Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey discussed the possibility of the playoffs, his team's bench, the status of LaMarcus Aldridge, progress from Damian Lillard, and a host of other topics during Media Day at the "Moda Center" on Monday.
The highlight -- or at least the most memorable section -- was his impassioned response to questions about trade rumors surrounding Aldridge.
Here's the full transcript.
Expectations for the season
"We're just going to jump right in, right? To improve upon last year. Look, this is still a process, but everything we did this offseason was with one goal in mind. We're going to continue to develop our young guys, it's just not going to come at the expense of winning games. I think as you see the roster we put together, the more comfortable you guys get with it, you're going to realize that we maximized our cap room, maximized our assets, we're still rebuilding our talent base. We've improved. We're not really where we need to be but we're closer than we were. But all of it is is with winning in mind."
Is this a playoff team?
"I don't see why it wouldn't be. Look, the West is incredibly deep, incredibly talented. A lot of the teams returning to the playoffs probably feel like they have a seed locked up. But we're going to do everything in our power to get back in. I think we're talented enough, the way our core four players played last year, supported by the new additions, they're going to give us a great chance."
How important is making the playoffs this year?
"It's a process. This is step two. We didn't inherit a playoff team. We're trying to build one. If it happens this year, great. We can't predict where we're going to be in April but we're going to do everything in our power from a front office standpoint and a coaching standpoint to get back into the playoffs. Having a winning culture is as important as developing our talent base. Getting guys mindsets back in, when they come here it is to win."
Is owner Paul Allen expecting this team to make the playoffs?
"Look, Paul's goal, my goals, [president] Chris McGowan's goals, [coach] Terry [Stotts'] goals, everyone in the [organization's goals] is to continue on this upward trend. I think we've played better basketball than we did the year before, I think it was a more enjoyable product to watch. I think we're rebuilding the talent base, which I think was a little bit sub par, and we're going to take a step forward. Hopefully that step is big enough to get us back into the playoffs. But like I said, the West is no joke. I think the West goes 11 or 12 deep and everybody is competing for the same thing we are. Whether they're young, they're older, everybody is anticipating today that they're a playoff team."
Do you think you have a playoff-caliber bench?
"Look, I do. I'm excited. I think a lot of the guys that you might not have seen as much as we have, because they've been in through September, guys who might have played minor roles for their teams last year, guys like Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson, CJ McCollum, a draft pick you've only seen in Summer League and Lehigh. They're going to make bigger impacts than you guys think at this point and being supported by guys like Earl [Watson], Mo [Williams] and Dorell [Wright], that's as good as any bench in the league."
Does this season feel more like your organization now?
"It's our organization. We all have specialties. Clearly, we're in the Moda Center, [president] Chris [McGowan] is driving the business initiatives and doing a great job there. Terry [Stotts] has had the opportunity now, which he didn't last year, which is to go through an offseason with our team, Summer League, coach [Tim Grgurich's] camp, right into September workouts. For me and my staff, it's given us an opportunity to evaluate the guys that were here. The organization placed a lot of resources in some players that were not a part of the future, and we've move on, and we've been able to replace them. Part of the goal this offseason was to try and turn 'B' and 'C' assets into "B" and 'A' assets and I think we're closer to doing that."
What were factors in extending third-year rookie options to Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson?
"They're really good.
"[Robinson] was the fifth pick in the draft and he's a monster and he's going to have a chance to be a big-time player in our league. There really wasn't a lot of thought put into it. These are three lottery level players. I think Dame speaks for himself. Meyers' growth, he just keeps improving every single day, I think you guys will be pleased with that. You guys have seen a limited sample of Thomas Robinson and you guys are going to be incredibly surprised just how gifted this kid is, now that he's got renewed energy, he's engaged, he knows we're embracing him, he knows we're invested in him, and he's responded."
What do you want from veterans?
"Leadership. Stability. Consistency. Having guys that have been there before is really key in this league. Returning guys like [LaMarcus Aldridge] and [Nicolas Batum] and Wesley [Matthews] that have been in the playoffs is important. Supporting them with guys like Mo Williams, who has been to the Finals, and Dorell Wright, who was raised in the Miami Heat organization. Earl Watson who is one of the best natural leaders that I've been around. It's important because it takes a lot of pressure off that core group of guys and allows them to share a little bit of the responsibility off the floor while still focusing on the floor."
Thoughts on Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver playing at EuroBasket during offseason?
