Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey met with reporters at the Tualatin practice facility after the team conducted its first pre-draft workout on Thursday.
Here's a transcript of his comments, which touch on draft strategy, the quality of the Blazers roster and specifics of the pre-draft process.
It's exciting to get back in the gym, look to the future, we spent a lot of time going over this past season and now we need to start building next season's roster. This is the first step. It's exciting to get these guys in the gym, watching them compete, we'll probably do nine or 10 more of these [workouts] throughout the month. We're evaluating the draft, we're looking at free agency, we're trying to generate some deal-flow in terms of trades and build next season's roster.
How much weight do these workouts carry in the evaluation process?
It carries a lot of weight in different areas. We're looking for guys that compete, guys that come in and take the process seriously. Then what we're also looking for -- a lot of guys in college have to change position. We're looking for, what can we glean from these workouts that we wouldn't necessarily see by watching film or doing live scouting based on the positions they played for their college teams?
I don't necessarily agree. I don't know if there's a presumptive superstar at the top, which is what people who are picking up there would like, but fortunately we're not picking up there. I think the draft has really good depth, I think you're going to get quality players but I think it's all based on what your level of expectation is. I think it's a solid draft, I like where we're positioned, I think there are really good players at that level. If you have a realistic expectation of what they can produce, I think you're going to get a quality player.
Do you think you can get a starting caliber player or rotation player at No. 10?
That's kind of what they pay me to do. I'm not going to tell Paul Allen that we're not going to get a really good player at 10 because that's what he hired us to do. I think we're going to get a good player, I think we got good players last year.
Where you draft doesn't always have as much importance as how you draft. I think we got a really good player last year at 40, in Will Barton, and we wouldn't have expected him to be available at that position. Getting the right player is what's important, not a name-awareness player, not from a group-think dynamic of who people think you should take, or expect you to take, but who is going to fit into our culture and roster composition. And really to expand our talent base, which is where we're a little bit lacking right now and where we need to improve.
Have you fallen in love [with a player] yet?
Only with my wife.
At this point, you're trying to narrow the scope of your process. From live scouting, film, Chicago, background intel, the research we've done talking to college coaches, I think we've narrowed the field. This is part of the process that can get you over the top. It really is more about spending time with these guys, getting to know who they are as people. We're in Portland, we do have a unique culture up here. Guys who can fit into our culture, fit into the community, what we're trying to build here is just as important as how talented they are.
There's always activity. People who know what they want to accomplish this offseason are probably more active than those who are still in an investigation mode. We've got some turnover in the league right now with new front offices, they're trying to get their feet wet. For all of us, we have to find and establish a value for our draft pick before we would even consider being involved in a deal that would utilize it to bring back an existing player.
Changes to your evaluation process this year?
No. Look, the guys who were here had a way of working. I had a way of working coming from another organization. Both of those melded together pretty successfully last year. We're going to be consistent.
The one thing that is a little different than last year is that we have a coaching staff in place, [coach] Terry [Stotts] is here, we know how he likes to play. We have a lot of coaches on this staff that have a great feel for the game and the type of players we need. Their participation in the process will help for adding another set of eyes. If it does nothing else, it inspires debate at times. They are coming to the process a little later and they are just using a much smaller sample in terms of the workouts. What's interesting is getting into a room after the workouts and getting their thoughts to see if they meld with everything we've done to this point.
Harder process this year with less of a consensus in quality of top prospects?
I don't really care what the consensus is. I really don't. I don't think the consensus was a 6-foot point guard from Weber State last year either and [Damian Lillard] is the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year in the history of the NBA.
Consensus is for mock drafts and internet chatter, expertise is for making your selection. That's what 30 teams are doing right now. It sounds great, everybody can kind of banter on message boards and internet mock drafts, it doesn't have anything to do with what the 30 teams are doing in the gym and in their draft rooms.
How often are you surprised by players in these workouts?
It happens a lot. One of the things you have to take into consideration is how do these guys play, what systems do they play in college and how are they utilized within their college system. A lot of that comes from how long we've scouted them. They come in here and they're more relative to the players we liked in high school, if they were a four in high school and a five in college in the interior, if they were a combo guard that played as a point or moved off the ball because of roster composition. Their job while in college is to help their college team win regardless of what it does to their NBA stock. Our job is to figure out what they're going to play at our level and how they're going to help our team.
It's a part of the process. We've got a multi-tiered strategy when it comes to these guys and it's a system of checks and balances. Especially higher up in the draft, at 10, you have guys that have to check off in almost every box. You just don't want any outliers, where you have question marks about them, psych, interviews, live scouting, analytics, the workout, all of that, the background research, talking to their college coaches. When you have the 10th pick, you want someone that checks off every box. That's our job to do as much due diligence as possible to make sure we're not missing anybody.
Not enough talent on the team
I don't think top to bottom that we're as talented as we need to be to compete with the upper-echelon teams in the Western Conference. The draft is a player acquisition vehicle. Now, that can be selecting a player, trading for an existing player, using the draft pick, we've got three vehicles coming up here. We have the draft, we have free agency 72 hours later, and we have potential trades. The goal is to get into this fall with a much deeper, much more talented roster to give ourselves a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
How many prospects?
[Assistant GM] Chad [Buchanan] has booked the workouts. There's probably anywhere from 40-to-50 guys. That doesn't necessarily mean all of these guys are considered at specific positions in the draft. You do need to build a workout that players complement or work with each other to give yourself a really good sample for guys you are targeting. We also have Idaho now which is a different situation than we've had in the past and certainly different from where I came from. We're not always just looking for guys for the Blazers, we're looking for guys that might be development guys that might go undrafted that we would like to be part of our minor league system.
Best player available or draft for need?
We're always going to take the best player available. We're always. Players are assets. What you need are assets and talent. I don't think we're deep enough at any position to not look at one through five positionally at whoever the best player is on the board. That's exactly where we're going to go regardless of position.
That's one of the things with mock drafts, as you follow these, most mock drafts are based on need. Every GM in the league says they draft on talent and every mock draft is based on need. We have conflicting agendas for the most part. We're going to get the most talented guy we can get at 10, and we're going to add him to our roster and hope he blossoms and we're going to continue to build our talent base.
How often do you see players during the entire evaluation process?
Every player we consider a priority, every person that goes on the road to scout has to see a player a minimum of three times. Geographically, you're going to have guys see people more, based on where they are located, but anybody that walks into our gym that we can consider a priority prospect has been seen in a game situation a minimum of three times.
Are you getting all the guys you want in for workouts?
Working for a former agency, it's a process. There's a lot of things to consider from the agent's side. While we don't care about positional redundancies, there's certain things they need to consider about what's the best career path for their client. It's a challenge. For the most part, what I can say consistently, if there are players who aren't willing to come in at a certain position, if we're drafting too high or too low, there's a valid reason for it and it doesn't really affect our process.
Thanks to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com for the audio.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter