Breaking up: The day it all began for Blazers
When Wesley Matthews ruptured his left Achilles tendon on March 5, it didn't take long for Neil Olshey to realize his own offseason had changed dramatically.
"I had," Olshey would lament a month later, "the easiest job this summer."
Before Matthews' injury, an intern could have done Olshey's job: Sign a driven and content LaMarcus Aldridge to a max contract and give well-earned raises to Matthews and Robin Lopez, keeping together a starting lineup that had won 69 percent of its games the past two seasons.
"Then find someone at the mid-level exception to strengthen the bench," Olshey said while wiping his hands clean, "and you're done."
But deep down, Olshey knew he lost more than just a starting shooting guard that March night at the Moda Center, and he knew he had lost more than the heart-and-soul of the Blazers.
Gone too was an era of continuity and cohesion, and an era of success with one of the most popular Blazers cores.
Bringing back Matthews, Olshey knew at the time, probably wasn't happening. History shows players with Achilles injuries don't recover and play anywhere near the same level.
But something else happened that also altered the course of the franchise.
The Blazers sputtered, then bottomed out after Matthews' injury. They won only 11 of their final 27 games during which perceptions and moods changed.
Aldridge, who appeared so committed to the team in January when he postponed surgery on his injured thumb, had an entirely different look by the time the playoffs arrived. He was distant, sometimes not taking part in late-game huddles and flying home separate from the team after Game 2 in Memphis. He was also the last to join the team for breakfast before Game 5.
Meanwhile, Lopez had a puzzling finish to the season, finishing the final two games with one rebound and six points in 45 minutes. Granted, they were meaningless games, but it was a precursor to his playoff series against Memphis, where he became so ineffective that he played only 21 and 18 minutes in the final two games of the series.
And Nicolas Batum, so hot-and-cold throughout his Blazers career, never found a groove late in the season.
Matthews was one of Aldridge's closest confidants on the team. He was the Blazers' best perimeter defender, and in his absence Lopez was under constant barrage at the rim. And the ebbs of Batum's play became more magnified when Matthews' frequent shooting streaks weren't there to distract.
It became apparent the Blazers' core was very good, but only when they were together.
As a result, over the course of two months, the lens at which Olshey viewed the Blazers future apparently changed.
Before the June draft, he traded Batum to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson, a solid veteran, and Noah Vonleh, a 19-year-old project.
In free agency, Olshey didn't even throw his hat in the ring in the bidding for Matthews, who is headed to Dallas, and it sounds like he made nothing more than overtures to Lopez, who appears headed to the Knicks.
Just like that, one of the more entertaining and likeable Blazers cores since the heyday of Clyde-Terry-Jerome-Buck-Duck era, had been dismantled.
As a result, it could be argued that the injury to Matthews should now go alongside Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden as among the most influential in franchise history.
Not all is lost, of course.
Damian Lillard is reportedly in Los Angeles, where he hopes to speak with Aldridge and convince him that there is still a good thing going in Portland. If Aldridge does return, the Blazers could be an enticing blend of veterans, depth, and youth coming into its own.
Rising from the rubble of a dismantled core could be a younger, more sustainable, and perhaps more successful collection of talent.
If Aldridge doesn't come back, the Blazers will probably be one step beyond a rebuilding project, a .500-type team with a young and promising nucleus.
Either way, it's hard not to look at March 5 as the day that signaled such a tumultuous summer.