“It’s clearly documented that our bench was the weakest in the NBA last year — by design, by the way, in case anybody missed that. It was in order to give our starters minutes. It was in order to develop our younger players.”
That was what Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey said Thursday about the work he’d done this offseason and the plan for last year. Presumably, he said it with a straight face.
Logic and eyesight would tell you that the Blazers didn’t have any bench to trot out, and trying to actively tank last year wouldn’t have been conducive to the Trail Blazer core of Lillard, Batum, Matthews, Aldridge, and new head coach Terry Stotts. Or, you could choose to believe Olshey, that he actively pursued a terrible bench so they were forced to give their starters minutes and “develop our younger players”.
The problem with that?
While Lillard did average almost seven MPG more than the next closest rookie last year, he was the only player on the Blazer roster with less than five seasons under his belt that played more than 20 MPG. The next closest? Meyers Leonard.
That’s completely sweeping past the fact that that Leonard didn’t see all that much playing time considering the personnel ahead of him. He could have played more minutes, but JJ Hickson played out of position all year while averaging the most MPG ever in his five year career at 29. Portland trotted out Nic Batum for 38.5 MPG for 73 games this year despite the fact that his wrist tendons weren’t technically attached to his bones. Cue Victor Claver looking longingly from the end of the bench. And about Hickson, by the way:
“Look, LaMarcus’ key was to get a big body next to him so he’s not always thrown to the wolves down crunch time playing the five or being guarded by fives. It was a concern for us as well. We don’t want him getting beaten up and worn down at the end of every year because he’s a power forward that we’ve forced to play the five because we didn’t have anybody watching his back on the weakside and on the other block.” — Portland GM Neil Olshey
So let’s get this straight: Portland wanted to play their starters and their young guys, except they didn’t play any young guys and they hated their starters. And they played Sasha Pavlovic 13 minutes a game. Got it.
Olshey and the Blazers have been running along now for some time and pulling off what may possibly have been one of the best magic tricks that no one has written about: the stealth tank. While Portland’s bench was terrible last year, Olshey could have improved the team markedly. For starters, he let Boston pay the salary of Sasha Pavlovic, quite obviously the only reason he was on the squad last year. Exacerbating that fact is that Adam Morrison was the last man squeezed out for Pavlovic from the 2012 Summer League squad quite possibly because he’d be able to score against second- and third-tier NBA players during bench time (not that he can do much else).
This was made worse by Olshey’s signing of Ronnie Price, who was generally terrible and who posted a negative win share for the entirety of last season. Olshey is right, he did want to play the starters. He did want to play the young guys. But he wanted to play the right starters, and the right young guys. He also wanted the Blazers to be bad enough that they could get a high draft pick in this year’s draft while simultaneously dodging the infamous T word. Why?
My guess is to encourage the fanbase, keep Paul Allen placated, instill confidence in Damian Lillard, and to appease LaMarcus Aldridge from throwing a season (not that there’s any indication he would ever do that). It’s crafty, and to be completely honest, it worked beautifully.
Now, about Robin Lopez.
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