Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey and coach Terry Stotts met with reporters after 2013 exit interviews at the practice facility on Thursday.
The pair addressed reporters together after 14 players met with a group of the media members one after another. A digest of the player interviews is right here.
The following is a transcript of comments made by Olshey and Stotts.
Updated (Friday night): Full transcript is now posted.
Neil Olshey: First of all I want to make sure you are all impressed that I'm very Portlandia now. No suit and tie, just a golf shirt on. I'm very relaxed. Terry and I have been munching on granola all day, we're going hiking later. It's perfect.
Waiving Jared Jeffries
Neil Olshey: Jared was well aware that we were always going to have to waive him. He was part of a sign-and-trade where we had to do three years. His second year would have been guaranteed within five days after the end of the season. We felt it was appropriate to handle while he was here. He was a player that we we were going to have to renounce anyway to create the maximum amount of cap room. As we told Jared, we'll look into it again at the end of the summer. If we have a need and he doesn't have a job, it's something that we can discuss. Right now, where this organization is going, we need every ounce of cap room we can get to create the best roster possible.
Thoughts on season
Neil Olshey: If it was a 69-game season I'd be ecstatic and so would Terry. I thought it was a really successful season. We had a lot of goals when we came into this year, we had a lot of holes on the roster. This time last year, there was no coach, no GM, there was a different president. We didn't have a point guard, we weren't sure if Nic Batum was going to be back. We didn't know if LaMarcus [Aldridge] could be an All-Star in a different system and all of those things have been answered.
One of the things we did all year was compete. We played a fun style of basketball that other players around the league are starting to identify as a system they would like to play in. It was free-flowing, it maximized the skillset of our players. Our assistant coaches did a great job with player development. All of our young guys are better today than they were back in October. They're quickly becoming assets around this league. We still have a lot of questions to answer but we weren't going to answer them in one offseason, which is why we maintained maximum flexibility.
We sit here today with the franchise point guard we talked about on draft night 10 months ago, [LaMarcus Aldridge] is still an All-Star, Nic Batum is playing at a high level, Wes [Matthews] had another really good year, we have a potential big in Meyers Leonard, we filled another hole with Eric Maynor at the trade deadline. Now we sit here with $11.6 million in cap room, we have the room mid-level. We have the 10th pick, the 39th pick, the 40th pick and the 45th pick, so we've got a lot of deal-making tools, and the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou. We're going to be incredibly aggressive over the next two months to build the roster.
What needs to improve on roster this offseason?
Neil Olshey: It's obvious. We had a tough time protecting the rim, we had a tough time giving up points in the paint. That's not an indictment of J.J. Hickson, we asked a 6-foot-9 power forward to play center every night in a league against the Marc Gasols, Roy Hibberts, Dwight Howards, etc. Even last night against Andrew Bogut. J.J. performed admirably but that's a hole we need to shore up. We've got to get our interior defense better. That's my job, whether it's by draft, trade or free agency, to make sure that's not a hole that Terry walks into next training camp having to address.
You said that you enjoyed this season
Terry Stotts: It was enjoyable. Young teams are usually pretty enjoyable. When you have success, the first half of the season, the wins we had against quality opponents, particularly here at home, we won so many close games. That was the difference of our season. The first half of our season, we won an inordinate amount of close games, the second half we didn't.
It was exciting to see the growth of the young players. As a coach, you like to see the growth and development of the young players as a team and as individuals. From my standpoint I thought we got to see both of those. The 13-game losing streak notwithstanding, and even that was a positive in some ways. It was very enjoyable. The group of guys that Neil put together were high-character guys, the young guys worked hard to improve and the older guys accepted their roles and mentored the young guys. In a lot of ways it was very rewarding.
How do you see this draft class?
Neil Olshey: I have to talk in generalities because I can't discuss specific players. There's an old saying: there's no bad drafts, there's only bad drafters. I think that if you do your job, you need to find value. Where that value lies, the 10th pick in this draft may not be relative to the 10th pick in a different draft.
