It’s going to be a sweltering summer in Portland. No, I am not talking bout the nice weather Portlanders have to look forward to in the coming months, after a cold and wet spring. I’m talking about the cap hell the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves in. The players may have booked their flights to the Caribbean and planned their trips to the gym last Wednesday, a day after being eliminated from the playoffs, and after a long chain of exit interviews, but general manager Neil Olshey isn’t going anywhere. He will be in his office working the phones at his desk, in the war room with his colleagues trying to drum up plans for the draft and free agency. No, there will be no vacation yet for Neil until hes dug himself out of the hole he’s put himself and the Blazers in. Get the shovels.
Olshey has somehow convinced Paul Allen he deserves more time. For now he and Terry Stotts have survived 10 playoff loses in a row, counting a sweep in the 1st round at the hands of the dark horse New Orleans Pelicans. Neither of them, especially Olshey has me fooled. During his exit interview Olshey waved off concerns, attacked angry fans instead of admitting to his mistakes, and once more with his used car salesman rhetoric, claimed the cake needs more time to bake, that internal development was key. The Blazers may not have much choice in the matter.
Neil Olshey messed up to say the least, in resigning Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe a few years back, and signing Evan Turner to a more than inflated contract. Olshey was able to get rid of Allen Crabbe. The Blazers though find themselves stuck to Leonard and Turner for a combined $27 million towards their 2018\19 team salary of just over $110 million, not including the free agent resigning’s of Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Wade Baldwin, picking up the remainder of Jake Layman’s contract, not to mention the rookie contract of whoever the Blazers might take should they keep their pick. Those included, the Blazers would be well over the 2017/18 $119 million hard cap they got under by trading Noah Vonleh at the deadline, and far into the luxury tax win it comes to the projected $123 million hard cap for the 2018/19 season.
Going into the summer the Blazers have the 24th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, a $5.2 million tax payer mid level exception, a near $13 million trade player exception from the Allen Crabbe trade that expires in July, and a $3.5 million trade player exception netted from the Noah Vonleh trade. Unless they somehow offload Turner or Meyers into oblivion for nothing, the Blazers won’t have access to the full $8.8 million MLE or the $3.4 million BAE(BI-Annual Exception) let alone have much room to use the exceptions I mentioned above. The Blazers are in between a rock and a hard place, and that is no easy metaphor here.
Neil Olshey will probably work towards trading the Blazers draft pick in combination with Leonard or Turner. He may move up in the draft, and then move out in order to expel a contract and find some help for Lillard. Frankly, the Blazers won’t be able to afford signing their draft pick and all their free agents. If Neil fails in the draft, it will be a matter of who goes and who stays. Layman is gone anyway. Pat Connaughton may be right behind him out the door. Shabazz Napier too. Blazers will probably focus on retaining the services of Ed Davis and Jusuf Nurkic. Napier and Connaughton would be missed, but Wade Baldwin could make up for some of that loss. Without trades the Blazers will have little to no room to sign free agents.
For all the hocus pocus Neil Olshey has performed in getting Lillard and McCollum, in turning Mason Plumlee into Jusuf Nurkic and invariably Zach Collins. He dusted off unwanted players in Harkless and Napier and gave them a place to shine. He signed Ed Davis and Al Farouq Aminu. But for all the good he’s done, Neil has sold a lot of lemons.
He’s created the death trap that is Portland’s 2018 summer cap hell. It’s up to him to get the Blazers out of this mess. Somehow, Paul Allen still trusts him. Maybe Paul is still in denial about the Blazers playoff woes, maybe the Blazers regular season success has him excited for the future. Neil better work his magic because he is in a corner, and if he fails this summer there is no way out of it for him. His let the cake bake rhetoric, that he gave once again during his exit interview, may be him readying the fans for disappointment. It’s at least saying, “hey don’t get your hopes up.” It has never taken me this long to bake a cake. And, I have never burned one. I’m not in anyway saying I’d do a better job than Neil, or that his job or easy. I am left wondering if he is the right baker. I hope he proves me wrong and swings for the fences. At this point he has convinced me of nothing.