Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey was interviewed by Mike Barrett and Mike Rice on Blazers Courtside on Monday night. The topics included his current thinking on the state of the roster, the team's evaluation of its starting center position, his plans for the future, the coaching job of Terry Stotts and the performance of key players, including Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum.
Video of the interview should be posted on TrailBlazers.TV. Here's a full transcript.
Building the Clippers and seeing them now
It was interesting. Clearly, Andy Roeser, Gary Sacks and Vinny [Del Negro] have done a nice job of bolstering the bench with guys like Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford that weren't part of the team that I had constructed, but there are people over there I think fondly of and it's nice to see them do well.
Trading because of wins and losses?
I think the most dangerous word in the NBA is 'reactive'. Once you start reacting to things beyond your control, you make bad decisions. I think that you need to have a plan and try to execute that plan, clearly make adjustments, but you can't let one thing alter your overall vision of where you're trying to take your franchise.
Do trade rumors like Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph influence other GMs?
I can't talk about specific teams or their players but what I can tell you is that usually by the time things hit the general media they've already died on the vine. There are only 30 guys in this business, most people don't talk about other teams and what they're trying to accomplish. If they happen to be in a deal with a team they don't want it to go away be because it's become part of the public forum.
Stories could be planted, media is a willing accomplice in rumors
To be honest with you -- in order for someone to be an accomplice, something actually has to be conducted. For the most part when you look around the league when big deals go on, very rarely are they played out in a public forum. They're done behind the scenes or done quickly. There are certainly always some low-hanging fruit that people can pick up on from the rumor mill. The classier guys in this business don't put other people's business out there to feather their own nest.
Surprised by Damian Lillard's success?
I think that's what comes with drafting a guy who was in college for four years, played three, had a lot of responsibility. The ownership stake he had in wins and losses for Weber State. Being an Oakland kid helps because he plays Oakland and lives his life like a kid from Weber State, he's the best of both worlds.
From a production standpoint, I don't think we would have projected the numbers he's gotten, but gravitas, the leadership, the way he carries himself, the composure, that's why we used the sixth pick of the NBA draft on him.
Meyers Leonard and Will Barton have been productive
They have. Terry [Stotts] and I were discussing Meyers today. Clearly taking a 20-year-old big who only played one year of college, because he didn't play much as a freshman, is a totally different model than going after a guy like Damian but I think what we've asked Meyers to do, Terry and the coaches are asking Meyers to do more of what we need from him, which is to be a dive guy to the rim, block shots, rebound, be a paint presence. He was more of a high post center coming out of Illinois.
He's definitely more comfortable facing the basket, he's more comfortable shooting a jumper than a jump hook. He's more of a team rebounder, hold off his man, rather than a guy who chases rebounds out of his area. I think what we're trying to do is toe a very thin line. We want to develop the other areas of his game without neutralizing or losing what it is that made him so unique, which is being a seven-footer who runs the floor like a deer, a big-time athlete with good hands. A guy who up until last night was leading our team in free throw percentage.
Sticking to a master plan as a GM
It takes discipline and it takes a supportive owner. My conversations with Paul [Allen] started back during the interview process and he was on board with where the Trail Blazers were at the time was not in a position to win a championship. It was incumbent upon me, once Paul hired me, was to be as disciplined as possible, put a plan in place, that we were all on board with from ownership and the front office, and then hire a coaching staff that was willing work within the confines of that plan. The minute that we find an opportunity, whether we generate it or it comes up, to accelerate that plan, and move forward quicker, we're going to be ready to act.
Right now, I think we're a little ahead of where we thought we would be because of the development of Damian Lillard and some of the guys like Will Barton and Meyers are showing flashes and because of the improvement of J.J. Hickson and Nicolas Batum.
I think it's two-fold. One, there are times when you love things from afar. Nicolas was a player that we had coveted in Los Angeles, we didn't see any of the flaws, we saw the incredibly high ceiling, the versatility defensively, the ability to make plays, things that maybe you saw a little bit more of when he played for the French National Team.
99 percent of the credit goes to Terry Stotts. The only credit that we can take as a front office is that we did wait to hire a coach until the roster composition was full. Knowing that we were going to hire a coaching staff that was going to embrace the skills of the players that we had. No one has benefited more from Terry and his system and the freedom that he gives guys and the creativity on the offensive end than Nicolas.
Terry Stotts' performance
I think it speaks for itself. The record in close games. The fact that last night was the first time since the Dallas game back in November that you guys have had a chance to chat at the end of the game as you were calling the last few possessions.
