Neil Olshey: The New GM of the Portland Trail Blazers

Welcome! The city isn't nearly as big but the logo is better. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Goodbye Clippers, hello Trail Blazers. In a semi-stunning twist Monday the General Manager of the Los Angeles Clippers, Neil Olshey, left his old team to become Portland's new, long-awaited GM.

Does this mean the Blazers will finally be getting Chris Paul?

We're not sure of the answer to that question or whether another heretofore-undiscovered point guard miracle might be on the way. But we do know about a few possible advantages:

  1. Olshey was in charge of his team. The Blazers eschewed trainees and second bananas in favor of someone with actual GM experience.
  2. That said, he also worked his way up the ladder, earning his stripes over the better part of a decade with the Clippers.
  3. Olshey's team prospered during his tenure as GM. This came about through a bunch of small, perhaps smart, moves and one huge no-brainer that's unlikely to be repeated.
  4. Olshey's fairly handsome.
  5. If trade wars are decided by Pig Latin, he's completely invulnerable. Take that Am-say Esti-pray!

We also have this from Steve Perrin at ClipsNation:

Olshey put together the most successful Clippers team in franchise history, with a series of shrewd moves, the most spectacular of which was the acquisition of Chris Paul. His first year at the helm featured a series of low impact and questionable transactions -- Eric Bledsoe is looking like a steal picking 18th in the 2010 draft, but Al-Farouq Aminu (since traded) is looking more like a bust; free agents Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook ranged from merely mediocre to truly terrible, though none were particularly expensive. But since February 2011 Olshey has been on a roll. The trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland may have cost the Clippers a first round draft pick, but given that Davis missed about half of this season and suffered a knee injury that could end his career in the playoffs, the deal is looking prescient. Olshey used the cap space freed up in the Davis trade to sign Caron Butler, who started at small forward all season. He then grabbed Chauncey Billups off of amnesty waivers, and more importantly, sold him on the idea of playing for the Clippers. Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin and Nick Young were all acquired for next to nothing as the season progressed, and all made significant contributions to a team that won a playoff series. Quite an improvement for a team that went 32-50 a season ago.

For a complete look at Olshey's accumulated transactions and what they could indicate, click through.

Thanks to Basketball-Reference.com we can break down Olshey's transactions as a General Manager fairly simply. I have limited the field to his actual tenure as GM. He served the organization for years before, but as Blazers fans well know you can chase your tail all day playing Where's Waldo with credit. We're keeping it simple. Here's what happened when he was in charge:

Draft-Day Transactions

June 24th, 2010

Drafted Al-Farouq Aminu in the 1st round (8th pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft.

Drafted Willie Warren in the 2nd round (54th pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft.

Traded a future 1st round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Eric Bledsoe.

June 23, 2011

Drafted Trey Thompkins in the 2nd round (37th pick) of the 2011 NBA Draft.

Drafted Travis Leslie in the 2nd round (47th pick) of the 2011 NBA Draft.

Analysis

As Steve Perrin mentioned, Bledsoe is the sole rose among the thorns here. Even that is marginal, as he's yet to prove himself. In Olshey's defense we're only talking two years of drafting here and only one native first-round pick. Also keep in mind that the Blazers aren't necessarily looking to rebuild through the draft alone. They're not hiring Olshey for his scouting ability...or at least not primarily. They want a mover, shaker, contract and trade guy. Portland likely has a book on 2012 draftees in case they don't move their picks. Olshey will step into that system instead of having to come up with two draft picks on the fly. In Portland's ideal world they'd give him nothing but low first-rounders to work with in subsequent years, the product of a good team.

It is worth noting that Olshey used to work developing potential NBA draftees so he has been active in the system. If the Blazers do end up rebuilding through the draft he'll likely feel comfortable. (Note: That link is a must-read from Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com about Olshey's background.)

Other Trades

February 24, 2011

Traded Baron Davis and a 2011 1st round draft pick (Kyrie Irving) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams.

December 14, 2011

Traded Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a 2012 1st round draft pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul, a 2015 2nd round draft pick and a 2015 2nd round draft pick.

