Portland Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey joined Cassidy Hubbarth, Bobby Marks, and Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN’s NBA Draft: On the Clock Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Blazers’ performance last season and how to approach the financial landscape this offseason. Hubbarth opened the interview by asking how Olshey saw the Blazers taking that next step in the west:
Cassidy: Neil, you guys won 49 games this season, finishing third in the West. I’m sure you started your off-season a little earlier than you wanted to and expected to. But how do you think you guys can take that next step in the west next year?
Neil: Well, I think we have to take advantage of the fact that the playoff series against New Orleans it definitely exposed some deficiencies we have in terms of experience on the roster. You know, since we lost LaMarcus a few years ago We’ve been kind of in a build mode. We’ve been building around Dame and CJ.
We’ve been playing, as Bobby knows from his time in Brooklyn, we’ve been playing in the margins a little bit, trying to resurrect certain players, find diamonds in the rough, find our draft picks.
I think it’s time now to realize, we’re going to be a consistent playoff team and now we need to make decisions based on having players on the roster able to perform at a high level come April and May and not just continue to backfill the roster that was devoid of some talent, relative to the exodus that we had when we lost L.A. And we decided to kind of build on a career arc around Dame and CJ.
We’re not going to lose sight, Cass, of finishing third in the West, winning the Northwest Division in a year that was hyper-competitive. But we’re also going to realize that we need to kind of view our future this summer through the lens of how with are we going to be more impactful and play at a higher level come playoff time next year.
Adrian Wojnarowski then asked Olshey about the feasibility of making trades in the current financial landscape of the league:
Woj: In trying make trades in this marketplace right now, has it been complicated by the fact there are so many bad contracts with salary spike years that it’s just hard to find basketball trades to make your team better.
Neil: Well, I think it’s going to be, Woj. The league is divided into two different kind of categories. One is teams with salary commitments that are looking to improve because they’re invested in their roster. And then we have another segment of teams that are resetting their timelines relative to the dominance of a few teams that..I know Daryl talked about it in the last segment. We should all be chasing Golden State. It doesn’t mean we’re all going to do that in the same timeline.
So, one of the advantages then you look at it cap-wise, and Bobby can speak to this,, you’ve got 15 teams that are either in or within $5 million of the luxury tax. So there isn’t a lot of financial flexibility to make deals with those teams. But one of the advantages we have, we have an incredibly aggressive owner in Paul Allen. He believes in the core of this group. He wants to improve the group. And we’ve got two really good trade exceptions. We’ve got a $13 million trade exception from the Allen Crabbe trade and we’ve got one at 3.5 from the Vonleh trade.
We’re viewing those trade exceptions as if they’re room when it comes to making deals and acquiring players. So it’s an advantage we think we have relative to the marketplace where we don’t necessarily have the cap room but we have a lot of liquid contracts and we do have two major trade exceptions where we can absorb players that we think can fit into our group that can advance this group going forward come playoff time next year.
Olshey was then asked by Bobby Marks about a “finals or bust” mentality:
Bobby: Neil, is there a wrong perception in this league right now where when you win 49 games and you make the playoffs in consecutive years, maybe not reach an NBA finals, that that’s just not good enough these days?
Neil: Well, it is. And I think that...look, it really comes from organizational priorities, Bobby. What are the goals, what are the expectations?
You know, our owner holds us to an incredibly high standard. He does believe that the litmus test for success is playoffs. So internally we can’t disregard what we accomplished during the regular season but in terms of fulfilling expectations from ownership and our fan base, you know, it was a very disappointing way to end. We won 49 games but we lost the four that mattered the most. And again, unique matchup, two elite players in Jrue (Holiday) and Anthony (Davis) that were playing at an incredibly high level at both ends of the floor. And you know, we just didn’t handle it as well as we could have.
So I think we have to look at it more as an opportunity than a challenge in that if we had been more competitive when we won that series maybe we’re not as critical in terms of the eye that we bring to continuing to bring this roster.
And I think now that we can view it through the lens of there are deficiencies, we need to move forward, we need to probably add more veteran players this off-season, that we can put into big-time playoff games and not be as vulnerable to injuries to certain guys in the starting line-up or in our top seven.
So you know, I do think it’s getting a little bit out of hand that, you know, if you don’t win 65 games you’re not in the Finals, you should blow up your roster, make your fans sit through 20-win seasons in the hopes of getting lucky in the draft four or five years in a row.
So I don’t think any fan base should have to sit through that, and I certainly don’t expect our fan base to sit through it, because 90% of the time it’s fool’s gold and it doesn’t work out.
Here’s video of the full interview: