Transcript of Neil Olshey’s introductory press conference. Watch the full video here.
Transcript: Neil Olshey Introductory Press Conference
By sarahhecht Posted in: neilolshey
Okay, first of all, since my press conference when I came here this is probably the one that I’m most excited about because it took such a long time to get to this point. But before we get to the order of the day here, first of all I’d like to offer from the Portland Trail Blazers, from myself, from all the fans and our entire organization our condolences to Paul Allen for the passing of his mother the other day. I know Paul and his mother were very close and it was a tough situation for him so I’d like to offer our condolences there.
The other think I’d like to mention that today happens to be the 35th anniversary of our winning the Championship here in Portland, so something else to celebrate today.
As everybody knows, it’s been about a year that we started our search for a general manager. We went through a lot of people, we did a lot of interviews, we talked to a lot of folks. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we foudn the right person. And I am excited that we’ve been able to do that with Neil Olshey. Neil comes to us from the Los Angeles Clippers where he’s had an opportunity over the past couple years to build an incredible team down there, to do some great things with that team and me personally, as well as I’m sure the fans, the organization, are excited and probably no one is more excited than I am because I’ve been tired of going through this process, been tired of getting hit with all the questions about ‘When are you guys gonna get a GM?’ We have a GM and we’re excited about who he is and I’m gonna turn it over to Neil and let him make a comment.
It’s a great turnout. Sarah was right. It’s great to be here, it’s almost surreal. I was in London just a week ago meeting with Paul and like Larry said he’s facing a family tragedy right now and I really owe a lot to him. Because of my situation in Los Angeles he was willing to accelerate his process during a very, very difficult time in order to conclude what started last August with myself and Larry and Bert Kolde and Paul. This is always where I wanted to be. We had a great run this past year, but after speaking with Larry last year this is where my heart was and I want my family to be here, I want to raise a family here and become a part of the community and like I said I have Larry and Bert and Paul Allen, and to be honest I also have a lot of guys, Mike Dunleavy and Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn and Kaleb Canales and Tim Grgurich, who every time I brought up Portland just raved about the situation and the organization and the resources and the commitment to winning. So, all of that collaboration and all of that instilled just a confidence in me that this was the right decision for me and my family.
Could you name some of the ultimate factors of Portland over the Clippers
There were a lot. My message is more, there was nothing the Clippers did wrong it was more what Portland did right. They made me feel a part of it from the beginning. Paul and I have spoken almost incessantly since the process started eight or ten days ago, and we share a common vision for how we want to retool the franchise and get it to the point where we’re not having press conferences at this time, we’re playing games. And that’s really what I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of building something that’s sustainable. I want to build something that everybody in the community can be proud of. And to become a destination around the league as one of the sought after franchises to come join wether you’re a draft pick or a free agent.
Did the open roster that you have make you view this situation as a complete rebuild or just a piece here and there to get back to the playoffs?
I think rebuild is the wrong word. I think retool. I think that the organization is in a great position. It takes a lot of time and effort, we did it a couple of years ago to have basically all three elements converging at once. Two lottery picks, cap room and then flexibility with your own and other free agents. So I think as those things converge as long as we make the right decisions in the draft and free agency and with the guys we retain on our roster we can accelerate our curve back to where we want to go. But I want to make it clear we’re not looking for quick fixes. We’re not looking for aging veterans that can slide us into the eighth spot and then we’re right back here a year from now trying to figure out what to do. This is a seminal moment in the future of the Trail Blazers and we need to handle it properly. I’m just excited. I’m on a plan at 6am tomorrow morning. Meet with the basketball operations staff in Chicago. I was watching film on the flight up here about the guys that are in our draft range. I’ve left messages for LaMarcus and a couple of the other players that I have relationships with. I’ve talked to their agents. So I’m ready to dig in. The good news about this is I’m a sprinter. If you noticed, we probably had our best offseason in franchise history in Los Angeles during a five-day free agent period. So, I like working under pressure. I like working under deadlines. I think we’re going to put our head down and move forward and I think when we pull our head out in the middle of July, after summer league, we’re gonna be in a great position.
Any thoughts on a coach or on Chad?
