What new GM Neil Olshey has planned for Blazers, Canales, Batum, Buchanan and more
In a scene he described as 'almost surreal,' Neil Olshey was introduced to the Portland media as the Trail Blazers' general manager Tuesday, four days after the Los Angeles Clippers announced an 'agreement in principle' for Olshey to stay on as the team's vice president/basketball operations.
Over the next half-hour, Olshey addressed virtually every important facet of his philosophy and the Blazers' future with team President Larry Miller at his side.
Olshey said friends and acquaintances in the NBA who have spent time with the Blazers - among them Mike Dunleavy, Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn, Tim Grgurich and current interim head coach Kaleb Canales - helped sell him on the city and the team.
'They raved about the situation and the organization and the resources and the commitment to winning,' said Olshey, 47. 'All of that instilled a confidence that this was the right decision for me and my family.
'This is always where I wanted to be. (The Clippers) had a great run this past season, but after speaking with Larry last year, this is where my heart was. I want to raise a family here and be a part of the community.'
Olshey was initially interviewed by Miller last August when the Blazers were searching for the replacement for Rich Cho that never came. Chad Buchanan sat in for Cho on an interim basis for a full year until Olshey's hiring.
This season, Olshey worked on a month-to-month contract for the Clippers. Meanwhile, the de facto committee looking for a Blazer GM - Miller, owner Paul Allen and chairman of the board Bert Kolde - had Olshey on its short list. Ten days ago, Olshey flew to London to interview with Allen.
Even so, it appeared Olshey would remain in Los Angeles. After the Clippers chose to pick up the option on coach Vinny Del Negro's contract, attention swung to getting a deal done for Olshey, who had taken over basketball operations for the club after Dunleavy's firing on an interim basis in March 2010.
As Olshey explained it Tuesday, owner Donald Sterling felt comfortable enough last Friday to issue a statement that negotiations were 'heading in the right direction' to avoid the situation becoming a media distraction.
'But there was nothing contractual, or an oral agreement,' Olshey said. 'In the interim, it motivated Paul and the guys here to accelerate their process.'
Olshey said there was nothing that turned him off on the Clippers as much as the Blazers turned him on.
'This is nothing the Clippers did wrong; it's what Portland did right,' he said. 'Paul and I have spoken almost incessantly since the (interview) process started. We share a common vision in how we want to retool the franchise and get to the point where we're not having press conferences at this time (of year) - we're playing games.'
The right word for the mission as he moves forward, Olshey said, is not to rebuild but to retool. It reminds him, he said, of the Clippers' situation when they began to turn around their fortunes.
'This organization is in a great position,' he said. 'To have all three elements converging at once - two lottery picks, cap room and flexibility with your own and other free agents. ... as long as we make the right decisions in the draft and free agency and with the guys we're going to have on our roster, we can accelerate our curve.'
Among other points Olshey hit on as he met with the media:
• Canales stands an excellent chance to have the 'interim' tag removed from his title.
Olshey and Canales - who shared a hug when Olshey arrived at the Blazer office Tuesday - are kindred spirits with similar starts at the bottom of the NBA food chain.
'We both started off in a crummy high school gym somewhere, shagging balls for (former Blazer assistant coach) Tim Grgurich,' Olshey said. 'Today, I'm a general manager and he is an interim head coach.
'That's my guy. I love Kaleb. All you need to do know is where he started and where he is today. He does an unbelievable job. He is going to be a head coach in this league. If you were asking me to handicap it, he is the in-house favorite right now.'
Olshey said the Blazer management group will explore the possibility of other coaching candidates.
'We'll see if there is someone out there who fits into what we're trying to put together,' he said. 'But I don't see anyone bringing more to the table than Kaleb Canales.'
• Olshey refused to put a time line on a coaching hire.
'We're getting heat-lamped by every agent and guy who doesn't have a coaching job right now,' he said. 'The bar is pretty high right now based on our feelings about Kaleb, but we're going to be open to engaging in the process.
'It's not imperative to have a coach in place before the (June 28) draft. It would be better to gear it toward the free agent period (beginning July 1). Players would want to be knowing who they come in to play for.'
• Olshey said he is 'open to anything' in terms of retaining members of the current Blazer management staff, including Buchanan (director of college scouting), Mike Born (director of NBA scouting) and assistant GMs Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry. Olshey is scheduled to leave on a Wednesday morning flight to Chicago to join the others at the pre-draft camp there.
'They are all really good guys,' Olshey said. 'All I said to them was, 'We're working together. Don't make this seem like an audition process, like you're being evaluated. Create work product, share in the vision we're trying to establish and all those other things will take care of themselves.'
'Chad did a great job of taking the reins and holding the fort down the past year. If he wants to be a part of our future, it's something I'm open to. He is someone I think highly of. He is someone I would have pursued if I were with another organization. As long as the chemistry is right and we share the same vision going forward, things will work out with everybody.'
• LaMarcus Aldridge is 'the cornerstone of the franchise,' Olshey said, and he used the same term in reference to restricted free agent Nicolas Batum.
'I anticipate him being here' next season, Olshey said. 'How his contract gets worked out will be more strategic than a reflection of how much we care about him, because he is one of the building blocks of the franchise.'
Olshey said Aldridge and Batum 'are what Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are to the Clippers. Once you have those two pieces and bedrock in place, you start adding guys to complement them.'
• Olshey's vision for the Blazers is to build with young players for an extended NBA title bid.
'We can set this thing up over the next couple of years where we can have a five- to-seven year run, just having to tweak the roster here and there, and always be a factor for a Western Conference championship,' he said. 'I don't want to have to retool the roster every year. We're not looking for quick fixes. We're not looking for aging veterans who can slide us into the eighth spot (in the West), and then we're right back here a year ago, trying to figure out what to do. This is a seminal moment in the future of the Trail Blazers, and we need to handle it properly.
'Anybody we pursue, in terms of a major addition, will have to be somebody here long-term who we can build with. Once you have your nucleus together, you can add pieces. I would anticipate having younger players who can be a part of the organization for the long term. The goal is to look at the draft first, then look at deal flow and free agents who fit into our decision-making matrix. As we go forward, we want to make sure we have a core group of seven or eight players who are here for the foreseeable future.'
• Olshey oversaw the move to put together a roster that got the Clippers to the second round of this year's playoffs during the tight five-day free-agent period after a collective-bargaining agreement was reached in December. His belated start in Portland motivates him.
'I'm ready to dig in,' he said. 'I'm a sprinter. I like working under pressure and a deadline. We're going to put our head down and move forward. By the middle of July after summer league, we are going to be in a great position.'
• Traits Olshey desires in a player: 'I'm a big guy on character. Talent, chemistry, character. There's a check in balance with each one. I want a team that plays well together, guys who plays the right way, who put the team ahead of their individual accolades, success or contractual situation.'
• Olshey is cognizant of the Blazers' history of injuries in recent years.
'Much of that is bad luck,' he said. 'We had some of that, too, with the Clippers. We didn't fire anybody (from the medical staff). We re-evaluated what we were doing with the same people in place.
'We brought in some new tools, some things that do a better job of evaluating players' deficiencies and instabilities before you draft or sign them. And we made a commitment to corrective exercises. We traveled with a full-time deep-tissue therapist, yoga instructor and chiropractor. Keeping guys healthy so they don't start breaking down and making them more susceptible (to injury) is part of the process.'