Path Blazers face mounting issues following playoff exit, teaching change

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Damian Lillard # 0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots against Paul Millsap # 4 of the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter in Round 1, Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center on June 03, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Steph Chambers | Getty Images

It all happened so quickly and is another example of how quickly business can change with a National Basketball Association franchise.

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in six games and crowned their NBA playoff series with an 11-point win on Thursday. The Blazers failed to defend a 14-point lead in the second half and had a miserable fourth quarter. TV cameras captured the scene in which franchise star Damian Lillard breaks into a dark tunnel at the Moda Center in Portland.

An Instagram post from Lillard seemed to ask how long he should be loyal to the only team he played for in his nine-year career. He made it clear to the media that the team had to improve.

“We didn’t win a championship so obviously it’s not good enough where we are now,” Lillard told reporters after the defeat. Less than 24 hours later, head coach Terry Stotts, who fell to 23:44 in the playoffs, paid the price. Lillard quickly briefed a handful of media outlets, including Yahoo Sports, of his preference – Jason Kidd.

It’s the fourth time in five years that the team hasn’t left the first round of the NBA playoffs. When public messages about the future emerge, consumers and corporate partners should ask themselves: What’s wrong with the Blazers?

The roster takes a lot of work and the property – Paul Allen’s estate – is under pressure to make changes. Top basketball manager Neil Olshey stays until now, tasked with repairing the $ 1.9 billion franchise. He has to do it quickly.

Satisfy the superstar

Lillard is one of the most dynamic stars in the NBA. He is heavily supported off the pitch, with Adidas and Hulu among his top sponsors. He is known throughout the league for his clutch performance, often referred to as “Dame Time”.

Against the Nuggets he averaged the best 34.5 points of his career and put together a statistic for age in game 5, scored 55 points and made 12 of 17 three-point shots. Nevertheless, the team lost in double overtime.

Lillard made $ 31 million this season. That’ll climb to $ 39 million next season, thanks to a four-year, $ 196 million extension signed in 2019. The contract keeps Lillard locked until 2025.

But the six-time all-star will be 31 years old in July. The agonizing injuries have begun and the window to victory with Lillard is closing. Olshey has given opposing teams no indication that he is ready to trade Lillard.

Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin could easily change that tone, however. A person close to Lillard told CNBC that he’ll likely wait and see what the Blazers do this off-season before deciding on his future.

A rival NBA agent who was in a similar situation with a star player said Lillard could first assess how serious it was about winning. The willingness of the Blazers to pay the luxury taxes associated with high fines also plays a role.

But according to his public comments, which Kidd solicited, the indications are that Lillard wants to stay.

Who will be the new coach?

Kidd is currently an assistant coach with the Lakers, who won the championship last year. He has head coaching experience and a title as a player from his time in Dallas. He would bring credibility to the locker room and will be in touch with Lillard immediately as both are Oakland natives.

The thing is, can Olshey trust Kidd? If this is Olshey’s last coaching appointment before he is gone, can he count on Kidd to respect the organizational structure?

Kidd is commended for his work with the Lakers, and the talk is that he’s grown up. But his history as head coach in the NBA isn’t the nicest. He feuded with management in Brooklyn, was criticized for taking over the helm in Milwaukee. Another well-respected trainer, Larry Drew, was on duty when Kidd was maneuvering to get there.

Chauncey Billups is another option.

Olshey would immediately trust Billups as he built a strong relationship with the former Detroit Pistons point guard while they were with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2011-12 season. Billups is now an assistant to the Clippers and active in NBA circles. He is involved in a point guards-powered gamer group discussing basketball concepts and is connected to NBA powerbooker Rich Paul, who added Billups’ agent Andy Miller to his sports group.

Other names like ESPN NBA analyst and former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy have also emerged. The name of Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni has also been promoted, but with his history as a coach of non-defensive teams, he could be a big hit with the fan base.

The Blazers did not return a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

But should he grant his coaching request, Lillard would still have to see the Blazers take steps to upgrade the squad that was among the worst in the league in defense. A top asset like Guardian CJ McCollum could make a healthy return. McCollum will earn $ 30 million next season, part of a three-year extension.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been cited as a possible target for McCollum. The San Antonio Spurs like McCollum, but his name hasn’t gained prominence in their trading scenarios. A Western Conference executive suggested that the Clippers would deal with Paul George this summer if the team failed to live up to expectations. Hence a possible McCollum for the Clippers package. And if Miami can’t lure a Lillard deal, McCollum could be an option there too.

“It’s disappointing to miss out on the first round and to end our season in our home game,” Lillard told reporters after the loss to the Nuggets. Speaking about his future, he added: “We’ll see what happens. I didn’t think that far.”

Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Oshley looks on during a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs at the Moda Center on February 06, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr | Getty Images

Olshey’s future seems secure for the time being

By the time Stotts left, the uncertainty about the future of the Blazers went all the way up.

Chris McGowan is CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, which operates the Blazers and Seattle Seahawks. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, died in 2018 and his sister Jody now has the last word. Olshey only reported to Allen when it came to basketball decisions. But this picture is more murky now.

Olshey is considered a solid manager who went out of his way to work within the team’s budget and build a good squad around Lillard. And he’s been instrumental in keeping the franchise stable after former franchise star LaMarcus Aldridge left in 2015.

Bert Kolde, vice chairman of the Blazers and Seahawks, was mentioned both locally and by a former team member as the person who could fit in as the loud voice on future basketball affairs. What Kolde knows about hiring basketball executives is unclear. But Olshey’s name was on the announcement that he was parting with Stotts, so he appears to be getting another chance to direct basketball operations.

On the business side, McGowan doesn’t want the pressure to lose Lillard either.

When rebuilding takes place, a team loses influence in negotiating corporate partnerships. The Blazers will navigate a new regional sports network partner moving from NBC Sports Northwest to AT&T Root Sports. Sales problems have preoccupied the team for years and have cost the audience’s reach. But getting a new local TV deal without a superstar isn’t ideal.

Lillard is a huge financial drag and losing him could be devastating. There would likely be fewer televised games nationwide. This is where the team’s jersey patch asset could take a hit, as lower exposure makes these real estate advertisements less attractive.

The good news for the Trail Blazers is that Portland has a proven record of having a loyal following. It was the city’s first major sports team, followed by the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Since 2007, the Blazers have been in the top 10 NBA attendees. The team was fifth, according to ESPN’s NBA attendance, in 2020 before the pandemic broke out. According to Forbes, the team has annual sales of more than $ 240 million.

The value of Lillard is no secret to management. A team leader who asked not to be named so he could speak openly told CNBC that Lillard’s departure poses the greatest risk to the franchise’s depreciation.

The board added that the team, as it is currently set up, is clearly not good enough to win a title. Regardless of who was to blame, the person said big changes needed to be made.

Stotts was the first step. Now fans, corporate partners, and the rest of the NBA are waiting to see what happens next in Portland. And especially if Lillard’s loyalty keeps the Blazers business from collapsing.

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