Chad and I go back. There’s some real quality people. Larry and I talked about this, I’m open to anything. I’m going to get to Chicago. There’s some guys here that I have a pre-existing relationship with, guys like Chad and Mike Born. I’ve known Steve Rosenberry for a while. I don’t have as much of a relationship with Billy Branch, but they’re all really good guys, Joe Cronin. My advice to them, all I said to them was ‘Look, I’m going to get to Chicago and we’re working together. Don’t make this seem like it’s an audition process, that you’re being evaluated. Just create work product, share in the vision we’re trying to establish for the organization and all those other things will take care of themselves.’ But Chad clearly did a great job holding the reigns and keeping the fort down for a year. If Chad wants to be a part of the future of the franchise it’s something I’m definitely open to and like I said, we’ve already been on the phone multiple times, emailing, booking draft workouts and already exchanging ideas about free agency. So he’s someone I think highly of, he’s someone I would have pursued if I were with another organization. So as long as the chemistry is right and we share the same vision going forward things will work out with everybody.
We saw you share a bear hug with Kaleb Canales earlier today, what’s your relationship like with him and what are his possibilities moving forward with the organization and how much autonomy do you have in the say for the next head coach?
Well, I think that was a little bit overwhelming. So, other than Larry, the only friendly face in the room was Kaleb. That’s my guy. I love Kaleb. And I think all you need to know about Kaleb Canales is where he started and where he is today. And when you look at the pop that the organization got on the floor and in the locker room and with the player confidence when he took the reigns, that says an awful lot about that guy. He’s off to Treviso to go work the Euro camp and do some stuff there. He’s already shared with me his offseason prospectus, where I’m going to go over that and we’ll catch up via telephone. But he does an unbelievable job and there’s a lot of parallels between he and I. We both started off in a crummy high school gym somewhere shagging balls for Tim Grgurich. And today I’m a General Manager and he’s an Interim Head Coach and he’s going to be a head coach in this league. And if you’re asking me to handicap it, I’d say he’s the in-house favorite right now. I’m not going to say we’re not going to open up the search, I think from a due diligence standpoint we owe that to the organization just to see what’s out there, if there’s guys that fit into what we’re trying to put together, but at the end of the day I don’t see anyone bringing more to the table than Kaleb Canales. But we’re going to follow a process to see how that works out.
Passion. I want guys that want to be in the gym. I want guys that want to make players better, that believe that it is about the players, and by that I don’t mean a player’s coach that lets guys run all over them cause it’s the path of least resistance. What I mean is, what we tried to create in Los Angeles was a ‘want to’ organization, not a ‘have to.’ I want guys that want to be here once their drafted. I want free agents that want to be here. Coaches that want to be here. Coaches, I want them to share the vision that we have going forward. But for me it’s really about every decision you make in the organization starts with how does it effect those 15 guys on the floor and their ability to win games. And I don’t care if it’s the Assistant Video Coordinator or the President or the Owner or the General Manager. If you ask yourself that question you will have organizational clarity, because then you are making decisions based on their ability to win games and I want someone that shares that. I want someone that wants to be in the gym because they love basketball and want to make guys better.
What do you think makes a good GM?
Creativity. A love for the game. Passion. Relationships. There’s different factions. Handling the draft is one skill set, negotiating contracts is another, free agency is another, building trades is another, generating deal flow, leading an organization is another. There are a lot of different skills and it’s a collaborative effort. Someone’s got to sit here and take the pressure off Larry from having to deal with all you guys all the time. But at the end of the day the people behind scenes don’t get enough credit. Nobody goes off half-cocked and sees one draft workout and nails a draft. The guys that are beating the bushes all year, flying to Europe, staying at Marriott Courtyards, renting cars, driving to the outlying districts, going to practices. Guys that have relationships like Larry does with agents and power brokers around the league. Those factor into play. At the end of the day, I do better in a leadership position, but I have a great understanding of the different roles because I’be basically had almost every position you can have in this league other than NBA Head Coach. So I absolutely respect everybody and their contribution to the process.
It’s fair to say that the General Manager position here has been unstable the last few years under owner Paul Allen with relationship issues with the general manager, is that something that worried you at all?
It’s something we discussed, not that I was worried about instability but more, Paul and I went through a process that, Larry and I had a relationship, there was a trust factor there, but what Paul and I discussed was lets make sure this is right for both of us. I didn’t come here for a quick fix. This isn’t a lily pad to land on. I had a home in Los Angeles, I had the same security financially and contractually there that I’m going to have here, but I wanted to make sure that Paul and I were on the same page. That was important. As long as we share the same vision, and clearly Paul gives you unlimited resources to execute that vision, then there’s not going to be any issue.
Neil, your thoughts on Nic Batum, looking at him from afar, is he a $10-$11 million dollar ball player, which he might command on the open market?
I’m not going to negotiate in the room here today, but I will say that we were in a very similar situation last year in Los Angeles with DeAndre Jordan. We had a sought after restricted free agent, we had cap room, we didn’t have the draft picks that Portland has, but a very similar situation and the question is always is it more fortuitous to allow him to get an offer sheet because we can then capitalize on the cap room or is it more beneficial for the organization to negotiate a deal one-on-one. I’ve already placed a call to his agent. I’m going to call Nicolas after this actually because I wasn’t sure where in the world he was and I didn’t want to wake him up or interrupt him, but those are discussions we’re going to have immediately. He’s a cornerstone of the franchise. I anticipate him being here and how the contract gets worked out, like I told DeAndre Jordan, it’ll be more strategic than it will be a reflection of how much we care about him because clearly, he’s one of the building blocks of the franchise.
You’ve used the word vision several times, do you have a vision of what you want this basketball team to look like? What is your basketball vision? What kind of team do you envision?
I’m a big guy on character. When I look, I look talent, chemistry, character. There’s a check and balance with each one and they have to reconcile with one another, but I want a team that plays well together, that plays the right way, that puts the team ahead of their own individual accolades or success of contractual situation. But most important, and one of the reasons I wanted to be here was the point that the Trial Blazers are at. It’s a testament to the hard work that the staff that’s already here has done. I want to build something that we can set this thing up over the next couple of years where we can have a five to seven year run with just having to tweak the roster here and there and always be a factor for a Western Conference Championship. That’s my vision. I don’t want to have to retool a roster every year. I don’t want a flash in the pan, I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder because we over-valued or under-valued the draft picks in order to go bring a guy in that was going to make a splash today and then be drowning tomorrow. At the end of the day that’s my vision. I want to be here long-term and I think that’s what Larry wants and Paul wants and everybody in the organization seems to be buying into.
Is there a style of play you favor?
We’re going to defend, that’s important to me. We’re going to take care of the basketball. I like to play with creativity, flow. I’m a score early, score late guy, but I’m not coaching the team. But the analytics and just my subjective feel for the game tell you that with young, athletic guys you can get up and down the court early, get easy looks before the defense gets set and then if not, have an offensive philosophy that you can fall back on where you can score late in the clock and be efficient. But we’re going to defend, we’re going to take care of the basketball, we’re going to share the ball and we’re going to play the right way.
Back to the coaching situation, do you have a date in mind?
Larry and I are both getting heat-lamped by every agent and every guy that doesn’t have a coaching job right now, but there’s the usual suspects and we’re already talked about a framework about what we’d be looking for, who would merit an interview with the organization and clearly the bar is pretty high right now based on my feeling and Larry and Paul’s feelings about Kaleb, but we’re going to be open to engaging in the process. I don’t think it’s imperative you have a coach in place for the draft. Kaleb is already handling draft workouts from an execution standpoint. It’d be unfair to ask anybody right now to jump into the draft process and actually contribute. I think it’d be better to gear it more towards the free agent period where guys are going to want to know who am I coming into play for. Draft picks, that’s the responsibility of myself and the basketball operations staff. We’re the ones that have been watching these guys play throughout their college career, high school career, film, analytics, psychological, data, workouts. Guys jumping in with 11 days left and seeing one two-hour workout is ripe for disaster, I can tell you that. So, we’re going to avoid that. We’ll start the process, Larry and myself, and like I said, Kaleb certainly doesn’t need to interview but if he wanted to he could, cause I think his work speaks for itself.
So the draft is the priority?
