Trail Blazers remove general manager Joe Cronin's interim tag; reportedly with four-year contract

Tue, May 10, 2022
NBA News (AP)

Trail Blazers remove general manager Joe Cronin's interim tag; reportedly with four-year contract

Joe Cronin is no longer the interim general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. He is the full-time general manager, the team announced on Tuesday.'

The removal of Cronin's interim tag comes with a four-year contract, according to ESPN. Cronin was the Blazers' assistant general manager before they fired Neil Olshey last December. He has spent 16 years in the organization, having started as an intern in 2006.

Since becoming Portland's lead executive, Cronin pulled off several future-focused trades. He has said publicly that the team is trying to retool the roster around franchise player Damian Lillard, rather than rebuild it from scratch.

From ESPN:

Portland ownership considered the idea of opening up the job to a search, but ultimately were sold on Cronin's vision for the franchise and his ability to execute it, sources said. Cronin has vowed to continue building the roster around Lillard, an All-NBA guard.

...

Cronin's strong relationship with first-year coach Chauncey Billups played a significant part in the franchise's belief that there will be a philosophical alignment moving them forward together in basketball operations.

From the team's official statement:

"Joe has shown in his short time as interim GM that he is more than ready to continue leading the front office," said Jody Allen, Portland Trail Blazers Chair. "We remain excited for the future of Trail Blazers basketball with Joe and Chauncey driving a cohesive plan to build an even more competitive and winning roster."

...

"I would like to thank Jody and Bert for this opportunity and a long list of other incredible people that have put their faith and trust in me not only over the last six months, but the last 16 years," said Joe Cronin, Portland Trail Blazers General Manager. "My focus has always been creating a championship team and culture that players, coaches, and staff want to be a part of. I look forward to continuing that focus with the vision that Chauncey, Dewayne, and I share while unifying our business and basketball operations on and off the court."

...

"I'm excited to continue to partner with Joe and help bring the success that Rip City expects to Moda Center," said Chauncey Billups, Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach. "We've established a great working relationship in the last six months and have the same vision for what it takes to win a championship in this league. I look forward to bringing Joe's vision to life with our entire front office."

The Cronin era began with a move that undid some moves from the previous one. The Blazers traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for cap relief, Keon Johnson (picked No. 21 overall in last year's draft) and a 2025 second-round pick. Powell had been acquired for Gary Trent Jr. at the 2021 trade deadline and then re-signed to a five-year, $90 million contract. Covington had been acquired for two first-round draft picks before the 2020-21 season and was eligible for an extension, which he recently signed with the Clippers.'

Days later, Portland traded C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans, ending his long-running backcourt partnership with Lillard. The Blazers drafted McCollum No. 10 overall in 2013 and signed him to a three-year, $100 million contract extension after making the conference finals in 2019. In the same deal, they shipped out Larry Nance Jr., less than six months after giving up a first-round pick to get him from the Cleveland Cavaliers. In return, the Pelicans sent Josh Hart to Portland, along with a future first-round pick and two second-round picks, plus Didi Louzada, Nickeil Alexander-Walker Tomas Satoransky. The Blazers then traded Alexander-Walker and Satoransky to the Utah Jazz for Joe Ingles' Bird rights and a second-round pick.'

One other notable transaction: Cronin's front office signed Trendon Watford, an undrafted wing on a two-way contract, to an extremely team-friendly deal that expires in 2025 and is only fully guaranteed next season.'

The salary-dumping moves, combined with Lillard's abdominal surgery, set up the team for a temporary tank. Portland went 2-21 in its final 23 games and finished 27-55, the sixth-worst record in the league. With some lottery luck, the Blazers might be able to make a leap next season, in the same way that the Toronto Raptors did after the "Tampa Tank" brought them Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes'(the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft).

Thanks to Cronin breaking up the core, Portland finally has a high draft pick and real flexibility. The McCollum trade generated a trade exception worth more than $20 million, and it has access to the full $10.3 million midlevel exception. All signs point to this front office trying to build a more athletic, versatile and defensive-minded team than the last one did, and it will have many tools at its disposal to do so.'

Cronin will also have decisions to make about the Blazers' current players. Anfernee Simons is a restricted free agent after a breakout season, and Nassir Little, also coming off the best year of his young career, is eligible for an extension. Are they interested in staying in the Jusuf Nurkic business? The big man is a free agent, and if they let him walk, his replacement will come from elsewhere.

Teams that dump a ton of salary at the trade deadline aren't typically under a ton of pressure to field a competitive team the next season. It's different for Portland, though, because its franchise player hasn't gone anywhere. And Lillard expects to see progress.

Lillard, by the way, turns 32 this summer and is eligible for a two-year, $107 million extension. That's another thing for Cronin to think about.

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