March 15, 2012

As part of a 3-team trade, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Brian Cook and a 2015 2nd round draft pick to the Washington Wizards; the Denver Nuggets traded Nene Hilario to the Washington Wizards; theWashington Wizards traded JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf to the Denver Nuggets; and the Washington Wizards traded Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Analysis

In this group you have a Big Bummer, a Big Whopper, and a crafty move for need. The Bummer, obviously, was losing out on Kyrie Irving by dishing out an unprotected lottery pick to get rid of Baron Davis' salary cap crater. Even though sacrificing the first overall pick is heart-breaking, the move did accomplish its goal. The Clips cleared space on cap and roster and ended up with a pretty decent point guard in Chris Paul. That Whopper trade is one of the more striking transactions in years, but just as credit to the bad is muted a little in the first deal, credit to the good is muted here. The circumstances were odd and all but un-repeatable. The third trade may be the most intriguing. The principals in it were Nene and JaVale McGee...neither one a Clipper. But Olshey had lost Chauncey Billups and knew his team needed help for their playoff run, so he wormed in as a third party facilitating the trade. That's the kind of opportunism and ingenuity the Blazers will be looking for...not so much wielding a sledgehammer but slipping through tight spaces to pull off smart deals.

Free Agent Signings

July 8, 2010

Signed Randy Foye as a free agent. Signed Ryan Gomes as a free agent.

July 9, 2010

Signed Brian Cook as a free agent.

September 27, 2010

Signed Jarron Collins as a free agent. Signed Jake Voskuhl as a free agent.

December 22, 2010

Signed Ike Diogu as a free agent.

December 9, 2011

Signed Caron Butler as a free agent.

December 12, 2011

Signed Chauncey Billups as a free agent.

December 22, 2011

Signed Reggie Evans as a free agent.

January 3, 2012

Signed Solomon Jones as a free agent.

January 16, 2012

Signed Courtney Fortson as a free agent.

February 3, 2012

Signed Kenyon Martin as a free agent.

February 27, 2012

Signed Bobby Simmons to two 10-day contracts, then signed to a contract for the rest of the season.

Analysis

Three things stand out here:

  1. There's a fair amount of chaff in there, but much of that chaff has also blown through the Blazers organization or been suggested as potential Portland targets. Olshey and the Blazers appear to think alike.
  2. The striking signings are Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Kenyon Martin. All three are pedigreed veterans of the type the Blazers would love to see around LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. Olshey appears to have used cap space and recruiting skills well.
  3. Thirteen signings in 1.5 years isn't overwhelming considering that several were low-level, but Olshey certainly doesn't have any problems being aggressive in both high and low levels of the free agent market...one of Portland's mandates.

Final Analysis

Olshey's record isn't spotless, but he possesses several key attributes of interest to the Blazers: GM experience, cap management, trade acumen, and the ability to sign free agents. No doubt they're hoping he'll spearhead the team in these areas while the current management core supplements in the draft and overall vision departments. Whether the Blazers' course is the right one is open to debate. But for what they're trying to do, Olshey is not a bad hire at all.

What do you think? Excited, angry, or just waiting to see? Weigh in below.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

P.S. A late add from Steve Perrin of ClipsNation, just for us...

Neil is by far the smoothest NBA person I've dealt with. Mind you, I haven't dealt with that many, but the guy is good. He is always on message, he is never tongue-tied. He is terrific communicator. He also works people better than almost anyone I know. You would think he was my best friend to hear him talk to me. Part of it is put on... but part of it is probably real too. He's a super sharp guy, and a super personable guy. And man can he run a press conference.

It's hard to know how sustainable his recent successes with the Clippers would have been. He works hard and is smart enough to play the angles. He had the balls to sign Billups when Billups was warning everyone not to. But the Chris Paul deal was more or less "right place right time" and it's not as if he had any other major coups with the Clippers. Caron was a nice enough pickup but is overpaid; he had little choice but to match on DeAndre Jordan, but he's significantly overpaid. Nick Young for nothing was a great pickup, but that deal also feel into his lap. At any rate, one good year isn't exactly a bankable track record -- and his acquisitions in 2010 were Randy Foye, Randy Gomes and Brian Cook, so there's that. But I guarantee you Neil is charming as hell in a job interview and that Paul Allen loved him.

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