The writing had been on the wall, but now it is official:
The Portland Trail Blazers have fired general manager Neil Olshey “due to violations of the Portland Trail Blazers’ Code of Conduct.” The organization has promoted Joe Cronin to interim GM.
Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen opened an investigation into Olshey and the working environment he created in the front office following reports of intimidation, bullying, and profanity-laced tirades, all of which turned the Trail Blazers front office into a toxic work environment. (However, some in league circles think the charges were drummed up so that Allen could fire Olshey and not pay the remainder of his contract, which ran through the 2022-23 season.)
The fact the Trail Blazers are 11-12 on the season, have had their coach call them out twice for lack of effort, and players take the court with the body language of a defeated team also played a role in this move. Then there is the big cloud over the team: Last offseason, superstar Damian Lillard considered pushing his way out of town but ultimately decided not to. However, this slow start and the front office turmoil has other teams circling like vultures, eyeing Lillard, and to a lesser degree CJ McCollum.
Last offseason, after a sixth-seed finish and a first-round playoff exit, Olshey fired Terry Stotts as the coach, hired Chauncey Billups to replace him (despite how that fell flat with much of the fan base), and then said the roster was not the cause of Portland’s problems.
A quarter of this NBA season has shown, the roster is the problem — it does not fit the aggressive, attacking defensive style Billups has instituted, particularly on defense. When healthy the Trail Blazers starting backcourt of Lillard and McCollum is undersized and not long, to have them pressuring the ball and big man Jusuf Nurkic playing high as well, rather than dropping back as Stotts had him doing, is just not a fit with the skills of the players.
The question is how much freedom will Cronin have to fix it, or is Portland waiting for its next GM (Danny Ainge’s name will get mentioned, but is he really the answer)?
It’s stormy seas in Portland, and things don’t look to be calming down anytime soon.
The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.
Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:
“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”
In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.
Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.
Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.
There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.
The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.
Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.
“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”
“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”
Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.
If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.
NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.
The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.
The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.
Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.
Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.
When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.
The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.
There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.
Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.
Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.
Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.