In the past 6 months, Trail Blazers general manager, Neil Olshey, has been under fire for over-paying rotation players and for being too thin skinned when handling criticism. While this last offseason has left a sour taste in Blazers fans mouths when they hear the name Neil Olshey, fans should remember Olsheys wizardry in the draft as he netted us our future because apparently, drafting the right player is a skill that some GM's have not mastered. After looking back at the deal the Sacramento Kings just made, we should all just be thankful that we have Neil Olshey and not Vlade Divac or even Phil Jackson at the helm.
While everybody bases their opinions on Olshey on this last offseason, I would like to recap some of the deals that Olshey has done leading up to today that should not go unnoticed or appreciated. Some deals may seem minor, but they shaped how this franchise is today.
The first draft under Neil Olshey was probably the best job that a GM has done in Portland with a draft since 2006. While it was Rich Cho who robbed the Brooklyn Nets of the first round pick that ended up being Damian Lillard while only giving up Gerald Wallace, that pick does no good without having a savvy GM when it comes to the draft. Look at the Sacramento Kings, Thomas Robinson (who now plays on the Lakers) was drafted by the Kings before Lillard was selected. Meyers Leonard has been a frustrating player, but has shown flashes of potential and is a way better player than Austin Rivers who was drafted before him. Finally, Olshey drafted Will Barton in the second round who has turned out to be a quality role player after getting an opportunity in Denver to show what he can do. While Neil Olshey has drafted some great talent over the years, nothing in Portland will ever compare to his first draft with the team in 2012.
While this may not be the most glorious deal in the Neil Olshey era, it proved to be a huge move in the development of Damian Lillard. Eric Mayor only averaged 7 points and 4 assists, but he mentored Lillard and taught him things that he uses to this day. Along with Mo Williams and Dorell Wright, Eric Maynor played a major role in developing Damian Lillard into the franchise player that he is today.
A year after drafting Lillard and Leonard, Olshey was back to doing what he does best; drafting young talent. In one of the worst drafts in recent memory (Anthony Bennett being taken #1), Olshey somehow managed to draft the second best player in that draft with the tenth pick; Giannis Antetokounmpo obviously being the best. Along with C.J, Neil Olshey traded two second round picks to Cleveland in return for what would be Allen Crabbe. Today, Crabbe is one of the Blazers better bench players and has been a very valuable asset to this team. Last, but not least the Trail Blazers drafted Jeff Withey. That pick may be forgotten or seem insignificant, but Withey was traded along with two second round picks and cash considerations to New Orleans in a three-team trade in which the Blazers got back Robin Lopez. Lopez was a fan-favorite and the last great interior defender for Portland (now we have hope with Nurkic). Overall, this draft proved huge significance for the team and put them where they are today.
Traded for Thomas Robinson
How ironic that the Blazers managed to have the 5th and 6th picks in the 2012 NBA draft for a short period of time. Thomas Robinson showed a lot of heart for this team and was identified as a hard worker who put himself on the line every night for his team. While he didn't have the biggest impact, he gave us some incredible highlights like this. Every team needs their "hustle" player and Thomas Robinson was ours.
Traded for a playoff run
In 2014, the Blazers were one of the best teams in the leagues and looking to make a big run in that years playoffs. The deal doesn't look bad on the surface as they gave up Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and a first round pick for a rental on Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee. Having a veteran like Afflalo come off the bench in the playoffs would be huge and it added instant depth, but in April Wesley Matthews tore his achilles and the team would not recover. This injury thrust Afflalo into the starting lineup and made the Blazers very weak when it came down to wing players. The Blazers would continue on to make it out of the first round for the first time in 14 years, but had no chance against the Spurs. Looking back on this trade, it is now considered the worst trade that Olshey has made while at the helm of the team. Barton would break out while Afflalo promptly packed his bags for the "Big Apple" in the summer.
Traded for Henderson and Vonleh
The Blazers summer 2015 implosion all began with a simple trade. Nicolas Batum for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. This move surprised and angered many fans who had become attached to Batum during his inconsistent 7 years with the Blazers. While Henderson left the next summer, Vonleh has flashed his potential and if he can be molded by the Blazers into a a solid rotation player, this trade would be well worth it. Time is now running out, but at least they didn't have to pay Batum the 120 million dollars and make their cap situation worse than what it currently is.
Traded for Maurice Harkless
In what was Olsheys biggest theft, the Blazers managed to bring in Maurice Harkless for essentially nothing. Maurice has developed from a 3.5 ppg scorer in Orlando to scoring over 10 points a game and being a glue guy for the Blazers.
The Blazers acquire Mason Plumlee
Two years ago, Neil Olshey traded Steve Blake and the rights for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to Brooklyn for Mason Plumlee. This trade netted the Blazers a starting center who made an instant impact on this team and was very close to Damian Lillard. Mason Plumlee replaced Robin Lopez and averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists for the Blazers over his year and a half tenure. Mason Plumlee really opened the floor for Dame and C.J and let them cut to the basket more often for easy baskets. While Neil Olshey just flipped Plumlee and a second round pick for Nurkic and a first round pick, Plumlee will always be a part of Portland and what they achieved in their amazing 2015-2016 season.
Over this last offseason, Olshey has turned the Blazers into a team barely reaching the salary floor into a team that will be in luxury tax territory (and almost hitting the repeater tax by 2019). Signing Evan Turner and investing heavily in Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe was not the brightest of ideas, but those types of things happen because the team overachieves the year before. While this team is very well tied up into 2020, Blazer fans can talk to one another and recall the magic of the 2015-2016 season. While that memory may not be worth over 200 million dollars, a story like that is something Portland needs once in a while and last year they got it. Oh, and on the bright side Blazer fans and fans of 29 other teams can get together and say t one another "at least we are not the Sacramento Kings".