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Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey: First-round loss ‘not a product of the roster’

Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin and Corey Robinson discuss the coaching vacancies for Indiana and Portland after the two franchises move on from there respective head coaches.

Trail Blazers finished 29th of 30 teams in points allowed per 100 possessions and disappointingly – at least internally – lost in the first-round of the playoffs.

The scapegoat? Head coach Terry Stotts.

Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey:

The first-round loss and the defensive rating at 29 was not a product of the roster.
When the coaches interview, they will have to provide a vision. … We’ve got 80 percent of our starting lineup under contract and returning absolutely. So, at least they know what they’re dealing with for the most part in terms of how do they get this group to get to another level on the defensive end of the floor? And that will clearly be critical in anybody advancing in the process is they’re going to have to prove they’re going to have the ability to do that.
The mission is clear. If we’re going to take the next step, they’re going to have to make an impact on the defensive end of the floor. So, that will be a criteria.

Portland’s roster looked about in line for a first-round loss to me.

Should the Trail Blazers have had the NBA’s second-worst defense? Probably not. Stotts didn’t instill the optimal defensive culture.

But this was not a good defensive roster.

Defensive liabilities Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes. Even when healthy, Portland had very undersized wings in C.J. McCollum and Norman Powell (or Gary Trent Jr. before that). Each solid a defender in a vacuum, lane-clogging Jusuf Nurkic and switchable Derrick Jones Jr. didn’t fit together. Robert Covington was the Trail Blazers’ best defender, but he has on-ball limitations. He would’ve faced trouble if matched up with the Lakers’ LeBron James or Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard – the expected main roadblocks in the West.

Olshey made a reasonable point in his press conference: Portland – capped out, typically drafting low, not in a premier market – will have difficulty upgrading its roster. That won’t satisfy people there who want to win a championship. But it is reality. (And it’s not that bad of a reality. The Trail Blazers have made the playoffs eight straight years.)

Portland has Lillard, McCollum, Covington and Nurkic under contract next season. Olshey said he wants to re-sign their other starter, Powell. For better or worse, this roster could look quite similar next season.

That’s not a given, though. Asked about continuing to build around Lillard and McCollum, Olshey said he doesn’t publicly discuss his players like that. But that’s a major departure from how Olshey used to talk about the guard pairing. The Trail Blazers obviously aren’t trading Lillard (at least unless he does something unlikely and drastic like request a trade). McCollum could be on the block.

Still, Olshey made very clear he believes in the roster he assembled. Portland is first and foremost looking for a coaching upgrade.