Bryan Knox, Oregon Sports News
In the coming days, you’re bound to hear from Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey. He’ll say that a top-three seed out West is within striking distance. He’ll use flattering language to break down the incumbents when answering questions about missed opportunities. There will be plenty of self-praise toward the savvy addition of new rotation player Rodney Hood—a player whose 14-point debut in Thursday night’s win over the San Antonio Spurs was admittedly impressive.
There will be plenty of optimism being sold from a franchise looking to finally make a splash in the postseason.
And yet, the odds don’t lie.
NBA Championship updated
Trail Blazers 200/1
— Jeff Sherman (@golfodds) February 7, 2019
Following Thursday’s NBA trade deadline—a day in which the Toronto Raptors acquired Marc Gasol, New Orleans picked up Nikola Mirotic and the Blazers snagged…Skal Labissiere…—Portland saw its championship odds slip from 150/1 down to 200/1. In betting terms, that means oddsmakers believed on Wednesday that the team was 150 times more likely to not win a title than to win one; they now believe that number has increased to 200.
Truth is, Portland wasn’t going to seriously enter the championship discussion overnight unless it somehow convinced the Pelicans to give up Anthony Davis. Even then, the Blazers would still have to share a conference with a team called the Golden State Warriors. But there were deals out there to be made. Acquiring Mirotic would’ve been a legitimate needle-mover after seeing how Playoff Niko performed during last year’s Round 1 sweep of…well, you remember.
But in true Rip City fashion, the Blazers stood pat with the exception of trading end-of-the bench big man Caleb Swanigan for another deep reserve in Labissiere. The 22-year-old has room to improve, but he’s also posted an uninspiring 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game over just 13 contests with the Kings this season.
The Kings have traded Skal Labissiere to the Blazers for Caleb Swanigan, league source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 7, 2019
— 102.9/750 The Game (@1029TheGame) February 7, 2019
At this point, Olshey has earned himself a reputation for being conservative. To the GM’s credit, he’s drafted two stars in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and he somehow convinced the Denver Nuggets to include a first-round pick in the Jusuf Nurkic deal two years ago. Those are serious resumé boosters. But now in Year 7 with the organization, Olshey is suffering from Nate McMillan Syndrome: the ability to mold a young group into a surprisingly competitive unit, immediately followed by the inability to get over the proverbial hump and into true contender status.
To put it lightly, it’s rubbed fans the wrong way. Go on Twitter and search Olshey’s name and you’ll find plenty of keyboard assassins throwing daggers his direction. If it’s not his reluctant approach to trading for stars, it’s the contracts handed out during Summer 2016 making Rip Citizens dream of hot seats and pink slips.
Here’s the good news if you’re a fan: The Blazers have made a lifestyle out of proving people wrong and defying odds. That starts with Lillard, whose chip on his shoulder is as big as it comes. But it’s also a strong locker room culture that helps everyone else absorb the same drive, same heart, same motivation that trickles down from their leader.
Odds be damned, the players on the court are going to fight. They’re a flawed team, but they’re one that can be dangerous and have yet to hit their ceiling.
The catch, of course, is that they’re now set for a post-All-Star run with largely the same group that flopped in the postseason a year ago. And if it’s wash, rinse, repeat in 2019, we’ll have no choice but to look back at the deadline and wonder—again—what could’ve been done.