I think something everybody has to start realizing is, the depth of drafts has changed for a multitude of reasons. We don't have high school guys any more. We used to add five or six lottery picks that pushed guys down to later in the lottery. The European market has been fished out a little bit, you don't have the magnitude of guys entering the draft going that high in the draft. Then you have guys making decisions to stay in school, which I think is admirable.
At the end of the day, the draft is a player acquisition vehicle. If the best player we can get is via the draft, we're going to draft. If the best player we can get is by moving that pick and using our cap room and other assets to acquire the better player, we are going to accelerate this and get the best team on the floor possible. When the draft nets Damian Lillard, you draft. If the draft is going to net a role player but using that pick in a deal is going to get you a rotation play or a starter, you put the pick in play. We're evaluating that now.
I love this. This is where Paul [Allen] and I have a great synergy. Nothing is more enjoyable to me than the next two months leading up to the draft in this business and I think Paul feels the same way. I just love it. I'm on a plane Monday morning to Croatia and Cholet, France, looking at a couple of prospects over there. We've been meeting all week, we've been evaluating guys in the Hoop Summit that are draft-eligible. It's a great process and if you do your due diligence and approach it with the right mindset, you should come out of it with a roster that has been accelerated due to increasing the talent base.
Playing the younger guys at the end of the season
Neil Olshey: Myself, Paul and everybody in this organization owes a debt of gratitude to Terry because there are a lot of coaches who would be resistant to playing younger guys over veterans. I think Terry saw there was a bigger picture at stake, a process at stake here and that winning two or three more games late in the season wasn't as valuable as getting a baseline for these young guys where they can go into the offseason knowing they got an opportunity, but also getting a reality check about what it takes to be a productive player in this league.
I think Terry giving them that opportunity is unique in this league and I think if you look around not every coach that had been eliminated from the playoffs was willing to put their win-loss record on the line by playing younger players that would give them a lesser chance to win games and he did that for us. That's where this partnership comes in. Now my part of the partnership comes in by trying to get him a better, deeper, more talented roster for next October.
Playoff contender next season?
Neil Olshey: 13 games ago we were a playoff contender. That was with what you've described as the worst, least-productive bench in the league, a rookie point guard and other issues. I'd like to think with 12 million dollars in cap room, a lottery pick and the other tools we have at our disposal, and a motivated, aggressive owner, we are going to be a much more competitive team. I think one of the things that's gone unnoticed is how good of a job Terry did relative to the expectation level. A lot of people thought we were a 33, 34 win team overall and at 100 percent health I think we far exceed that.
We hit a bump in the log where we went into a big weekend against Utah, Golden State, Utah, which could have swung it in our favor, and bad timing between Nic, Wes and LaMarcus getting hurt. I think we were close this year but we're going to have to be aggressive. Minnesota is going to be a better team this year, they're going to be healthy, you expect the Lakers and other teams to come up from behind. We're going to have to be really aggressive building the roster. I think that there's a good foundation. I think the toughest thing to find is a point guard and I think we can all agree in here that we've found one. Now we need to support and build the starting center position and the depth between players six through 10.
LaMarcus Aldridge made a comment that it could be two seasons before you really make some noise in the playoffs. Is that how you see things in terms of your timeline?
Neil Olshey: I think making noise is speculative. When I was with the Clippers, we came off a 32-win season and if everybody would have said we were in the Western Conference semifinals 12 months later, they would have been looked at as folly. Multiple transactions, trades, amnesty claims, minimum contracts to the right guys, drafting properly is what you see now, the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
I don't think you can speculate today because I don't know what free agency is going to bring, I don't know what the draft is going to bring, I don't know what trades are going to bring. But I know we're going to do everything we can to build the roster. To sit here and put an artificial expectation on what a roster may or may not be when you only have eight returning players and you haven't drafted yet or gone into free agency doesn't make a lot of sense.
