Who Deserves The Blame For The Portland Trail Blazers’ Woes This Season?


Following a narrow win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, the Portland Trail Blazers proved one thing: Even when they win this season, very little has gone right. With a loss to the Hornets, the Blazers would have given themselves a solid shot at the top three in odds of winning the NBA Draft Lottery; as it stands now, they will almost certainly enter the lottery with no better than the fifth-best odds. This Blazers team did not enter the season with lofty expectations. Having traded away their franchise icon and overhauled the roster in the offseason, this team was built to tank. And unfortunately for them, they haven’t even been able to do that right. This year’s draft class is anticipated to be historically weak. So, while the Blazers may have a pair of first-round picks in the draft, they will have to do some serious due diligence to make sure they find a diamond in the rough. There is plenty of finger-pointing for who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for things not going according to plan. However, where that blame falls and what is done about it will go a long way toward determining the future of the team. Let’s examine the culprits:

The players: The Blazers have thrown a group of young players to the wolves this season. With large chunks of the roster either injured or inactive for tanking purposes, the team has tossed together lineups and made it nearly impossible for players to gel. Scoot Henderson was expected to be the franchise’s new face but has struggled incredibly in his rookie season. While he has shown flashes of brilliance, he has countered that with stretches of abysmal play. The Blazers were incredibly fortunate when they drafted Brandon Roy and Lillard, and both were immediately prepared to step in and take over the team. They did not get so lucky the third time around. It remains to be seen if Henderson will be the next franchise icon, but he’s got a long way to go and has not received much help in that process. On a team not built to win, the players who have been doing their best to perform well in a challenging situation deserve very little blame for the Blazers’ current mess.

The front office: Joe Cronin has built a bad team. It bears repeating that it was primarily done on purpose. Looking at the current roster and seeing anything better than 20 wins this year was tough. Certainly, if the veterans played well, Henderson came along quickly, and Deandre Ayton showed out, maybe the team could have sniffed around the edges of the play-in round, but absolutely everything would have needed to go right, and so far, nothing has. Cronin was dealt a tough hand from the get-go of his tenure, inheriting a coach he didn’t hire, a franchise icon who was unhappy, and a roster at the end of its lifespan. He did as well as could be expected in the Damian Lillard deal, grabbed the best player available to him in last year’s draft, and quickly flipped over a large chunk of the roster following the Lillard trade. Cronin isn’t to blame for the Blazers’ current woes, but if he doesn’t hit on this year’s draft and possibly next year’s if the tank extends for one more year, he could be to blame for their future woes.

Coaching: Chauncey Billups is coaching a team that is far different from the one he took over three years ago, and he hasn’t been able to coach either version effectively. This year was probably his biggest chance to show what he could do in developing a guard-heavy team. One might expect that would be a selling point for having a Hall of Fame guard as the coach of a team. Instead, the player primed to be his protégé, Scoot Henderson, has spent the season in a developmental quagmire, showing little consistent improvement. Neither Billups system nor his lineups often make much sense, and while he can’t shoulder the blame for player injuries, he’s done little to make the best of a bad situation. Unless team ownership decides to prioritize another year of tanking (or not paying Billups not to coach for a year) is more important than developing the players they have on the roster into a winning group of players, there is little reason to expect he’ll be back next season.

Ownership: Jody Allen is an easy target to blame. She hired Cronin, and she approved the hiring of Billups. Ultimately, the buck does stop with ownership. Blazers fans and the media like to make a big deal of the Blazers’ “unsettled” ownership situation. The thing is, the Blazers’ ownership situation is the same as every other team in the NBA: the owner owns the team- until they don’t. Allen has repeatedly said she’s not interested in selling. She’s rebuffed offers from local billionaire Phil Knight. She’s not selling the team until she wants to, which could be tomorrow or decades from now. The fact that she inherited the team from her brother and is one of the few women in an almost exclusively male-dominated club has no bearing on what she wants the direction of the Blazers to be. Like every professional sports franchise owner, she wants the team to have a steady revenue stream. And that precise issue is where the current struggles lie. The Blazers can’t be that when they are consistently bad. They can’t be that when they don’t have a marketable star. They can’t be that when games are impossible to watch for a large portion of the fanbase. TV viewership for the team has plummeted this season thanks to the perfect storm of a brutally bad TV rights deal for the team, trading the team’s star player, and has been mentioned repeatedly as being very bad. Allen can certainly help course-correct several of those things. She can have Billups fired, tell Cronin the tank stops now, and give him whatever resources he needs to get the team back toward a winning course. She can the team onto a platform, whether over the air or streaming, where fans can legally watch the games without paying through the nose.

Of all the parties who share in the blame, Allen may not deserve all of it, but she alone can get the team back on the right track.

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