Now that we've seen the team [Portland Trail Blazers General Manager] Neil Olshey has put together, how would you grade his performance so far?
Too soon, my friend. Too soon.
It's surprising to me that Olshey has been in his position almost five full months now. It seems like just yesterday he was announced as GM. Since several of those months involved a mostly-dead summer, it really was yesterday in basketball terms. A stunted off-season and one pre-season do not a tenure make. Even in Portland a year is the minimum for passing judgment. OK...11 months. [Hat tip to all the Cho-Bots out there. Holla!]
Here's what we do know about Olshey so far.
1. His first draft appears to have been successful.
2. If he wanted to get the team playing in a different style, he appears to have hired the correct coach. [Jury's out on wins, losses, and long-term effectiveness, of course.]
3. The first ripples of reaction to Olshey tabbed him as a great public speaker. That's not the right label for him. He's a salesman, not an orator. The difference is significant.
Exhibit A, demonstrating Olshey's supreme sales acumen: He's not only convinced Portland fans to be patient, but to celebrate their team being populated by cheap cast-offs and under-performing legacy picks. He's packaged losing as winning and gotten people to buy in. That's powerful stuff. Technically speaking this strategy is open to 20-ish teams in the league every year. Few pursue it because it's risky and because of the backlash. Somehow Olshey makes it seem like the safe, if not downright wise, bet.
Exhibits B-X are evident every time Olshey opens his mouth. His stories paint the Blazers in the most positive light possible and people buy it. The latest example came during his TV interview during Portland's clash with Golden State last Friday. He spoke of "grabbing" Justin Holiday from the Cavaliers. Broadcaster Mike Barrett responded by saying that if the Blazers released players too early, other teams could "steal" them in just such a manner. News flash: if a guy takes a sofa to the dump, then you drive down there and pick it up, you have neither grabbed it from him nor stolen from him. Otherwise half the college students in America would get locked up. But somehow when Olshey explains it the recently-cut Holiday seems in-demand, the latest thing, a lucky penny found upon the ground instead of your normal waiver-wire refugee.
I am not disparaging Olshey with this assessment. You seldom see a guy this good at the craft. We also have to acknowledge that this is exactly what the Trail Blazers need at this juncture. The situation calls for a guy who can sell the team to the fan base even though that team is going to struggle in the wake of crushing disappointment. Joe Blazer Fan needs a hand on the shoulder assuring him that the Ritz Cracker which comprises his dinner is the very same served at the famed Wynn buffet in Las Vegas to customers dropping $50 a pop. If Olshey's transformational patter can also convince free agents that Portland is a happening destination or encourage LaMarcus Aldridge to stay the course with a smile on his face...so much the better.
The difference between used-car flim-flam man and the sales rep you develop a warm, life-long relationship with is simple: product. If Olshey comes through with the car of your dreams, honors the warranty, and remembers your name when it's time to trade up his skills will be warmly received...considered integral to the Blazer experience even. If Portland fans get stuck driving a lemon for the next six years his outpouring of enthusiasm will be greeted with suspicion, if not derision.
But as we said, it's way too early for that. So far, so good. You have to buy in a little to follow the Blazers right now, overlooking flaws, accentuating positives, clinging to hope. Neil Olshey makes that easier. Couple that with the obvious positives of Damian Lillard and who's to complain?
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