"We're lucky because our guys are young guys. My feeling is, if you love to play basketball, play as much as you can. I don't think we have any burnout. Victor and Nic, I think they're both almost energized to a certain degree. The success that Nicolas had meant a lot to him to win the EuroBasket. And to Victor, who has played much more of a secondary role on team Spain up until this year, to play significant minutes and to have a role and really contribute has to build confidence for him."I'm a fan. Even though those guys were over playing in EuroBasket, our guys were playing here. When you look around the league, the league has changed. Guys play 365 days a year. Whether you're playing pick-up at a facility with other NBA All-Stars or you're playing in Europe in Slovenia, it doesn't matter, you're playing basketball and you're working on your craft."
Rumors around LaMarcus Aldridge
"Oh dear God, would you guys get over it? How many -- asked and answered. Thank you [to Chris Haynes], by the way. What else, guys? Show me a media report where LaMarcus Aldridge has said anything other than, 'I hope the team improves, I'm excited about what we did, I want to get better and I want to win.' Then we can have a conversation. Until then, let's move on. OK? Is that possible.
"It's not breaking news, dude. We covered it in July. Guys, let's talk about something, someone has got to have a better question than that."
How was your summer?
"Thank you. LaMarcus and I went hunting and fishing and talked about Portland. Lord. I would avoid that one with him because you may not get as congenial of a response, because the redundancy of it is wearing on everybody a little bit."
Fans still wonder about it
"Why? Why do they? What have they read that has indicated anything other, here's Ben Golliver from Blazersedge, who basically copies and pastes every article that's written about everybody about the Trail Blazers. Which he does and it's great.
"And the entire string that Ben showed, right, the entire string around LaMarcus, other than one, said, 'I want to get better. I want to win. I want to be on a playoff team. I don't want to go through a rebuild.' Right? 'I like what we did this offseason. I haven't given Neil a chance yet. I like what we did. I like the additions. I'm excited about coming back. I never asked for a trade.' Every one of them. So I don't know where you're getting this from? Where? Where are you getting this from? Guys, move on."
Renewed motivation from LaMarcus Aldridge?
"I don't think LaMarcus's motivation ever waned. The guy averaged 21 [points] and nine [rebounds], he was a two-time All-Star, led us in scoring and rebounding, barely missed a game, was on the floor the last night of the season after we were eliminated and had 30 and 20. Where would he need to be reengaged? If LaMarcus can get 30 and 20 every night, he can be whatever he wants to be.
"Look, if LA wasn't happy, he wouldn't be here. He's got a really good team around him, we've supported him with veterans. We've continued to do what we need to do in terms of bringing young talent in here. We've kept our long-term flexibility, we have the ability to aggregate our assets and put those into play, if it gets to that point, where we can put another star around him and Damian [Lillard] and some of the other guys.
"If there was an issue with LA, don't you think somebody nationally would have gotten to this? He's represented by the most powerful agency in the business. Don't you think somebody nationally would have gotten something if the guy wasn't happy and didn't want to be in Portland?"
How's Damian looking?
"How do you guys... phenomenal. Phenomenal. He had a great summer, worked out with our team at Summer League. He was absolutely terrific at Team USA [minicamp]. I know you guys only got to see the game, where he got off to a great start and then missed a couple of jumpers, but practices were phenomenal for him as a confidence-builder. Just knowing he belongs in that group of players was huge for him.
"He's just got an opportunity right now where everybody is looking at him, not as a rookie phenom, but as one of the leaders of the team, along with LA, Nic and Mo. The pressure will be taken off of him, because he has the support of Mo Williams, CJ McCollum and Earl Watson, where he can then spend more time focused on the defensive end of the floor and doing the other things he needs to do to get to an All-Star level. It's not going to be incumbent upon him to lead the league in minutes again and have the ball in his hands every possession."
"CJ is going to be a big-time player. I think what you saw in Summer League was flashes of just how good he is. One of the things, it's hard because when you go into a draft, you have agents that market players, where they are going to rise or fall based on how they are perceived. While CJ can play point, he didn't play point for three years at Lehigh. This is not a Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry situation, they were point guards for their college teams. Dame was, CJ wasn't.
"Not only was [Summer League] the first time he had played live basketball in six months, it was the first time he played point guard since high school. He's been great. All the veteran players keep talking about, raving about, his ability with the basketball. His ability to create plays for other people, create shots for himself. He's got an old school kind of game, he plays at his own tempo, he gets to his spots, he scores like he breathes, so that's not going to be a problem. Like a lot of young guys, his arc, in terms of his ability to contribute, is going to be on the defensive end."
