Trail Blazers face growing concerns after exit from playoffs and change of coach

Trail Blazers face growing concerns after exit from playoffs and change of coach


Damian Lillard # 0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots # 4 of the Denver Nuggets Paul Millsap in the first quarter in Round 1, Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center on June 03, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Steph Rooms | Getty Images

It all happened so fast, providing another example of how quickly business can change with a National Basketball Association franchise.

The Denver Nuggets eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, closing their NBA playoff series Thursday with an 11-point victory. The Blazers couldn’t protect a 14-point lead in the second half and had a terrible fourth quarter. TV cameras captured the scene of franchise star Damian Lillard entering a dark tunnel at the Moda Center in Portland.

A Instagram post de Lillard appeared to ask how long he should stick with the only team he’s played for in his nine-year career. He made it clear to the media that the team needs to improve.

“We haven’t won a championship so obviously where we are now is not good enough”, Lillard told reporters after the loss. Less than 24 hours later, head coach Terry Stotts, who fell to 23-44 in the playoffs, paid the price. Lillard quickly briefed a handful of media outlets, including Yahoo Sports, of his preference – Jason Kidd.

This is the fourth time in five years that the team has failed to come out of the first round of the NBA playoffs. With public messages about the future, consumers and partner businesses should be asking themselves: what’s going on with the Blazers?

The list needs a lot of work and the property – the Paul Allen estate – is facing pressure to make changes. Basketball chief executive Neil Olshey remains, for now, and is tasked with fixing the $ 1.9 billion franchise. He has to do it fast.

Satisfy the superstar

Lillard is one of the most dynamic stars in the NBA. He is heavily supported off the pitch, with Adidas and Hulu among his main sponsors. He is known throughout the league for his clutch performances, which are often labeled “Dame Time”.

Against the Nuggets, he averaged 34.5 points, his career best record, and set a stat line for the ages in Game 5, scoring 55 points and making 12 of 17 three-pointers. Still, the team lost in double overtime.

Lillard did $ 31 million this season. That will rise to $ 39 million next season, thanks to a four-year extension of $ 196 million signed in 2019. The contract keeps Lillard locked up until 2025.

But the six-time All-Star turns 31 in July. The throbbing injuries have started and the window to win with Lillard closes. Olshey gave no indication to rival teams that he was ready to trade Lillard.

Lillard and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, could easily change that tone, however. A person close to Lillard told CNBC he should wait and see what the Blazers do this offseason before deciding on his future.

A rival NBA agent, who has faced a similar situation with a star player, said Lillard could first assess how serious the property is to win. The Blazers’ willingness to pay the luxury tax, which carries hefty financial penalties, is also a factor.

But after his public comments soliciting Kidd, signs suggest Lillard wants to stay.

Who will be the new coach?

Kidd is currently an assistant coach for the Lakers, who won the championship last year. He has had a head coach experience and a playing title since his time in Dallas. He would bring credibility to the locker room and instantly click with Lillard, as both are from Oakland.

The point is, can Olshey trust Kidd? If this is Olshey’s last coaching hire, before he too was gone, can he count on Kidd to honor the organizational structure?

Kidd is praised for his work with the Lakers, and the gossip is that he’s grown up. But his history as a head coach in the NBA is not the prettiest. He argued with management in Brooklyn, was criticized for the way he took the helm in Milwaukee. Another respected coach, Larry Drew, was at work when Kidd maneuvered to get there.

Chauncey Billups is another option.

Olshey would instantly trust Billups as he established a solid relationship with the former Detroit Pistons point guard when they were with the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2011-12 season. Billups is now an assistant to the Clippers and is active in NBA circles. He’s involved with a playmaker-led group of players that discuss basketball concepts and is aligned with NBA Power Booker Rich Paul, who Billups added. agent Andy Miller, to his sports group.

Other names like ESPN NBA analyst and former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy have also emerged. The name of Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni has also been the subject of lobbying, but with his background as a coach of non-defensive teams, he could be a tough sell to fans.

The Blazers did not return a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

But if he got his coaching wish, Lillard would still need to see the Blazers take action to try and upgrade the roster, which was among the worst in the league in defense. A top asset like goalie CJ McCollum could attract a good return. McCollum will earn $ 30 million next season, as part of a three-year extension.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been mentioned as a possible destination for McCollum. The San Antonio Spurs love McCollum, but his name has not gained popularity in their business scenarios. A Western Conference executive pitched the idea that the Clippers would trade Paul George this summer if the team didn’t live up to expectations. Therefore, a possible McCollum to the Clippers package. What if Miami can’t attract a Lillard deal, McCollum could also be an option there.

“To be short in the first round and our season to end at home is disappointing,” said Lillard. told reporters after the loss to the Nuggets. Discussing his future, he added: “We’ll see what happens. I haven’t thought this far.”

Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Oshley watches during a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs at the Moda Center on February 06, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr | Getty Images

Olshey’s future looks secure for now

Until Stotts left, uncertainty about the Blazers’ future had peaked.

Chris McGowan is CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, which operates the Blazers and Seattle Seahawks. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, passed away in 2018 and his sister, Jody, now has the final say. Olshey reported exclusively to Allen when it came to basketball decisions. But this image is now more blurred.

Olshey is seen as a strong executive who has done all he can to work within the team’s budget and build a good team around Lillard. And he’s been key to keeping the franchise stable after former franchise star LaMarcus Aldridge left in 2015.

Bert Kolde, vice-president of the Blazers and the Seahawks, was mentioned both locally and by a former team member as someone who could fit in as a strong voice in the future basketball business. What Kolde knows about hiring basketball executives is unclear. But Olshey’s name was in the ad separate with Stotts, so it looks like he’ll have another shot at running basketball operations.

On the business side, McGowan doesn’t want to come under the pressure of losing Lillard either.

When a rebuild occurs, a team loses influence in negotiating corporate partnerships. The Blazers will sail to a new regional sports network partner, moving from NBC Sports Northwest to AT&T ‘s Root Sports. Distribution issues have preoccupied the team for years and cost them the audience. But getting a new local TV deal without a superstar isn’t ideal.

Lillard is a huge financial draw, and losing him could be devastating. There would likely be fewer nationally televised games. This is where the team jersey patch trump card could take a hit because less exposure makes this real estate advertisement less attractive.

The good news for the Trail Blazers is that Portland has proven to be a loyal fan base. It was the city’s first major sports team, followed by the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Since 2007, the Blazers have finished in the top 10 in NBA attendance. Team was fifth in 2020 before pandemic hit, ESPN’s NBA says presence. The team generates more than $ 240 million in annual revenue, according to Forbes.

Lillard’s worth is no secret to management. A team manager, who asked not to be named in order to be able to speak frankly, told CNBC that a Lillard departure was the biggest risk to the franchise’s declining value.

The executive added that the squad as it is currently made up is clearly not good enough to win a title. It doesn’t matter who is to blame, the person said, big changes need to be made.

Stotts was the first step. Now fans, corporate partners and the rest of the NBA are waiting to see the sequel in Portland. And most importantly, if Lillard’s loyalty will keep the Blazers business from collapsing.

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