TUALATIN-- In the 1960's, Amsterdam became the first major city to adopt a bicycle sharing program and a robust bike infrastructure. The city on the water tried to do everything they could to discourage car use as it was very aware of the vulnerability, that one day it could be engulfed by the environment that made it such a beautiful place.
Portland as a free agent destination has been forced into a similar type of sustainability. One could argue it was the choice of Amsterdam to lead the way. And the Blazers have similarly made the argument that choosing to build around young players, build them up and retain their rights no matter what others may throw at their own players has been their choice. But in both cases, you cannot ignore the environmental factors that forced both of them into that strategy.
Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been more vocal about the rising tides his team, organization and city faces when it comes to team building, whether in press conferences or on NBATV. Friday was more of the same.
"We’ve probably given a longer leash to guys we’ve drafted," Olshey said Friday at the Blazers practice facility in Tualatin. "We have to capitalize on trades, draft and player development. We can’t buy our way out of trouble the way some other bigger market destinations can at times."
Olshey was addressing a question regarding the financial implications of matching Allen Crabbe's contract. And he has made it clear that, yes, the Blazers had to spend this summer.
"I can’t keep saying it enough, guys who want to be here," he said. "Meyers (Leonard) wanted to be here. AC (Crabbe) is thrilled to be back. Guys that have chosen to live in Portland, believe in what we are doing as a basketball organization, believe in the city and how the city embraces this team is what we want and I feel like intrinsically that allows them to compete at a higher level."
That Olshey offered the city of Portland first in his list of things player's want isn't an accident. That narrative has been pervasive during his tenure, but has grown even louder this summer when the Blazers had lots of cap space and came home with Evan Turner. The unspoken part is the players who don't want to be here, but it's obviously there, just ask Chandler Parsons.
For Leonard, the notion of wanting to be in Portland may have been more true than for Crabbe, though.
"It was more feelers to be honest," Leonard said when asked about whether he was really considering leaving to go to another team. "I wanted to be here. I love the city, loved the organization, they backed me and I wanted to continue to grow with the team."
Both players were celebrating but there was little doubt as to who was celebrating more loudly.
Leonard rolled no less than 15-deep to the press conference and the aesthetic for his part of the late morning could most accurately be described as a mash-up between a Dame DOLLA concert on-stage entourage and the Republican National Convention. But the most important part of Leonard's future is the health of his left shoulder, which he hopes will be ready to go for real contact when the season starts.
"My hope is to be ready by the start of the regular season, which is November 1st or whenever the first game might be," Leonard said. "It’s a progression introducing stuff like rebounding, grabbing stuff overhead to 1-on-1, 3-on-3, extending to full court. You never know once you get the full range of motion back which I’m getting close and again you start to introduce more in the weight room with more weights, more force."
With Olshey hoping that Leonard plays a more physical brand of basketball in the paint, citing success against DeMarcus Cousins in post defense, it makes sense that guaranteeing a return date would be something to hold off on.
Crabbe got the biggest pay day but undoubtedly had the more nerve-racking experience.
"It was definitely a stressful free agency, not for the fact that we got the contract but not knowing where I was going to be," Crabbe said. "I knew how much Portland valued me. But they waited until the third day, the last day."
"That was to punish the (Nets) not you," Olshey quickly interjected.
Olshey did build up the drama a little bit, something he's done before in a situation he referenced Friday with DeAndre Jordan during his time with the Clippers.
"I got the phone call from Neil, he didn’t straight up say we are matching, he built up the story," Crabbe told reporters. "He told me we were going to match."
Crabbe said all the right things about the role he wants, avoiding talk about starting and just the pledging to the time-honored tradition of doing what the team needs when asked about how he envisioned his role.
"Anyway I can help to contribute to the team being successful that’s going to be my role," Crabbe said.
Olshey has been louder than ever about the limitations presented by the environment and he has never lacked a penchant for drama in his performance. But like a good planner, he always makes his people feel good, feeling like they are part of something that was done the right way. Embracing the role of forward-thinking rather than being reactionary, a narrative that is much easier to swallow and also a model that's easier to follow given the surroundings.
If nothing else, Friday was a re-affrimation of Olshey's Blazers tenure, one marked by opting for sustainability when the water is rising around him.