But I do know from L.A.'s perspective, we talked, and he knows we're going to be aggressive in building the roster. I'd like to think the improvement from the guys who are already here on top of the guys we're going to bring in will make us a factor faster rather than later.
Does players recruiting other players actually work or is money the overriding factor in free agency decisions?
Neil Olshey: Max money to max players is always a good idea. [Recruiting] is big, guys want to play with guys who are about the same stuff and who are trying to win. The best voice for your organization is your players. How they're treated, the resources they have, how they're coached, how they prepare for games, how aggressive the front office is, how invested the owner is.
All of those things, LaMarcus has a larger sample size of anyone in the organization, he's been here the longest, and I think he knows that Paul is going to drive anyone who works for him to build this as quickly as possible. If LaMarcus can embrace and endorse what we're doing, there's more credibility there sometimes than a general manager who is recruiting or a coach or his agent who is negotiating the deal on a player to player level. I think that the bigger, stronger advocates of guys like Damian, LaMarcus and Nic can be for us, the easier free agent recruitment will be for us.
What are you looking for in the draft?
Neil Olshey: We're going to get deeper. This roster isn't talented enough. We're not talented enough. We don't have a deep enough talent base. That's what we need to rebuild. It takes talent to win in this league. To get position-specific, having a lesser two versus a more talented three doesn't make any sense. What we need is a complete starting lineup, which is why didn't build the bench before we had our starting lineup, and we need our depth to be guys that are capable of impacting an NBA game, regardless of position. You put your five best players on the court, Terry can talk to this better than I can, and you come off the bench with your next best players. Whether you mix and match multiple guys at the same spot, doesn't matter. There are teams that are playing three point guards at once, it doesn't matter as long as they are more talented than the guys they are going up against.
Going to tender qualifying offer to Eric Maynor?
Neil Olshey: It's more strategic than complex. Eric has a very significant cap hold. We really like Eric. We made the moves because we want him to be a part of our future but there are realities to how strategically we can maximize the amount of room we have, the mini-mid level that we have and the draft pick. Who knows? Our roster may look far different come July 1 which can affect what we do as well. Eric, Andy Miller, everybody knows we are going to maximize every tool that we have knowing that we are taking into consideration that we want Eric back with us.
How much do exit interviews impact whether you bring these guys back?
Neil Olshey: We're with these guys every day. I don't think anything you're going to find out in an exit meeting is revolutionary. I think it's more about Terry's plan for their development, when we want them back, what we expect from them in the offseason, what their offseason plans are, how we can facilitate things for them in terms of getting them resources, in terms of coaches, strength and conditioning guys to go work with them. That's more what it's about, it's not to identify whether or not they're going to be back. That's a discussion for myself and their agents.
Terry, did you discuss with the younger players what you want them to do this summer more than the veteran players?
Terry Stotts: Yes and no. I spoke with LaMarcus about how he can improve in areas, as good as he is, that he can work on. The young guys have more to work on than the older guys but I think we've gotten to the point where everybody needs to work in the summer to improve their games. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses to work on. The younger guys have more to work on, we'll spend more time with them.
What do you want to see the "Core Four" guys work on this summer?
Terry Stotts: I don't want to go into specifics about each guy. As good as LaMarcus is, he can improve on the right block and the free throw area. Wes can improve his pick-and-roll game. Nic can improve in all the different areas because he's so capable in being very good at different areas. Damian, as good a year as he had, he can become better in the mid-range game and more creative passing. We touched on a lot of things with a lot of different players, top to bottom.
Growth of younger players
Terry Stots: It's rewarding. You look at a guy like Will [Barton], who didn't much of a chance, he comes in the last couple of weeks and plays the game, plays a little more under control for Will. He was very effective. Meyers made strides, Joel got off to a slow start and you saw all the work he did last night, how he's come along. As I mentioned earlier, as a coach you want to see the team grow and the individuals grow. And I thought we saw that.
Moving up to No. 10 draft lottery slot
Neil Olshey: Any time you have more assets, the better off you're going to be in terms of deal-making flexibility. You want to be as high as possible. Any time that pick has more value, not only to us but to other teams around the league, it gives us a little more leverage in terms of deals. Ostensibly what you're saying is there are two more players that wouldn't have been a week ago.
That not only helps us in terms of the depth we're looking at, but maybe somebody a tier above where you were looking at slips, maybe a guy gets to you at 10 who wouldn't have gotten to you at 12. Or, a guy is slipping that somebody else values enough that we can get a veteran back using our room and the draft pick. It is significant.
When you look at Golden State last night, they're a perfect example. If they end up eighth, that pick is Utah. They end up seventh, the starting small forward on a playoff team is a guy they wouldn't have been able to get. You just don't know how it's going to play out on draft night and we're in a better position today than we would have been at 12.
What kind of jump do you expect to make?
Neil Olshey: Well, we're two years away from being a playoff factor, apparently, making noise in the playoffs. [Joking from earlier question.] As significant a jump as possible, ask me on July 15, ask me when we've had a draft, when we've been through free agency. There's only 14 teams that can make a trade today. Ask me then, but ask me about how aggressive we're going to be: very aggressive.
The last thing Paul said to me last night, to show how empathetic he is to Terry and the players that are competing, was: 'Promise me we're going to be more competitive next year.' I said, 'We are.' He didn't mean on the court, he meant in terms of our talent base and our ability to compete. As you all tweet that. What Paul said was, and look at Damian and Will and LaMarcus and the guys that are playing last night competing their tails off, and they just didn't have enough to get it done night in and night out in this league, over the last 15 games, when we were short-handed.
And, by the way, this has gone unnoticed because of all the injuries, we played the toughest schedule in the league over the last 15 games of the year. The only non-playoff team we played was the Dallas Mavericks and Utah. My commitment to Paul and to Terry is to make this the most competitive team in terms of talent. There's nobody I trust more than Terry that once he gets the right pieces in place, we're going to see a huge jump in terms of wins and losses but I can't evaluate it specifically because I don't know who those guys are right now.
Nolan Smith and Luke Babbitt indicated they probably weren't going to be back. Elliot Williams said you expressed interest in retaining him. Can you lay out your thinking on those guys?
Neil Olshey: I think Nolan needs a new environment. Nolan is an NBA player but bringing Eric Maynor in, the moniker of being a first-round pick was tough for Nolan to overcome. He's a great kid, he did everything we asked him to do, he's going to be on an NBA roster next year, but he more than anyone needs a change of scenery, he needs to start fresh.
Luke, we're not closing the door to anything, but clearly with LaMarcus playing 36 minutes a night at four and Joel [Freeland] probably being more four than five, compared to what we anticipated, and Victor [Claver] getting some of those minutes, we have other areas where we need more roster balance, where we need to apply our resources. But, as I told Luke, we're not going to rule it out. He's got a special skill and we'll see what the roster looks like on July 1.
With Elliot, nobody knows what we have with Elliot Williams. He's a guy I scouted back in college. I saw for five minutes here for offseason workouts and didn't get [more of] an opportunity. Clearly he's got talent. There's three years invested in trying to get him healthy and get him right and if there's an opportunity to bring him back that's something we'll look at.
Will luxury tax environment make teams more willing to trade for draft picks?
Neil Olshey: I don't know. I think this is our first foray into this. Seeing just how vulnerable teams are. I think you saw a little bit of it at the trade deadline. For the most part, any team that has a chance to win a championship is rarely going to make moves based strictly on finances but I think if you can provide teams with an attractive alternative, the more valuable the draft picks you have, the more deal-making tools you have, the more young assets you have, the more attractive packages you can put together and construct to bring somebody in that helps us move forward faster. This will be the first true cycle where we get into Chicago [pre-draft camp], the draft, free agency where teams are starting to feel the impact of a progressive luxury tax.
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