Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

Neil Olshey should just go take a nap. He’s earned it.

Olshey’s Trail Blazers engineered a blockbuster trade Monday morning, finishing off – unless he’s got something else up his sleeve – the team’s major off-season work with a flourish.

Already this summer, Olshey has upgraded the team’s shooting from the wing, drafted a promising rookie with just the No. 25 pick, signed Damian Lillard to a supermax contract and Monday, brought in a starting center, Hassan Whiteside, on an expiring contract to stand in for Jusuf Nurkic.

And Whiteside isn’t just another center. He has led the league in blocked shots and rebounds per game and has a career true shooting percentage of .589. Last season he averaged only 23.3 minutes per game but chalked up a double-double, 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 1.9 blocked shots per game.

Portland made the trade without touching its core players, sending Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to Miami in return for Whiteside. All three are embarking on the final season of their deals. The Heat are trying to clear cap space in order to complete a complicated deal for free agent Jimmy Butler and they will gain about $4 million with this trade.

Sunday, Portland added free agents Rodney Hood and Mario Herzonja, bolstering the small-forward position already strengthened by the addition of Kent Bazemore in an earlier deal for Evan Turner.

Whiteside does not come without some baggage. The 7-foot, 265-pounder has complained about playing time in Miami, where he became another big man who was a casualty of small-ball lineups and eventually lost his starting job to Bam Adebayo. Famously, he came under fire from Miami President Pat Riley after the 2018 playoffs:

 

“There's no doubt he was in a bad state in the playoffs,” Riley said of Whiteside. “Whatever the reasons why, I have not really sat down with Spo and really talked about all of these things. Hassan was less than without a doubt in the playoffs. I'm not going to give him any kind of excuse. But the season started with an injury and all year long there was a dilemma of some kind. By the time we got to the playoffs I don't think he was ready. He wasn't in great shape. He wasn't fully conditioned for a playoff battle mentally. He and we got our heads handed to us.

“The disconnect between he and Spo (Coach Erik Spoelstra) that's going to take a discussion between them and it’s going to take thought on the part of Coach and also Hassan. How will Hassan transform his thinking – 99 percent of it – to get the kind of improvement that Spo wants so he can be effective? How can Spo transform his thinking when it comes to offense and defense or minutes or whatever? However he uses him, that's what you do. I have the same problem with Hassan. That problem is that he's going to have to do something to change because he's a helluva player.”

In Portland, where the Trail Blazers are accustomed to using Nurkic (and then Enes Kanter) in the post, Whiteside should be a much happier player. And if he isn’t, he’s a $27 million expiring contract at the trade deadline.

Leonard was a polarizing player in Portland for fans who wanted seven-footers playing inside instead of shooting three-pointers. He did not get consistent playing time in Terry Stotts’ system. But he made a big splash in the playoffs last season in the final two games against Golden State and has a career 47.9 field-goal percentage and a 38.5 percentage from three-point range. Harkless, a starter for most of the last three seasons, has averaged 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for his career. He was a solid defender, especially when used in concert with Al-Farouq Aminu, for the Trail Blazers.

The Trail Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season without Nurkic, who sustained a broken leg late in the season. It would be hard to argue that they aren't a better team now, after the flurry of activity the past few days.