Cronin is now Blazers permanent fall guy
Joe Cronin gets big pressure as Portland GM
There’s a scene in the Brad Pitt movie about the Oakland A’s where he goes to Cleveland and hires a nerd with a computer away from the (then Indians), who don’t know his actual value and makes him his right-hand man.
And with his nerdy right-hand man, the A’s establish a new method of identifying player talent based on team needs, expected results and financial value for a franchise with limited financial resources.
In the movie “Moneyball,” the method, now called Sabermetrics, worked for general manager Billy Beane all the way to 103 wins and into the 2004 American League playoffs, and continues to work so that the A’s are annually strong enough so no one uses the term “tanking” regardless of their record. And, they reach the playoffs regularly in spite of having the lowest payroll regularly.
(Making the playoffs is something the Seattle Mariners, with many more financial resources, have not done since 2001. The A’s have reached the playoffs nine times since the 2004 season.)
The nerdy right-hand man from Cleveland turns out to be Paul DePodesta, although the movie took some key liberties with his role starting with the fact he joined the team in 1999, not 2004 (and they gave him a fictitious name in Peter Brand). But, in 2000 the A’s started a run of four straight trips to the playoffs, and seven straight seasons of winning 88 games or more.
In 2004, in fact, DePodesta became the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team with a lot more money than the A’s. A lot more. And, a lot more pressure to win as well.
The Dodgers reached the playoffs in 2004, but mostly with the team DePodesta inherited. The moves he made that season and heading into 2005 helped the Dodgers lose 91 games, and miss the playoffs. By then, though, the team had fired him, with a lot of talk around the LA sports world that he was only hired because the team didn’t try harder to find anyone else and he was such a part of the A’s success. But, he was only a right-hand man, not the man with the phone in his left hand making all the calls and decisions. That was Beane.
If you read the Wednesday column by local sportswriting guru John Canzano, it’s not hard to envision Portland Trail Blazers president Dwayne Hankins walking into an office occupied by Joe Cronin and telling him he’s now the GM of the Blazers, the “permanent” GM of the Blazers, who he’s worked for since 2006.
Of course, Cronin’s office was already that of the GM, but only on an interim basis. Hankins would probably enjoy that image as he’s Brad Pitt in this scenario. Cronin would be the role played by Jonah Hill.
Canzano’s column describes Cronin becoming a simple intern in 2006 as a time when he was a “6-foot-6, moppy-haired former high school basketball player from Colorado.” Not exactly the way you want to be described when moving from “interim” to permanent General Manager of an NBA team.
But, that’s what Cronin has to work beyond as the NBA Draft and summer free agent period arrives. His path to GM has been 16 years of staying with the organization. A lot of those years were pretty productive, especially the past eight when the team reached the playoffs every season going into 2021-22.
The GM during all those years was Neil Olshey, who moved over from an assistant role with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012. Portland fired Olshey in December after an investigation of his having created a toxic environment. Cronin became the face of the non-toxic environment on that interim basis, that’s now permanent.
His interim role also coincided with the increasingly intense social media commitment to the word “tanking” in order to get a better draft pick to get the obvious best player in college basketball, of course being ... someone really good.
What Olshey, who originally wanted to be an actor, had on his side before moving to Portland was years of being involved in the world of player development, including on the player’s side with SFX Sports Group. He was also an assistant coach for the Clippers for a time.
The Clippers wanted him for GM in 2012, but he chose Portland.
Cronin’s career with the Blazers includes being Director of Player Personnel since 2014. Those would be the good years for the team in that role. And, there's good years ahead, which he's had a hand in building.
He’s got a perennial All-Star in Damian Lillard to build around, a potential All-Star in Anfernee Simons, to build around, and a pretty good center in Jusuf Nurkic to build around (when he’s healthy, which is a real problem).
But he's been the right-hand man, not the guy with the phone in the left hand.
The social media fanbase doesn’t like Cronin at all, in large part because of his background starting with moppy hair. And team ownership and management, starting with owner Jody Allen, didn’t seem to look around very hard to find anyone better.
Of course, would anyone better actually want to move to Portland with an owner like Allen, and key assistant Bert Kolde, who is rumored to be involved in trying to sell the team.
Allowing the team to devolve into a toxic environment, and then promoting someone with no experience into one of the key roles with the organization are ways to say Allen probably should sell the team. And soon.
This is the world Joe Cronin has gotten into as the permanent GM of the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s on his way to getting fired because the team is that big of a challenge, and if Allen does sell the Blazers, the new owner will move him along as part of that sale. Unless “Moneyball” happens and Portland gets right back to the playoffs.
Even a return to the playoffs, though, might not be enough to save Cronin's job in the short term.
The playoffs are old-school for Portland fans. Lillard fans, especially because 10 of the 15 teams in the conference already reach the playoffs. Everyone here wants a title, especially while Lillard is in top form. Can that happen while Allen owns the team?
Cronin now has the biggest impact on that, and the clock is ticking on his job performance, which needs some big moves this off-season.
Hopefully, the moves he makes soon will be looked back on in future years, because of te team's return to winning, and a magical playoff run. In that case, he’ll be the one being played by Brad Pitt.