Originally written April 20, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
How did he do? Being the Portland Trail Blazers GM is never an easy job. Fans in PDX have watched Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho come and go over the past few years, and the 2011-12 season actually saw the position stay vacant from beginning to end. But with Neil Olshey in town, things have begun to turn around. A few key moves were made, and the future has become clearer despite a painfully obvious rebuild taking place. Has the new guy officially turned things around? Not a chance. Watching the playoffs from home is a clear sign that there’s still things to come. Neil Olshey did well with a tough situation. (AP Photo/Don Ryan) But with the team moving in the right direction, Olshey has given fans something to believe in. It wasn’t all pretty, but the 2012-13 season was a good one for the Trail Blazers’ front office. The Good Damian Lillard The debate going in to any draft is whether to select for need or for talent. The ideal situation is to kill two birds with one stone, and that’s exactly what the GM did in 2012. Olshey’s first move as Portland’s GM was to draft Damian Lillard. The move was met with anxious excitement, as nobody quite knew what to expect out of the four-year player from Weber State. Ten months later, things couldn’t have worked out much better, as the team officially has its coveted franchise point guard. Roy Hibbert Within minutes of the free agency period, Olshey had already made a splash. His attempt to woo Roy Hibbert had been a success, and he had convinced the All-Star center to sign a max contract to join the Blazers. Unfortunately for the team, the Indiana Pacers were equally enamored with the big man, and they opted to match the contract to keep him around. The move fell short, but the sentiment was loud and clear. Olshey wanted to show he was serious, and he had shown that big names aren’t afraid to play in the great Northwest. JJ Hickson When Olshey missed out on his target, he made a move to sign JJ Hickson to a one-year contract. As it turned out, that move was perfect for both parties, as the two sides can now move on with mutual respect. JJ Hickson was able to play himself into more money, as he had a career year helping the Blazers inside. He established himself as a consistent double-double threat, and he all but ensured that he’ll be picked up long-term by someone this summer. On Portland’s end, the team found the production it needed, and it opened up cap space for 2013. Eric Maynor At the trade deadline, the Blazers had the worst bench in the NBA. That fact didn’t change in the second half of the year, but the second unit at least became more watchable with the addition of Eric Maynor. Eric Maynor was a perfect pickup this season. (Photo: AP) Eric Maynor is a good, young point guard, whose value would have been much higher had it not have been for a previously torn ACL. Olshey brilliantly acquired him for a trade exception, adding to the bench at virtually no cost. The Bad Depth While Olshey added to the second unit at the deadline, it was a case of way too little, way too late. Olshey clearly had his eyes set on the future when it came to his offseason moves. When he failed to acquire Hibbert, it appeared as if there was no plan B, and money went unspent that could have gone toward a deeper, more talented roster. Portland’s starters logged heavy minutes in 2012-13, and it’s because there were no reliable players in the second unit. There were free agents available at every position, and while point guard and center were the primary concerns, talent should have taken a higher priority. The Yet-to-be-determined Nicolas Batum It’s safe to say that Nicolas Batum’s season was filled with more ups than downs. He became somewhat of a stat-sheet stuffer, he helped control the offense and he posted career highs in points (14.3), assists (4.9) and rebounds (5.6). The problem is that he began to fade after All-Star Weekend, making his contract more of a question than a definitive answer. While the move to keep Nicolas Batum should prove to be worth it, the cash spent is a big reason for the lack of a bench. The 24-year-old has yet to prove he has an All-Star-caliber future, but if he can continue to add consistency to his game, he’ll make his contract an afterthought moving forward. Meyers Leonard Meyers Leonard was considered a lottery pick entering the 2012 draft. Somebody was going to take him, but the question is, did Olshey reach by snagging him at No. 11? Meyers Leonard must live up to his potential (Photo: Portland Trail Blazers). The 7’1” center has a solid mid-range game and he can play in an up-tempo system. He clearly has the height to clog the middle, but the problem is that he can’t defend the rim against bulkier bodies. With talent still on the board, it’s possible that the new GM made an impulsive decision by drafting for position. Then again, the 2012 class proved to be a bit underwhelming compared to its lofty expectations, giving Meyers Leonard the chance to prove himself as the years go by. Overall Analysis The question that you have to ask yourself is whether or not the good outweighs the bad. Portland’s bench was downright awful, and it lost 12 straight to close out the year; but the team was in the playoff hunt until early April, which is more than most expected. In the short term, it’s true that the depth of this roster looks bad. However, when you take the future into account, things are looking up for Rip City. Olshey did what it took to get this team a solid core, and now he has the money to officially round it out. The good doesn’t completely negate the bad, as Portland awaits the offseason from the sidelines. But with his first season under his belt, Olshey should be ready to make another splash in 2013. Grade: B CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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