Robin Lopez's impact on defense
"That's a question that Terry can probably answer more articulately than I can but just watching Robin, his size, his presence, his ability to protect the paint, it was clearly an issue for us last year. Look at how many close games we lost where a stop or a score here or there could have shifted whether we were a playoff team or whether we weren't. Robin is also a great guy, he plays with a lot of energy, the guys have responded to him and he has a real team-first mentality. He's a guy who is tracking up, coming off the best year of his career, playing on the same court as a two-time All-Star, the game gets even easier for him."
Who needs to raise their game so that Blazers can be playoff team?
"I think we saw two Nic Batums last year. We saw the pre-injury Nic Batum and we saw the post-injury Nic Batum. To Nic's credit, this is a guy who probably should have shut it down for four-to-six weeks but we were in the playoff chase and he fought through it. It clearly affected his ability to handle the ball and shoot the ball with range.
"We talk about this every year but I think Nic is the X-factor. I think he can be as good as almost any small forward in the Western Conference. He really thrives in Terry's system. Coming off EuroBasket, it can only build his confidence. He had a great championship game. He was a key component of what they did. That type of success -- any time you have success on the court, no matter where it is, that's going to lend itself to where we're going this year."
Can Allen Crabbe contribute right away?
"That's for Terry. We moved up in the draft to get Allen. We never anticipated him being available in the early part of the second round. We think he's got a tremendous amount of upside. To be honest with you, that's as much a move for rebuilding our talent base as it was for this year. Clearly, if he competes and earns minutes, great. But when you look at the depth chart of Wes, CJ, Mo can play two spots, Dame can play two spots, Nic can slide over to the two, it's going to be hard for him to get minutes. But it doesn't mean he's not going to go out and compete.
"He's an elite shooter. He's got good size for position, he's a good athlete, he's a better finisher than you think. He played for a great coach in college that had NBA experience and knows how to use guys like that. He's another piece to the future. If he earns minutes he will get them, but they won't be given to him at the expense of winning."
Why so confident Thomas Robinson will work in Portland?
"I think you have to look at the circumstances as to why they didn't work. We scouted the guy in college, we're not just basing this on what happened in the NBA. In Sacramento, they were in a transition, they were selling the organization and they made a move based on their business needs. When he got to Houston, they were in a playoff push, they had veterans at his position. It's very difficult to come in on a team that's in the playoffs and make a rotation with a coach that's in a comfort zone. Clearly coach [Kevin] McHale had his rotation, it worked out, they made the playoffs, Tom got spot minutes here and there.
"They were not in the mode -- that was a long-term addition for [Rockets GM] Daryl [Morey] and that group to grab a tremendous talent and unfortunately he became a victim of circumstance to a certain degree. I know that they were reluctant to give him up. In the bigger picture, they needed to do what they needed to do to acquire Dwight [Howard]. It worked for them and it clearly worked for us."
New training and strength staffs
"Since we came in, we tried to preach the mantra that we're a players first organization. Before anybody makes a decision within the organization, it's: How does it affect their ability to win games? We really felt like we wanted a training and performance staff that was more focused on corrective exercise, injury prevention, getting ahead of issues, identifying imbalances, bringing in new technologies.
"[Director of Player Health and Performance] Chris Stackpole is a rising star in our business, we got rave reviews from the guys we talked to. Our players, you can ask them when they come through, they've responded incredibly well to Chris's treatment. Some of the new advancements we have, if you get a chance to talk to them at some point, some of the things we're doing to identify where players are in their training when they come in, so we can get out ahead of issues. Instead of always being in a reactive mode where we are providing treatment to get guys back from injuries, we're trying to prevent injuries."
Will you start the season with 14 guys under contract?
"We have 15 guys under contract. We have 15 guaranteed contracts. Richard [Howell], E.J. [Singler] and Dee [Bost] are here to contribute during training camp, get used to our culture, spend most of the month of October with us, and then they'll go down to Idaho."
What prompted changes with medical staff? Feedback from players or your previous experience with other organizations?
"A little bit of both. You have to look at your injury history. What could be prevented, what was unavoidable. A lot of it was unavoidable. Some of it was feedback from players. Some of it was the things we did in Los Angeles. Some of it was things Terry had been a part of in Dallas. Just trying to be more forward-thinking, putting the players' needs out ahead of our own, and making sure at whatever the new techniques in training techniques and performance techniques, that we're on top of it."
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter