your new coach about sexual assault accusations.
He’d be thankful. He doesn’t even like it here. He’s constantly whining about how hard it is to sign good players to a backwater like Portland. Go run a crummy scouting department somewhere, dude. It’s time to move on.