The game has ended. The season has ended. That goddamn Trail Blazers era looked like a popsicle melting on the sidewalk Thursday night.
The final act was of course a dud, wasn’t it?
Playing on their home turf and facing elimination, the Blazers withered in Game 6. Denver won 126-115. Portland was beaten 28-14 in the last quarter. In the post-match words of center Jusuf Nurkic, “I don’t know where the future is for me or for the team.”
I know where it must be.
This is what any self-respecting sports organization stuck in a perpetual and ineffective spin would do. Fire the coach. Release the general manager. Crumple the list sheet and start over.
Outside of Damian Lillard, there isn’t a player in uniform who should be untouchable this summer. But we all know that the biggest sin of Trail Blazers, Inc.’s last decade is to perpetually overvalue marginal talent.
I would keep Lillard. I would also hang on to Robert Covington and re-sign unrestricted free agent Norman Powell. The rest of the list ends up swapping bait. It’s time to reinvent the reel. It starts with the departure of head coach Terry Stotts, who feels flawed.
According to a report, on Friday night, Stotts and the Blazers agreed to go their separate ways, and it’s no secret that the team are considering Jason Kidd as their next coach.
General manager Neil Olshey should go too.
He made a mess, after all.
Portland is stuck in the middle of the Western Conference in its current form. Good enough to make the playoffs as a No.6 seed, but far from dangerous. The Blazers are no better than Denver, Utah, Phoenix or Dallas. The Clippers and Lakers will reinvent themselves without much local debate and will be back next season. Golden State is also going to be drastically improved.
I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched the final quarter of the lifeless season on Thursday if what we were seeing was a protest vote from the team. The Blazers were leading in double digits, but suddenly seemed weary, slow and distant. Have they thrown in the towel? They should be wondering about that one. But the collapse looked suspicious. As if the players don’t just vote against coming back next season without drastic changes, but also mentally shutting down and voting against continuing this season for another game.
Nurkic’s post-game commentary grabbed the headlines. But it was Lillard’s Instagram feed we should all be careful. After the loss, the All-Star posted a photo of him walking down the hallway of the arena with a quote from rapper Nipsey Hussle:
“How long do I have to stay devoted?” How long before the opportunity meets preparation? “
Anyone know if Jody Allen is on Insta?
If this is the case, the interim owner should be concerned about the implications. The franchise’s best asset has been in Portland for nine years. It rained money for him. We’ve watched him grow up, have kids, and become a star. Lillard bought five acres in the Stafford area last year and got to work building a private basketball court. But he works in an industry where loyalty comes behind payoff, brand, minutes, and money.
The franchise must find a new start. At once. Or it risks alienating Lillard and losing more than matches. The entire trajectory of Operation Basket is now at stake.
The Blazers are expected to pay Lillard $ 140 million in salary over the next three seasons. After that, he has a player option. This impending event is a doozy. I always wonder what Portland has to offer potential free agents. What is the attraction? It’s Lillard. That’s it. It’s the whole angle of basketball. So what the property needs is a general manager who can better sell it on the open market.
Nurkic remains under contract next season despite his post-match remarks. Only $ 4 million of his $ 12 million salary is guaranteed in 2021-22, but the Blazers will take it back and use it as an asset. CJ McCollum – salary: $ 30 million – is a complementary player, but a far cry from the ridiculous salary Olshey gave him.
So yeah, get out the dynamite. Switch on the fuse. Run away from the explosion. Don’t wait another minute. Start over now. The franchise rebuild probably should have started a year ago. This summer seems particularly urgent and it hasn’t even officially started.
The changes seem certain, but again we’re talking about a franchise that often operates out of fear and all too easily falls in love with its fringe components. We’re not talking about changing the curtains and planting flowers. This home renovation may require a bulldozer.
I guess I was wrong about one thing in this column. Lillard isn’t all Portland has. The best product in town has always been hope. This franchise must give us some. As novelist Mary Shelley wrote: “The beginning is still today.
Someone should slap him around the Moda Center this summer.