Lots of new Portland Trail Blazers, one GM, no coach. (Getty Images)
The Portland Trail Blazers don't have a coach. For their basketball team. You kind of forget as much, this late into July. Especially with new GM Neil Olshey neck deep in a significant rebuilding project that has seen him sign off on two lottery picks and committing eight-figure yearly money to employing Nicolas Batum. You'd assume the Blazers would want to know what coach would be leading all these guys, the guy who would be making the day-to-day and minute-to-minute movements on the fly while Olshey can only watch from above.
The recently hired Portland GM is taking his time, though, and this isn't a criticism. The Portland Trail Blazers are his baby, now, and a baby unlike few others due to the significant wealth that team owner Paul Allen has accrued over the years. Those assets aren't guaranteed to be used with the Blazers, though, so Olshey has to get this right. And by getting it right, he has to get real, real slow-like. And exacting. From the Oregonian:
The candidates who are known to have interviewed with Olshey are Indiana assistant Brian Shaw; Golden State assistant Michael Malone; Dallas assistant Terry Stotts; Memphis assistant David Joerger; former Orlando assistant Steve Clifford, who is nearing a deal to be an assistant in Chicago; Phoenix assistant Elston Turner; Atlanta assistant Lester Conner; Miami assistant David Fizdale, Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin and former Knicks and Phoenix assistant Phil Weber.
It should be pointed out that each of these men have "interviewed with Olshey," but not necessarily for the top job. For someone like prized assistant Steve Clifford, a veteran of that Van Gundy family-crew, Olshey may have gotten in line to attempt to persuade him to become an assistant in Portland, before he jets off to Chicago to join another Van Gundy disciple in Tom Thibodeau.
Instead of, y'know, joining a staff without a head coach.
No famous names in that crew, unless you're the type that is nose deep into an NBA blog in the fourth week of July. With Stan Van Gundy likely wanting to take the year off (while collecting the last year of his contract with the Orlando Magic and needing a break after a miserable and undeserved 2011-12) and other higher-profile candidates otherwise employed, Olshey hasn't had much to work with in the realm of the well-known. Brian Shaw, a barely used reserve on Portland's 1999 team (only to be resurrected as a Blazer killer the following year in Los Angeles) is the biggest name on that list, but even that five-time champion (as a player and assistant coach) isn't someone you put on the cover of your yearly program.
Jason Quick, the Oregonian's top notch Blazers beat writer, doesn't mention Phil Jackson in this list, even though he was rumored to have been offered a gig as Portland's coach. That's likely due to some combination of the infeasible nature of such an offer, and the idea that either Olshey or Jackson's agent Todd Musberger was using the rumor mill to keep both their team and client looking of the highest order.
Quick does point out that Jerry Sloan was considered before Sloan passed along that "the time was not right for him to return." Quick doesn't mention the specific time, but we're guessing it came sometime in the early 1950s, before all those jazz cigarettes and grilled Portobello sandwiches found their way to Portland.
(Ah, who am I kidding? They were probably already there back then.)
The lingering fallback here is interim head coach Kaleb Canales, a respected Blazers employee and Erik Spoelstra-type (that's a too-easy comparison, but an accurate one) who rose from video coordinator all the way to replacing Nate McMillan on the sideline in March. He's been running the team's summer league squad, he has the support of the players from last season (though, seriously, what's LaMarcus Aldridge going to say? "Don't bring that big jerk back?"), and he did well with a semi-tanking Blazers squad over 23 games last spring, winning eight along the way.
Canales' problem is that Olshey inherited him, and Canales is as strange to Olshey as he is to us other Blazer outsiders. On top of that — we should remind that Allen had to move quickly to hire Nate McMillan in 2005 in the midst of a bidding war. With no clear answer this time around, we're sure he doesn't mind Olshey taking his time. Especially with Canales as a solid (and, if we can be a bit crass in basketball terms, somewhat inexpensive) fallback.
We'd applaud the Blazers for taking their time in the wake of what could be termed a throwaway 2012-13 season, but the team really is attempting to move forward. Yes, the squad is banking on point guard Damion Lillard to help sculpt its future, but it also features a 2012 All-Star in Aldridge and the group attempted to move way forward by throwing as much money as it could toward fellow 2012 All-Star Roy Hibbert, before Indiana matched the offer to the restricted free agent. Portland isn't exactly taking the Charlotte approach, here, as it puts a roster together. It's going young, but not that young. Charlotte, by comparison, hasn't really even hired its next set of players yet.
Unless the coach is in place in the draft's decision room, though, or on hand at midnight on July 1, when free-agent offers can be made? There's no real difference between a hiring on July 2 or hiring a new Trail Blazers coach on Thursday, July 26. You can't be in for a penny and somehow in for a pound with an NBA offseason, the chance for that full commitment has passed, and Olshey is taking advantage.
It's more than likely the smartest maneuver. The real judgment will come with who he selects, and not when he selects him.
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