Ian Thomsen has written a multi-thousand-word exposé on Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey for NBA.com. It covers everything from Olshey's early years as an actor, his relationship with staff members, and of course, preparations for life with or without LaMarcus Aldridge.
On Wednesday at midnight he will embark upon a series of auditions, beginning with LaMarcus Aldridge, the unrestricted free agent who is the Blazers' best player. If he says no to Olshey, if Aldridge decides to move to the San Antonio Spurs or Dallas Mavericks or another franchise, then the show does not end there. The story for the Blazers will go on. Olshey will have to bend the narrative in a surprising new direction.
There is no predicting how the next several weeks will be played out. All Olshey knows is that he and his staff will work together through the pages of their unwritten script. The secret to improvisation is preparation and rehearsal and teamwork. This is the story of his life.
With that, Thomsen launches into Olshey's description of being rejected repeatedly for acting roles and how it prepared him to risk failure as a decision-maker in the NBA. Olshey also cites the teamwork of creating a film or TV show as inspiration for forming an NBA roster, with the GM as director, scouts and other personnel as support staff, and the players themselves as on-screen actors. Thomsen describes Portland's inter-office dynamics and even quotes Aldridge complimenting his GM last February:
He came in and made some changes that have been really, really, really good for us from an organization standpoint. He made an environment where players can feel comfortable and feel happy here, where players come first and everything else is second -- which is a lot better. --LaMarcus Aldridge
Though the feel-good, human interest story dominates the word count, brief mentions of Aldridge's status provide gravitas. Consider this section on Aldridge's early recruitment:
As soon as Olshey hired Stotts in 2012, they flew together to visit Aldridge. The Blazers were coming off a 28-win season, and they asked Aldridge to support them for one more difficult season while they turned the franchise rightside-up.
"It was a lot to ask," says Olshey. "And I really credit LaMarcus, especially after the year prior to that where there was so much dysfunction and disarray and turnover. Because we weren't asking him for one year, we were really asking him for two -- the one that preceded our regime, and the next one where we kind of knew we weren't going to be good enough. So to LaMarcus's credit, seeing the big picture, I feel very lucky that he was able to give us that year. And it bought us the time to go get Robin Lopez and build the bench and improve our depth to the point where we were a second-round playoff team, which was as far as he had gotten to that point in his career."
The article also offers explicit explanation for Olshey's plan since:
"It's no secret," Olshey says of his strategy since his arrival in Portland. "Basically we have not signed a contract or traded for a player that went out beyond LaMarcus. The contingency was always to have flexibility."
Continuing to circle back to the Aldridge decision provides a yin and yang to the piece. It gives the reader empathy for Olshey and his rise to power, evoking good will by detailing the wonderful things he's done for the franchise and its employees, assuring the reader of his competence and the presence of a master plan. From the opening headline, "Olshey, Blazers ready if Aldridge stays -- or goes" the article also makes clear why a reassuring narrative is (or might soon be) necessary.
It's hard to miss that in the triumphant, stirring conclusion to the article, Aldridge and Olshey have switched positions.
When he began to audition for jobs on stage, he was searching for the truth in his own life, because that's what acting is at the highest level: It's not about pretending so much as it is believing, in order to convince others to believe. And so he believes now. The practice facility is like an actors' workshop, the Moda Center is their theater, and he is there to serve: To bring in the best of them, and to bring out the best in them.
"And if you are lucky enough to make enough right decisions, you get to keep working," Olshey says. "And if you don't, you get to hope that someone hires you as a scout down the road, and then you get to work your way back up again."
This is why he can be so passionate about recruiting his own player to stay, even as he shows no fear of losing him. Neil Olshey was never meant to be the brilliant actor, and yet he knows how they feel. He is living the life that matters.
Instead of Olshey playing a role in Aldridge's decision, now Aldridge plays a role in the grand scope of Olshey's life. Blazers fans and NBA observers are invited to focus on the solid, continuous presence that will buoy the Portland franchise and lead it to eventual glory. In this narrative that part is not played by their All-Star forward, but their GM.