As the NBA season nears the halfway point, GM’s around the league ramp up discussions, attempting to improve their team or better position for the Draft in June.
In Portland, Neil Olshey becomes the most important figure for a franchise at a crossroads.
Olshey has been with the organization for less than a year, but his handprints are all over the place. He was roundly applauded for his draft day decisions, bringing in Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard and big man Myers Leonard. He made good on his promise of keeping Nicolas Batum, who is blossoming. And he brought in head coach Terry Stotts, an underwhelming decision that is turning into a stroke of genius.
But, no matter the good will built up, Olshey’s next move will define his first season on the job.
The Blazers have been a wonderful story of redemption and good will. They rebounded from the train wreck of Felton, Crawford and Camby last season. The play of Batum and Lillard has been spectacular, and the franchise finds itself in the thick of the playoff hunt, much to the surprise of everyone outside of the team’s locker room.
One trade by Olshey will signal that the team is all in. But is that the right move?
The biggest name on the chopping block for Portland is big man JJ Hickson. The under sized center, just 24 years of age, has been the backbone to Portland’s run so far. His heart defies his frame; at 6’9”, Hickson, outsized in nearly every matchup, has more than held his own, averaging a double-double despite playing out of position at center.
He’s a fan favorite, a floor-diver in the era of divas. He’s also the difference between a playoff run and a high lottery pick.
There is no right or wrong decision for Olshey as it relates to Hickson. Trade him, and the team sets itself up for another exciting draft, another piece to the puzzle. Keep him, and show the team and its fans that you’re committed to winning now.
Olshey has said from day one that he wants to build a winner for the long-term, not a one year run. I’m of the belief that by trading Hickson and acquiring more assets, the franchise is bettering itself. Remember, everything was done right in building the Roy-Aldridge-Oden pillar; only injuries derailed the plan. The blueprint was right though. Teams are built through the draft, and Portland has an opportunity to re-do what was taken from them too soon.
It’s been a pleasure watching JJ Hickson. It will be a bigger pleasure watching a championship contender in a few years.