Olshey: 'I think LaMarcus Is Pleased'
Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey talked to media for the first time since the end of the NBA's July moratorium, during which time team worked out trades for Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez and extended free agent contracts to Dorell Wright and Earl Watson.
During the press conference and ensuing media availability, Olshey touched on a host of topics, including the satisfaction of all-star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge with the team's moves, how Lopez and his agent, Arn Tellem (who is also Aldridge's agent), helped Portland secure the center from New Orleans, improving Portland's bench (which Olshey says was shallow last year "by design"), future salary cap flexibility and competing for a playoff spot.
Did the team hit their targets in free agency?
Neil Olshey: "We were identifying skills as much as we were identifying players. I know everybody on the other side of the computer wants to look at names. And you know what, names don't always get it done; teams get it done. Guys that fulfill their role get it down, guys that play the right way get it done. Terry, myself, the front office staff, coaches, we all sat down and we knew how we wanted to construct this roster in terms of ability. And it may not be in terms of name awareness but it has to do with what they bring to the table. After we analyzed where we were lacking last year, that these guys fill voids that were clearly there. We think we did it as efficiently as we possibly could, we maximized our $11.6 million in room. We think we nailed the draft as well.
"So when you look at the three different vehicles, draft, free agency and trades, using all three of those vehicles produced these four guys, CJ (McCollum) and Allen (Crabbe) and I think we're well on our way. We increased our talent base, we've added assets, we've had guys that are still in the prime of their career that continue to grow with this roster and we're setting ourselves up for a long run while not really giving up any long-term flexibility."
How important was it during free agency to keep an eye on the future in terms of salary cap flexibility?
"That's the job. The job is to look at things on a macro level and look further out. Terry has to look next game, next practice, what can he do to help win games. So it's my job to provide him with those resources. We're well on our way. Like I said, I have the utmost confidence in these guys and I think they're going to be big time for us. It's clearly documented that our bench was the weakest in the NBA last year -- by design, by the way, in case anybody missed that. It was in order to give our starters minutes. It was in order to develop our younger players.
"And now it's time to take a step forward, lengthen our rotation, get more guys on the court, give our starters more of a rest. We've got guys here that are going to play starting minutes, starting roles. We have guy that are going to support those starters from a rotation standpoint.
"Like I said, any time you can keep your flexibility and accomplish your goals, that's the key. If you're going to give up your flexibility, you better make sure you're right. Like I said, we didn't identify anybody this off-season that was worth giving up (future cap space) relative to how much we believed in this group of players."
With the off-season additions, can this team secure a playoff spot next season?
"The goal, like I said, the goal of every team is to make the playoffs. One through 30, everybody right now is hoping the moves they made make them a playoff team. Whether that's an expectation or not, we'll know more as we see how good our young guys are. We haven't even gotten Allen (Crabbe) or CJ (McCollum) to summer league yet. We want to see how Thomas, how quickly he's going to get caught up on how we want to play, what his skills are, how they're going to be utilized.
"I know one thing: we're a lot closer than we were 13 days ago."
How do Lopez and Robinson fit in, culture-wise, with the existing players on the roster?
"Look, for Thomas first, I think it's a great situation because he's coming in with the reigning Rookie of the Year, he's coming in with Meyers (Leonard), who's been one of our hardest workers this off-season. So he's got young guys that are going through the same kind of growing pains he is. Not everybody is going to get it all at once and it's a process. The beauty of having seven or eight guys in the first couple years of their contracts allows Thomas to go through those pains with somebody else, where he's not the outlier on a team with a bunch of veterans. There's a veteran presence but there's also enough young guys where they're going to grow together."
"And as far as Robin, Robin is going to be great. I think LaMarcus is really happy about it. I know Nicolas is, so is Wesley, so it Dame, just to have somebody who is a back-line defender, can watch their back, can lay wood on people, can be a presence, be a deterrent at the rim. And it's going to give Terry the flexible to change the schemes defensively to the way he really wanted to play a year ago, but because of our roster composition and the types of players were playing, we were playing some guys out of position, we were playing guys so many minutes because of the bench, that it put him in a tough position to play defensively the way that he's most comfortable and the way that we all believe in, from an analytics standpoint, is the right way to play."
Have you heard from LaMarcus about his satisfaction with these moves?
"I think LaMarcus is pleased. Clearly he and Robin Lopez are represented by the same agent so they've been in contact. He was a part of the process during this.
"Look, LaMarcus' key was to get a big body next to him so he's not always thrown to the wolves down crunch time playing the five or being guarded by fives. It was a concern for us as well. We don't want him getting beaten up and worn down at the end of every year because he's a power forward that we've forced to play the five because we didn't have anybody watching his back on the weakside and on the other block. So I think bringing someone like Robin in that knows his role. He'll score with opportunity but he's not a guy that's going to demand touches. We have enough firepower with our other four guys in the starting lineup that, it's not going to effect them offensively, but clearly it's going to make them all better defenders."
You mentioned Lopez and his agent, Arn Tellem, helping get Robin to Portland. How so?
"I think that Arn Tellem wanted to make sure that Robin was in a good place. And once he knew that Robin was a part of a trade to clear cap room for (New Orleans) to do the offer sheet on Tyreke (Evans), which turned into a sign-and-trade, it was important for Arn to make sure that he was in a city and with a team that really valued what he did, not just as a talent grab. He knew there was a void here at center, we needed to fill it.
"Arn and I clearly have a relationship, he represents LaMarcus Aldridge and he wanted to make sure his player that was already here was put in a better position to succeed.
"(Hornets GM) Dell Demps is great. So is (Kings GM) Pete D'Alessandro. We were able to work out this deal. They were easy to work with, I think everyone accomplished their goals. But at the end of the day I do think Arn's influence in terms of expressing interest in Robin wanting to be here really mattered to all of us, that it wasn't just acquiring a generic player, but really getting a guy whose goal was to end up in Portland."
(Many of these questions were asked by Ben Golliver, who has a longer interview with Neil Olshey here)