With eight new players, with a very young roster, with guys being asked to have larger roles, Nic and Wes were both part-time starters and now they are go-to guys on the perimeter. The load that LaMarcus [Aldridge] had to carry, J.J. playing a little out of position at the five, and a rookie point guard, I think it's pretty remarkable that we're sitting here at 22-22 at the halfway mark, ahead of some of the premier teams in our league, guys like the Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. We've been able to put this thing together with a lot of moving parts quicker than some of our opponents.
Terry and his staff have done an incredible job since the day they got hired. All the way through from [Tim Grgurich's] camp, to preseason, the early bump in the road on the road trip. Chicken Little, when the sky was falling, when we were 6-10. We've bounced back every time people have counted us out. You lose six in a row and then you beat the Pacers and the Los Angeles Clippers back-to-back.
I've said it before: there's only two things you can ask out of a coaching staff. Are the players receptive to their teaching and do they compete every night? Clearly, both of those questions are answered to the nth degree with Terry and the coaching staff.
How much does owner play in how active a GM is during the year?
Paul is an aggressive owner and Paul wants to win. Nobody is going to push us more to be active and make the right type of player acquisitions than Paul. He's owned the team for a long time, he's had some incredible success, he's had some rebuilding situation. Right now he has a new president in Chris McGowan, a new general manager and a new coach.
He's incredibly engaged right now. I also know that he doesn't want to take one step forward and have it result in two steps back. He wants to know that we're going to build something sustainable here, that when we do put this together, we're going to have a nice long run.
When you look at the core of our roster, we have the second or third youngest team in the league in terms of guys who play 10 minutes or more. We've been pretty prudent about how we've spent our money so we have a lot of flexibility next summer. Paul is going to drive us to be as aggressive as possible, the minute that an opportunity comes, as I've said ad naseum, to move the needle.
Importance of maintaining good chemistry influencing decision to add pieces to bench?
The first step is, you've got to know what your starting lineup is. We went into the summer with two major question marks. One at point guard, one at center. I think we've answered the point guard situation.
We really like J.J. Hickson and he's clearly a quality NBA big. The question is can you can survive with a 6-foot-9 center, even if your power forward and franchise player is 6-foot-11? We're still evaluating that part of the process. What you don't want to do is take away your flexibility by building a bench when, at the end of the day, your starting lineup isn't good enough. Like I said, that will be an issue we'll address in the offseason.
A lot of those guys, I came into an organization that had invested five first-round picks in Nolan [Smith], Luke [Babbitt], Elliot [Williams], Joel [Freeland] and Victor [Claver], I felt a certain responsibility to figure out what we had with those assets. It seemed like the right year to do that because there would be an opportunity to play significant minutes, a chance to get on the floor and develop with other young players. We've gotten some answers on some of those guys and on others the jury is still out and we're still evaluating them.
The success that Terry has had have changed the dynamics a bit because we are a factor in the playoff race and we have a responsibility to the fan base to do everything we can to win as many games as possible. If we can be a playoff team that's certainly something we want to do. The only thing we're not going to do is jeopardize the flexibility to make major moves to make incremental growth this year.
The irony is two-fold. One is: if we're playing that well, maybe the bench is contributing but not in areas that are visible in the public eye, in terms of points or rebounds, but what they add from a chemistry standpoint or defensively, things that they do bring to the table, the ability of the coaching staff to bring those guys in with the starters.
When we get the starting lineup completely solidified, we have a lot of resources, we'll bolster the bench, some of that is going to come from player development. Guys like Will Barton, Meyers Leonard stepping up, Joel Freeland and Victor Claver's development. We have a lot of work left to do but we're clearly ahead of the curve based on the job the coaching staff has done.
LaMarcus Aldridge taken for granted
I think we're very spoiled to have LaMarcus. He's one of those guys where you walk out of the gym and say, 'He had a nice game,' and you look down and he had 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, a block, a steal, and he shot a high percentage. Knowing that you've got that anchor, someone that you know what you're going to get from LaMarcus. He can have huge nights but doesn't have a selfish bone in his body.
LaMarcus has really shown his loyalty to this organization because he of all people has been through several transitions with this franchise. From the Jail Blazers to the youth movement to a lot of veterans that had been in other stops around the league, to right back to more of a youth movement. He's never wavered, his production has never dipped, he's been a team-first guy the entire time.
He's not as vocal, he's not as colorful but in the locker room he has an incredible presence. Everybody in the building respects him, they respect the job that he does, the fact that he puts the game of basketball first. We're very spoiled to have him and I don't think we'd be where we are now with anybody else in the league at that position. Because of just how solid we are, the guys knowing we always have the ability to get the ball to L.A., late in the clock, late in the game, where he can deliver for us.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter