Here's a full transcript of comments made by Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey during the team's 2012-13 Media Day at the Rose Garden's FanShop on Monday.
All the new pieces. New General Manager, new coach, new coaching staff, eight new players. Putting all of those things together will be a challenge. But I think we got a head start on it. We had 80 or 90 percent of our roster here since right after Labor Day. I think that's accelerated the learning curve, getting on the floor with our coaches, doing the drill work. I'd say we are ahead of where we thought we would be but not really yet where we want to be.
Message to fans
Get on board. Get on board, it's going to be a really good year. We're going to play an exciting brand of basketball. I think for the first time in a little while up here, we've got a common vision between the front office and the coaching staff. We're going to play with a purpose and we've got a direction. We've been true to that vision and direction since the time we worked on the draft.
We drafted three NBA caliber players. We think we've got franchise pieces at two of those positions, one immediately, one that's going to take a little bit of time, and another NBA rotation caliber player with Will Barton. From that, I think we made cost-effective signings after we didn't get the max player we were looking for, which is going to help us preserve our cap flexibility going forward.
We're going to develop the assets we have and increase our asset pool. It's going to be a good year. We're going to compete, we're going to be in a lot of games, we're going to win games, and we're going to fight and scrap for a playoff bid. What we're not going to do is throw away our long-term flexibility and an ability to be sustainable and have success on a long-term basis to run to mediocrity. That hasn't worked here in the past, that's not my goal for the future. It's not [owner] Paul [Allen's] goal. We've got an engaged owner, an exciting coaching staff, we've got a lot of new young players, we've got a motivated front office so it's going to be a big year.
Who are the Trail Blazers today?
They're your team. Who in terms of what?
How do you describe the Trail Blazers today?
Emerging, I think is the word. I think we're further ahead of a lot of teams that you might consider in a youth movement. The irony is that three or four of our best players are guys who on most rosters would be considered young guys. I look at it as a luxury more than an issue. When you have young talent like LaMarcus [Aldridge], Nic [Batum], Wes [Matthews] and Damian [Lillard], and you can surround them with the young pieces we've got who can grow with them in the same arc, we're going to be sustainable. We're going to have success for a long period of time with this group.
Use cap space to improve team?
My job is to generate deal flow. We've got a directive from ownership that we're going to accelerate this curve as quickly as possible. Paul and I have discussed that at length. You've to realize that you've got to grow your asset pool. We've got a lot of guys on our roster right now who aren't proven in this league and therefore don't have market value. In an ideal world, we would grow all these players and they would be a part of our organization for the long term. But if you reach a crossroads where you have to make a decision where you make your assets into play to accelerate your success curve and bring back a more established player, the only way to do that is if these guys have value around the league.
How far away are you from being a title contender?
I don't know. It's a great question. I don't know at this point. There are some known quantities on our roster. I think we've got some guys who are going to outperform what they've done in the past. Guys like J.J. Hickson and Nicolas [Batum] and Wes [Matthews] playing for Terry [Stotts], playing for the kind of system he has. They are going to improve more rapidly than they have, be more productive. We've got some question marks. I don't know how long it will take Joel Freeland to adapt to the NBA style game. I don't know how long it will take for Nolan [Smith] to find his niche. If Luke [Babbitt] can step up and be the player he was drafted to be. We've got some question marks. We answered some of them during our voluntary workouts in an informal setting. We'll get more answers over the next 30 days.
Address Elliot Williams' status. Pick up his option?
We've got multiple guys we have to make decisions on. We've got to make decisions on Nolan and Luke and Elliot. We'll make those later in the month. Right now, based on the roster composition, we're going to evaluate it based on where we are today. We have to take our cap flexibility into consideration. Anybody that's a part of our core going forward is a valued asset and whatever impact they may have on our cap going forward is a non-issue. If there's an opportunity cost to picking up those options, we've got to evaluate that as well.
Would you waive Elliot Williams?
We won't waive Elliot. From a housekeeping standpoint, even if you don't pick up an option, that doesn't mean you can't re-sign those players.
