AP Foto/Jack Dempsey
The Portland Trail Blazers lost in the first round for the second straight season and fourth time in the last five years, but general manager Neil Olshey said at least four starters are “absolutely” returning for 2021-22.
“We’ve got 80 percent of our starting lineup under contract and returning absolutely,” he told reporters Monday.
Olshey was talking about Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington with his comments.
There will be at least one significant change after the Trail Blazers and head coach Terry Stotts parted ways, but it is difficult to envision significant success in the daunting Western Conference if Portland largely runs things back after another postseason exit.
Building around Lillard is obvious. The 30-year-old is one of the best players in the entire league as someone who can take over games at a moment’s notice and torch opponents from well beyond the arc or attack the basket.
Yet it was clear during the first-round exit against the Denver Nuggets that the supporting cast may need to change.
After all, Lillard had 42 points in a Game 2 loss, 37 points in a Game 3 loss and 55 points in a Game 5 loss. It was that Game 5 that stood out the most, as he drilled three-pointers to force overtime and double overtime while willing his team in every way possible, just for Portland to still come up short.
Building the team around Lillard and McCollum did work in 2019 when the Trail Blazers went to the Western Conference Finals, but even that squad had no chance during a sweep to the powerhouse Golden State Warriors.
There may not be many changes in the immediate future to challenge championship-contending teams like that if Olshey’s comments are any indication.