Last week, Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey gave a rare interview to Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.
Olshey discussed the 2013-14 Blazers' performance, the play of his 2013 offseason additions and the upcoming 2014 draft.
Ed. Note: Hey guys, please welcome Sagar Trika to Blazersedge. Sagar is a high school student in Beaverton who has been writing about the Blazers for two years now over at Blazers World. Sagar has provided a full transcript of the interview. Links to the vdeos are above and are included at the bottom. -- Ben
Here's a full transcript. Questions are bolded and in some cases paraphrased. Answers are word-for-word and in blockquote.
At the start of the season, I saw Vegas had you guys for 38 wins, but what was a realistic expectation for this team going in?
If we're going to put a concrete number on it, we felt like a 10-game improvement over last season would be a huge jump. It's just not done that often in the NBA without a gargantuan move to your personnel, whether it's getting lucky with a top 5 pick or a big free agent or a monster trade. It's a testimony to these guys and [coach Terry Stotts] - what they were able to accomplish. A 10-game jump would've been really impressive, and now we're heading to what might be a 20-game jump. I don't think anybody foresaw that.
We talk about development, and you added some critical pieces. I first want to talk to you about those pieces. You went out and you were able to get Robin Lopez for nothing. No offense to anybody involved, but you were in a situation where you didn't have a lot of assets. We know to acquire assets in the NBA, you usually need assets to go get them. How did you accomplish - take us through some of those moves in the summer.
It's the old 'How do you become a millionaire? First start with a million dollars.' I think what we had to do was be really opportunistic. We had a very specific need that kind of solidified what we were looking at. We knew the type of player we wanted to bring in, and we found two teams that basically had different goals and we could facilitate a transaction between them. We were able to participate in that. Arn Tellem was great to us because [Lopez] really liked the Portland market. [Tellem] liked the situation basketball-wise. He also represents LaMarcus Aldridge, so everybody involved wanted to make the deal work and everybody's goals were met. New Orleans ended up with Tyreke Evans. Sacramento ended up with assets. We ended up with the missing piece for us, which was a defensive-minded center.
Did you know [Lopez] would be this good?
I hoped. I think everyone forgets that there was a time not long ago where [Lopez] was drafted where there was a question mark about who got the better player in that draft. Whether it was New Jersey, and [Brook Lopez] has gone on to have an incredible career, and he's an All-Star, but I think [Robin Lopez], because of a couple of injuries, because of depth on the teams he was on, just hadn't been given an opportunity that we were able to give him. Which was, being a day-one starter, not look over your shoulder, and play next to the best power forward in the game.
Talk about Mo Williams, about that deal, and about why he was such a good fit here.
I think guards win games. We all just watched the NCAA tournament. You look at guard-oriented teams, and this is clearly different - our league - but guards are just so critical now - with our game, with the new rules, with the floor being more open. I had a great comfort level with [Williams]. I had traded for him with LA, when I was with the Clippers. I had worked him out for the draft before I got into the NBA. [Stotts] had coached him. So much of what we do is predicated on the ability to trust the pass and make shots, and that's what [Williams] brings.
One of the other goals was we wanted to have somebody that could play on or off the ball. It was so important for us - when we looked at what Eric Maynor brought to the table, back in March of last year, how efficient our offense was, knowing how good we can be when [Damian Lillard] gets to get off the ball, not have primary play-making responsibilities every possession - and [Williams] does that. He leads the league in assists off the bench, and I think if you look at it - how efficient [Lillard] is when he gets off the ball and we have two primary ball handlers - our offensive efficiency just goes up.
I think what goes unnoticed among a lot of people is the improvement that you guys have gotten out of the guys that were already here - some veteran players. Usually, when a guy reaches a certain age in this league, you don't expect him to make leaps. I think we saw [LaMarcus Aldridge] make a leap this year. We saw [Damian Lillard] come up another level. How does all that stuff happen?
That's the coaches. That's these guys. We've got a great staff. [Stotts] has a policy: he meets early with his staff so that before the first player walks in the gym, the coaches are all available. We've got guys that are workers, too, which helps. Everybody on that roster is a worker. They want to be great players. [Wesley Matthews] added a post-game. [Nicolas Batum]'s rebounding and his play-making went up. [Aldridge]'s rebounding is off the charts. He's expanded his range and he's got more to go to in the low post. He can play either block, and [Lillard]'s tracked up as well.
I agree with you. I think sometimes, when people mean development, they're only thinking young guys. We had guys that were fringe All-Stars. If they just made a 10 or 20 percent increase, it was going to result in a big movement in our win total.
You talk about development, and young guys and old guys. The problem here has been: you want to win, but at the same time, you have young guys you want to develop, and unfortunately, they're not going to get to play. You're looking at seeding problems and making the playoffs and all that. You can't devote the time during games on the floor to some of those young guys. How does that development occur without that?
They become victims of our success, to a certain degree. We had talked about this. It was important to accelerate this. We wanted to win now, and we're still committed to developing our young players - it just won't be at the expense of winning. I think a lot of the development that's going on with some of the younger guys on our roster is going on outside the public eye. These guys are getting better - they're improving. We already saw that with a guy like Joel Freeland, who didn't get much playing time last year and was an integral part of our first 60 games.
We see young guys like Thomas Robinson, who's made a jump lately, and they'll get opportunities as their careers go on, but winning organizations rarely have the luxury of playing young guys a lot of minutes. There's a direct correlation between youth and success in this league. One of the things - I think it's an interesting example - is with our young guys, we're also not asking them to get into games that are playing [against] teams that are winning 25 to 30 games. When they get in games now, they're in games where there's a lot at stake, and that changes just how many mistakes you can let them play through.
I remember I used this example with CJ McCollum, and it's been hard. It's been a little bit of a rollercoaster ride. He had a great run back in February - double-digit game after double-digit game, and then his minutes went away, and I said: 'CJ, look. You didn't get drafted by the 10th pick team anymore. We were a lottery team when we drafted you, and now we pick down in the mid-20s. You have to look at your contemporaries that were drafted in the mid-20s. You have to look at what opportunities they're getting.' The teams that are traditionally in the upper parts of the lottery aren't playing their guys because they're trying to win.
Portland may be a more desirable destination for free agents. You obviously don't have a lot of cap room right now, but ultimately, people have always said free agents don't want to come here - they won't come here. You've had two players - your two best players, [Lillard] and [Aldridge] - step up this year and say they want to help recruit players to this town because they think it's a good place to play.
I think it's a window into what type of people [Aldridge] and [Damian] are. I think, probably even more important than whether or not they can deliver on that promise, is the fact that they're willing to try. It's an endorsement of our culture. It's an endorsement of the things we're trying to do here. It's a belief in our mission. I do think that one of the things we try to do when we got here was, a lot of teams face different challenges in their markets in the league. Not every market is based in one of the top two cities in the league, on a beach with nightlife.
You can't answer all the questions, but one of the things you can answer and can control is the basketball environment - the renovation of the practice facility, things going on in the Moda Center, an incredible fan base, an owner who couldn't be more committed and passionate about winning - who has a track record of winning - and just won a Super Bowl. I think that the belief there is that you want players, not only to be able to retain your own players, which I think is critical with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. When you go out to recruit, the ability to say transparently, 'This is the best basketball environment you can be in for your career."
You don't have a draft pick - at least right now. I would assume that you have to prepare for every draft as if you have a pick anywhere in the draft, right? You got to be familiar with every guy out there, right?
Anyone who's not Paul Allen knows there is no area of our business he is more concerned with than the draft. There's young talent, and we've talked about this before - when you don't have a lot of assets when you take over, you have to generate assets and you have to be opportunistic. The draft is a time for opportunism. You just never know what kind of deal will include a pick. You don't know when you can convey a pick or a future first because there's an opportunity.
Last year, we conveyed two future seconds to grab Allen Crabbe because we thought he was that good and he was a great fit for what we're trying to accomplish. All you have to do is go over the track record of the league at draft time, and how many times deals involved players for picks. People acquire picks within a deal. I moved picks when I was with the Clippers for future picks, in order to get involved with the current draft that could help the roster. You've got to be prepared for that.
It's no different, and we talked about this at the trade deadline, we didn't make a move, but it didn't mean we weren't working around the clock to generate opportunities. We just chose to forego those opportunities because we thought the group as a whole was better served chemistry-wise and growth with what we had brought up to that deadline. I think the draft is the same thing.
The season will end, hopefully later rather than sooner, and we'll take a day to do exit interviews and coaching interviews. We'll back in - we'll be at Chicago pre-draft. We'll be at group workouts in Los Angeles. We'll be bringing guys in here to work out. We'll be watching film and getting our board ready because, again, if you don't do the preparation, you can't get that phone call and know what you're doing if you aren't prepared.
I had somebody tell me somehow, someway, Paul Allen's not going to go through that draft without a pick. He's going to figure out a way to get a pick somewhere. Do you think that's possible?
I would think that at some point, there's going to be an announcement from the Portland Trail Blazers select somebody, somehow.
-- Sagar Trika | @BlazersBySagar