The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 90 | Neil Olshey
President of Basketball Operations
Joined Club: 2012
Departed Club: Currently Active
Place in History: The last twenty years have not been happy time for Trail Blazers management. The millennium started with Golden Boy Bob Whitsitt falling from grace in the ignominious “Jail Blazers” fiasco. After that John Nash and Steve Patterson were brought in to clean up and managed to offend nearly everybody in the process. Kevin Pritchard provided a brief glimmer of life in the late 2000’s, but he lost favor with owner Paul Allen and was famously fired on draft day, 2010, then allowed to make Portland’s draft selections. (Hint: none of the players chosen made this Top 100 list.) Rich Cho had a cup of coffee with the team, followed by Chad Buchanan. If Allen fired one more GM, his punch card would have been full and he’d get his next one free.
Enter Neil Olshey, the actor turned player-developer turned front-office exec turned GM for the Los Angeles Clippers. Olshey was brash, confident, handsome, and knew how to speak when the red light went on. He assured everyone from Allen himself to fans in the far corners of Grants Pass and Burns Junction that everything was ok now.
A longer treatment of Olshey’s career will need to come when it’s over. His moves have ranged from amazing to pedestrian to occasionally disastrous...as will those of most executives. Early in his tenure, he made two decisions that changed the course of the franchise for a decade: drafting unheralded point guard Damian Lillard from Weber State 6th overall in 2012, then selecting his backcourt mate—Lehigh guard CJ McCollum—10th overall in 2013. Lillard won Rookie of the Year averaging 19.0 ppg and has risen ever since, topping 25 points per game in each of the last five seasons. McCollum has scored 21+ during that same span, making them one of the best backcourt tandems in the NBA in an era where they have plenty of competition for those honors.
Neither Lillard nor McCollum were surprise selections, but they weren’t automatic either. Reading the league and the talent pool impeccably in back-to-back drafts earns Olshey the 90th spot in our list of most influential Trail Blazers figures.