Have you applied for an exception because of his injury?
We did. We applied for a disabled player exception. It doesn't really make that big of a difference in Elliot's case because his salary was low enough, you get 50 percent, it doesn't create an additional roster spot. You've got to have three guys out for the full season before you get an additional roster spot. We've still got $2 million in cap room, we've also got a trade exception from the Raymond Felton deal. We went, we applied for it because it's a tool we could use later in the process, once the minimum contracts are pro-rated. We would have an opportunity where we would have about $700,000 on a talent grab later in the process.
Big expectations on Damian Lillard
He's had a lot on him for four years. I think Damian is a little bit unique in that he's carried the Weber State program for the last four years. He's taken ownership of the responsibility from a wins and losses standpoint. They've won conference championships, they've been a contender in that league. As you saw in Summer League, and I know it's Summer League, he embraces it. It's one of the reasons we got Damian. As talented as he is, you can break his game down and quantify the shooting, the ball-handling, the assist to turnover ratio, the pick-and-roll efficiency. What can't be quantified is his leadership ability and the gravitas he carries himself with as a young player. There's a lot on Damian but if he didn't want it, he wouldn't be here.
He deserves a chance. Adam is a good kid. Probably for a guy that got drafted as highly as he did, he got fewer opportunities than anybody else in that position. He's a local guy. He can score the basketball. There's a hole there based on Elliot's injury. We kinda had Elliot slated in for all those back-up minutes at the two, with Will Barton competing more down the road. Adam has an ability to score the ball, he performed well in Summer League. If he's able to beat out a guaranteed contract he'll have an opportunity to make the roster. We're going to hold Adam to a high standard. He's going to have to be someone who can absolutely contribute on a nightly basis. We know he can score but can he be a good team defender, can he move the basketball within the flow of the offense, can he at least manage his position defensively? Those are the questions we'll have to answer over the next 30 days.
Where will Meyers Leonard be at the end of the season?
Better. He was better at Tim Grgurich's camp than he was at Summer League. He was better at the informal workouts than he was at [Grgurich's] camp. He's going to accelerate his curve quickly. Kim Hughes does a great job with big men. I watched it first hand with Chris Kaman and Elton Brand and the guys we had in Los Angeles. I've watched him in the offseason with guys like Zach Randolph. Guys he developed further back like Antonio McDyess. He's been assigned to Meyers. They're both big, goofy white dudes. They think on a unique level. They're both very intelligent and deserve one another at times. But Meyers has been great. Finding a 7-footer who runs the floor like that. Who can make free throws, who can make jumpers, who has good hands, who can finish. I don't want to -- he's different. Going back to your point about Damian. Damian is a 22-year-old, four year starter at Weber State. Meyers is a 20-year-old kid who really didn't play much as a freshman. It's going to take him a little bit of time but I think every day we are in the gym he proves to Terry and the staff that they can trust him on the court and that they are going to need him out there.
Who does Meyers Leonard compare to?
He's a tough comp because he's really fundamentally sound but he's a really good athlete. Not to stay too true to the Dallas Mavericks situation, but he reminds me a little bit of Tyson [Chandler]. I knew Tyson back when he was an eighth grader at Dominguez High School. Tyson was more of a perimeter type player, he shot the ball, he handled it, he ran well. He had really good face up game. That's where Meyers is today. He doesn't have the defensive shot-blocking instincts that Tyson has developed but if you looked at Tyson nine or 10 years ago, he was more of a face-up, elbow guy. I think that's where we are with Meyers today.
He's an excellent, excellent passer. He's very comfortable at the elbows and the high post. The type of stuff we've been doing offensively, he's been a great facilitator. Running the floor as a dive guy getting to the rim, he complements LaMarcus really well in terms of floor balance. I think he's got a similar body structure as Tyson, similar mobility. With film, with coaching, with daily drill work, I think he'll get the defensive shot-blocking instincts.
Why come here with big expectations instead of lowered expectations?
I believe in it. First of all, when you have LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, it's really not a rebuild. We were very aggressive in free agency. We went after a franchise-caliber player. We didn't get him. Instead of reacting and running back to the middle, and I keep reiterating that, we don't want to be a middle of the road team. Nobody wants to sit and fight for 7th, 8th or 9th and get your butt kicked in the first round of the playoffs. That's what's gone on here. I think we're the only team in the Western Conference that hasn't won a playoff series in the last decade and a half. I don't think that's a standard that this community is looking for. It's not the standard I left Los Angeles to come and develop. It's not why Terry is here. It's not what Paul wants. He wants to win a championship. Everybody can talk about that, but you don't win championships overnight. It is a process. I think the process is further along than people believe because you guys are looking at Nic and Wes and LaMarcus as guys that have been here. I'm looking at them as completely new players based on the offense we're going to run, the coaching staff we're going to have, the system we'll have. I think they are going to flourish.
The question marks we do have, which I think are legitimate, is depth. That's a victim or a casualty of the fact that instead of going and getting the $5-to-7 million back-up players to solidify the bench. We want to make sure we have a starting lineup first. I think we're 70 or 80 percent of the way there. We have a question mark at the center position. I think Damian is a starter, Wes is a starter, Nic is a starter and LaMarcus is a starter. Terry is probably going to give an opportunity to J.J. [Hickson]. I think it's unique. He's not really a true five man but as a dive guy to LaMarcus' pop guy I think we can get away with it at that position. He's tough, he has a great center of gravity, he can bang. Meyers may develop into that. Joel Freeland is an interesting piece who can swing both ways at the four and the five. But you can't give up cap flexibility and opportunity cost to solidify a bench until you get your starting lineup intact. If you look, the teams that competed for championships, they got their starters together first. That's what we have to do. It's either going to be done by trade this season or next offseason, when we're going to have up to $13.5 million of room next season.
What metric to use to evaluate a "good season" this year?
One, I think we're going to be better in April than we are in October. Every night walk into the building, we're going to have an opportunity to win the game. It's not just winning, it's how we play. How you win and lose in this league matters. There are 40 or 41 win teams that nobody wants to watch play. I was with the Clippers, we won 32 games our first year that Vinny [Del Negro] took over. We won 32 games. We were out of the playoffs in January and we sold out our last 18 home games because we played a fun style. We competed. We won some games we weren't supposed to win. Every night the fans walked in to the building, they knew we were going to leave it all on the floor. The coaching staff was going to give them opportunities to be successful and the players were going to compete. That's where we are right now.
We talked about this at my opening press conference, we want guys who want to be here. Everybody on the roster right now wants to be here, they want to play here. Guys left money on the table in Europe to join our roster, like Victor [Claver] and Joel. We had guys through the draft that wanted us to manipulate situations to get here. Nicolas is excited about being back. LaMarcus is on board. Wes is excited. Guys like Ronnie Price took below market value to come and join this team. I think fans are going to embrace the fact they've got guys who really want to play for the Blazers and want to be a part of something we have going forward, in terms of direction and process.
Perspective on Blazers GM job compared to when you were hired?
Well, I love hanging out with you guys. It's great. I have to tell you, when we were in Los Angeles, it was a fight, you had to grab market share, you had to give people a reason when you're battling Lakers, Kings, Ducks, Dodgers, Angels. Here, being the only show in town, that pressure is warranted, it's merited, but it's exciting. It's exciting to know that people really embrace this organization and want it to be successful.
It's so exciting talking to Paul because he's re-energized right now. He's so engaged. He's going to be here tomorrow for the opening day of camp. He's watched every scrimmage over the internet. Our guys are playing full court, he calls with feedback, he watches them, I've never had an owner do that before. Any owner who is excited enough to be watching guys play pick-up in the middle of September on a webcam is willing to do whatever it takes to win. From the NBDL, from following a vision of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, in terms of preserving our cap flexibility, bringing guys over from Europe. We're in the process of making some capital improvements to the practice facility to make sure we have the best resources for our athletes from a conditioning and physical development standpoint and medical treatment. Every resource we could have is available. It's up to me and my staff to use them properly.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter