As our week-long look at Portland Trail Blazers free agency continues here at Blazer's Edge, we're taking a look at the record of the man charged with guiding the Blazers through the Summer of 2016, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey.
Olshey served as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Clippers from March of 2010 through June of 2012 before assuming a similar position with the Trail Blazers. His tenure has been replete with moves, varying in effectiveness.
As a preface we're going to assert that Olshey has been brilliant in three areas, especially in Portland:
1. He's been near-genius in drafting guards, with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and even Allen Crabbe standing as testimony. One might even look at his trades for Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe in Los Angeles and extend the statement to, "Olshey knows a good guard when he sees one." That's a bankable skill in the modern NBA.
2. Olshey's hiring of Terry Stotts was a bullseye that few people saw coming. It has paid enormous dividends.
3. Olshey and Stotts appear to have designed a team with fantastic chemistry. Olshey has given his head coach players who, by all reports, work together smoothly on and off the court.
These three clear strengths will have limited utility this summer. With the Blazers fresh out of 2016 draft picks and having just extended Stotts through 2020, neither rookies nor coaching hires will determine the team's immediate course. Portland's short-term improvement will hinge on free agent signings and trades. In these areas, Olshey's record is not as sterling.
Below is a chart of every significant free agent signing while Neil Olshey held the reins in L.A. and Portland. "Significance" was determined by a player appearing in at least 41 games--half of a season--for the Clippers or Blazers after signing with the team. The 41-game cut-off avoids crowding the list with poorly-performing 15th men and 10-day contract signees...players every General Manager takes fliers on. They should not become a part of his permanent record.
The chart shows name, number of seasons completed with the team, plus points per game and PER produced for that particular team. PER, or Player Efficiency Rating, is a minutes-adjusted "kitchen sink" formula created by John Hollinger and explained here. It has strengths and weaknesses, over-valuing rebounders and tending not to favor defensive specialists, for example. But for our purposes the fact that it's minute-adjusted and scaled to a league-wide average makes it handy for ballpark comparisons. The NBA league average PER is set to 15.0. A player ranking above 15 can be considered above average. (Carmelo Anthony posted a 20.3 PER this year, Russell Westbrook 27.6. Stephen Curry leading the league at 31.5.) A PER below 15.0 indicate below average production.
Here are all of Olshey's significant signings as a lead executive:
As this chart reveals, Olshey has never signed a free agent who subsequently scored more than 11.5 points per game for his team. Only 3 signees--Randy Foye, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler--reached double-figure scoring at all. Only one free agent--Billups--reached league-average performance measured by PER...and Billups was right at the average.
Trail Blazers Euro-prospects Victor Claver and Joel Freeland spent 3 seasons with their team. As Portland fans know, this was less because talent and more because speculating on them was an inexpensive value move. Apart from that pair, Olshey has not signed a free agent who spent more than two years on his team's roster.
List of Trades
Trades are not as easy to compile in a chart, so here's a listing of all of Olshey's exchanges since 2010:
June 24th, 2010: Traded a first-round pick which later became Fab Melo for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe averaged 6.7 ppg with a 13.6 PER in 3 seasons for the Clippers.
February 24th, 2011: Traded a first-round pick which later became Kyrie Irving for Jamario Moon (3.5 ppg, 8.4 PER in 1 season) and Mo Williams (13.8 ppg and 14.6 PER in 2 seasons)
December 14th, 2011: Traded Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and a first-round pick which later became Austin Rivers for Chris Paul (18.9 ppg, 9.9 aps, and 26.3 PER in 5 seasons, ongoing) and 2 second-round picks.
March 25th, 2015: As part of a three-team deal traded Brian Cook and a second-round pick to receive Nick Young (9.7 ppg, 9.9 PER in 1/2 season)
July 16th, 2012: Traded Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas to the New York Knicks for Dan Gadzuric, Jared Jeffries (1.2 ppg, 2.4 PER in 1 season), Kostas Papanikolaou, Giorgos Printezis, cash and a 2016 2nd round draft pick.
July 16th, 2012: Traded Jon Diebler for Sasha Pavlovic (2.6 points, 6.2 PER in 1 season)
July 10th, 2013: Traded Kostas Papanikolau, Mirko Todorovic, and 2 second-round picks for Thomas Robinson (4.5 ppg. 13.2 PER in 2 seasons)
July 10th, 2013: Traded Jeff Withey, 2 second-round picks, and cast for Robin Lopez (10.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 17.1 PER in 2 seasons)
February 9th, 2015: Traded Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, and a first-round pick (#19 in 2016 NBA Draft) for Arron Afflalo (10.6 ppg and 8.2 PER in 1 season) and Alonzo Gee (3.4 ppg and 9.7 PER in 1 season)
June 24th, 2015: Traded Nicolas Batum for Gerald Henderson (8.7 ppg, 12.9 PER in 1 season, ongoing) and Noah Vonleh (3.3 ppg, 8.6 PER in 1 season, ongoing)
June 25th, 2015: Traded Steve Blake and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for Mason Plumlee (9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 17.2 PER in 1 season, ongoing) and Pat Connaughton (1.1 ppg, 4.6 PER in 1 season, ongoing)
July 14th, 2015: Traded a second-round pick for Maurice Harkless (6.4 ppg, 13.3 PER in 1 season, ongoing)
July 27th, 2015: Traded cash for Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, and 2 second-round picks.
February 18th, 2016: Traded a second-round pick for Anderson Varejao and a 2018 first-round pick.
February 18th, 2016: Traded cash for Brian Roberts (2.9 ppg, 13.7 PER in 1 season, ongoing) and a second-round pick.
The Chris Paul Deal
Olshey's pinnacle move is clearly the December 14th, 2011 acquisition of Chris Paul, a multi-time All-Star whose production blasts through the roof and who remains with the Clippers to this day. Though Paul is a feather in Olshey's cap, the clouded circumstances surrounding the deal make it all but unrepeatable. It ranks among the most bizarre circumstances in league history and thus the least indicative of prowess or future performance.
As recounted here, at the time of the deal the New Orleans Hornets--Paul's original team--were being managed by the NBA...a side effect of purchasing the franchise from former owner George Shinn. Before Paul became a Clipper, the appointed league representative managing the Hornets agreed upon a swap sending the All-Star to the Los Angeles Lakers:
The proposed (and briefly agreed-upon deal): Paul to the Lakers; Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets; and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and a first-round draft pick (from Houston via New York) to the Hornets.
As details of the trade became public, a cry arose across the league. Objections centered around the marquee-heading Lakers--long suspected of league favoritism--getting the NBA's best point guard in a deal which would ultimately provide them cap relief as well. In the face of protest, then-commissioner David Stern nixed the trade for "basketball reasons"...an unprecedented explanation for an unprecedented turnaround.
In the fallout, Paul was again up for grabs. But there was a catch:
Paul had made it clear he didn't want to remain a Hornet past the 2011-12 season, preferring to play in New York or Los Angeles.
With the Lakers out of the equation, only two potential candidates remained. The league had purportedly rejected the Lakers deal because New Orleans needed young, cheap talent instead of expensive veterans. The New York Knicks had already traded all their young players to the Denver Nuggets in February of 2011 for Carmelo Anthony. This left but one franchise whom free-agent-to-be Paul would likely remain with and who had younger players to offer in return: Olshey's Clippers.
The Chris Paul trade was a masterpiece, shaping the course of the Clippers to this day. Unless the league buys a team, opts to trade a generational talent off of that team, narrows down the possible recipients to three franchises, then disqualifies two of them (and for our purposes, the remaining one is Portland), it will never be repeated. For those reasons the trade is properly labeled with an asterisk when discussing the its applicability to the bigger picture.
The Non-Paul Moves
Setting the deal for Paul aside, Olshey's exchanges look much more mundane. The Bledsoe trade--his first as GM--would have been brilliant had Bledsoe developed with the Clippers. Outside of that Robin Lopez (17.1 PER) and Mason Plumlee (17.2 PER) remain Olshey's most productive trade targets. Many of Olshey's moves have been tabbed as "smart" or "value acquisitions" but--as with his free-agent signings--overall production has tended towards the anemic.
Olshey has also presided over a couple of head-scratchers. The most obvious gaffe was losing the first-overall pick in 2011 for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon (neither of whom lasted with the team). Trading Will Barton and a first-round pick for Arron Afflalo in 2015 also turned out poorly.
Neil Olshey has made exactly one move in trade or free agency that has dramatically altered the course of a franchise: the Chris Paul deal in 2011. Aside from that, few of the players he's acquired have reached even an average level of production, let alone above average. Aside from Paul, no meaningful Neil Olshey acquisition has ever spent more than 2 seasons with the team he signed them to.
Past performance is not always indicative of future production. Needs and circumstances change. But it's safe to say that free agency and trades have not been among of Olshey's demonstrated strengths thus far. To the extent the Blazers will depend on those avenues to improve their lot, he will need to exercise different skills than he's shown so far, else the road ahead may be difficult.