Storyline: Trail Blazers Front Office

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7 months ago via ESPN

Ian Begley: The Knicks have talked to the Portland Trailblazers about acquiring one of Portland’s first-round picks, a source confirms to ESPN. The Knicks have workouts scheduled with at least one player pegged for a mid to late first-round pick in UNC’s Justin Jackson and are looking to acquire a second first-rounder to add to the pick they currently own – the No. 8 overall pick. Portland owns the 15th, 20th and 26th overall picks. The Knicks and Blazers discussions were first reported by the Sporting News.

If you’re a team looking to add first-round picks in this year’s NBA Draft, the team to see may be the Trail Blazers, who own three first-rounders. According to multiple league sources, the Trail Blazers have been open to deals for some combination of the picks. Portland has contract commitments to 12 players next season already, and a projected salary of $133 million, which is $12 million over the league’s luxury-tax threshold. That puts the Blazers in line for $21 million in luxury tax payments.

The pursuit of Olshey signals a possible willingness within ownership to make a significant financial commitment to hire an elite league executive. To pry Olshey, or any sitting top basketball decision-maker, Atlanta would undoubtedly have to offer draft or financial compensation to a team. Those conversations never started with the Blazers, sources said. It is unclear if Olshey would’ve had interest in discussing Atlanta’s opening with team owners. He joined the Blazers as the franchise’s top basketball executive in 2012, after leaving the Clippers.

Do you envision talking to Jusuf about a contract extension? Neil Olshey: I haven’t even thought about it, honestly. Everybody’s a little raw. It was a weird ride, right? He kinda came in out of nowhere. He blew up and then got hurt. We gotta get guys healthy first and then get them all back in the gym and again see what we have. But I don’t talk about contract negotiations. Even when you saw some of the guys last year whether it was Moe or Meyers, when we had deals done, we had deals done. But it didn’t play out in the media and it really wasn’t public.

Former GM Kevin Pritchard commented after he was unceremoniously fired in 2010 that when you’re hired by Allen you have a ticking clock dangling from your neck, counting down the minutes. Olshey must hear the tick. He knows the salary and title came with an expiration date, one that feels a couple of cycles away. Olshey’s hair isn’t built for rain. Also, he knows how this ends. So the hunch here is that Portland isn’t his forever place. And you just can’t built winning culture while simultaneously posturing for the rest of the league’s owners.

The Feb. 23 trade deadline is fast approaching and, naturally, fans are curious if there will be more movies. Can you speak to that? Olshey: Well, we’re active. You know I think this roster was always going to be a work in progress. We have the benefit of having Paul Allen as an owner. He let us retain all of our players. It wasn’t realistic to think we could manage that cap going forward. But what it did do is it put us in a position to keep as much as possible, put us in a position to compete, but knowing at some point we’re going to have to make some moves. I think Mason is an example of that. It’s not a player we wanted to lose. But the reality is from a cap standpoint we needed to go average down the salary but maintain our ability to compete, you know, now and in the future with not losing someone at that position. I can’t speak to any specifics, but what I can tell you is the league is very active right now.

Why trade Mason Plumlee and why right now? Olshey: Well, you know, look Mason’s impending free agency was certainly a factor. We love Mason. We’re going to miss him around here. We wouldn’t have been in the second round of the playoffs last year without him. But there’s certain realities to managing our (salary) cap. We felt like we needed to get younger at the center position. We wanted more of a low post player, someone that could defend size, strength. We found that with Jusuf. And, look, this is the hard part of the business is you have guys that you get attached … but you’ve got to make business decisions. We felt like in the long run this will pay longer dividends, having a young guy on a rookie scale (contract). We manage our cap with it. He gives us a different look defensively. He’s a big time rebounder. And I think he’ll make the game easier for guys like Dame (Lillard) and CJ (McCollum) because we’ve got more presence in the paint now defensively.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been a part of the always-churning rumor mill for weeks, as a swath of Rip City has been pining for an upgrade as the team has underachieved over the first 27 games of the season. But it would be unwise to expect a deal anytime soon. The Blazers, according to rival front office executives, are right to be included in the rumors — they are expected to be active in trade talks leading up to the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline. But activity doesn’t always translate to action and swinging a deal for a quality frontcourt player, arguably the Blazers’ biggest need, is complicated.
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December 13, 2017 | 10:05 pm EST Update