I think the priority right now is to get to Chicago and meet with Chad and Mike and Steve and Billy and Joe and come up with our schedule for draft workouts. I want to see where they are. I want to dig into the database and start reading some of their reports and see what their thought process was on some of the guys in our draft range. More a priority right now, I’ve gotta hop on the phone, touch base with the other 29 general managers from a deal flow standpoint, see if we can get something generated there. I want to visit with the agents of the guys on our current roster, see where we stand with those guys out in Chicago. I want to talk to La and Nic and Wes and some of the guys before they move on. I know Wes is actually leaving for a China trip with Nike, so I’ll have to get ahold of him. But I think establishing those relationships first are the priority. We want to take care of ourselves internally before we start worrying about the outside influence that may or may not become a part of our franchise.
Do you have a short list of coaching candidates in mind?
Yeah, and I won’t share that today because I know Larry has some as well. There are some guys that I think highly of around the league, but like I said, what you have to always weigh is that there is a vision here. Paul and I have spoken about it quite a bit, and Larry and I, Bert Kolde and I have shared it. And Kaleb is already executing that vision. He’s already proven he has the ability to execute that vision. So what you always have to weigh is the risk-reward of if you go outside the organization and someone tells you what they want you to hear in the interview and then runs off and is working contrary to what we’re trying to accomplish you’ve actually set yourself back instead of moving forward. So like I said, I think Kaleb has set the bar pretty high for anybody else that would want to compete for the coaching job here, but we’re going to be open to the process and it’ll work itself out. But like I said, I don’t think there’s any deadline right now for when we have to have somebody in place.
You performed just about every duty with the Clippers, from Assistant Coach to player development, Assistant GM, how has that variety of duty helped you prepare for this job?
I think it’s the same reason that when you work you start in the mail room at times. You have an appreciation for what everybody else has to do. I touched in all areas of the organization and the only constant that I will say, at the end of the day wether you’re the workout guy, an assistant coach, player personnel, assistant GM, GM, the one constant is it’s about the players. It’s about giving them the resources and giving them a forum to perform to the best of their abilities and putting the right team together. That’s the one thing that wether you’re the guy out there sweating before a game, working them out or you’re the guy negotiating their contract, that’s the one constant in any organization. As long as you make that a priority then your decision making is usually pretty consistent.
When you were in LA and you saw the trade that the Blazers made with the Nets and the potential they could have two lottery picks what was your reaction?
Well, my reaction actually was ‘I don’t know if I should root for them to keep six if I’m going to get the job or lose six if I’m not going to get the job’ But clearly it was a great move and it showed a vision going forward. It was a proactive move. I think that we’re going to have, Gerald Wallace and I go way back. I worked Gerald Wallace out for the draft before I was in the NBA. I did draft prep, I worked with him, he’s a great player, he’s a great guy, but I think where we want to go in the future, building with LA and Nic, I think getting the sixth pick in what’s going to be a very good draft is going to give us just another building block going forward and I think that’s a priority right now for the organization.
You interviewed twice for this job, it took a long time to make the decision, did that process worry you?
Larry and I spoke during our work stoppage so clearly there was no reason to accelerate the process at that point. But I was kind of busy this year. So, there was no second guessing. I think Chad was performing admirably. I think the organization was in good hands. But my focus was on the Clippers. Trying to reconstruct a roster the way we did in about four or five days and then a lot on in-season deals that we put together for guys like Reggie and Kenyon and trade deadline moves for Nick Young, I was focused on the Clipper job and I was all the way up until about ten days ago when Larry reengaged me in the process and wanted to take the next step and get me with Paul and flying to London. So I really appreciate Larry and Paul and Bert working on my timeframe a little bit. There was some confusion at the end of last week and Paul’s personal tragedy losing his mom, which I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now, but still being open and willing to try and wrap this up over the weekend with all he was dealing with. Through Skype, phone calls, emails, various conversations, they really accelerated the process for me when they decided I was the right person and that just inspired me even more to want to be here.
On the earlier confusion regarding his contract with the Clippers
Much like our coaching situation we really didn’t worry about what the media was saying until it started to become a distraction to the organization. My contract situation was no different, but once we picked up Vinny’s option, I think the speculation was well now clearly they’re going to take care of Neil’s situation and Mr. Sterling and I were working at our own pace and we just got to the point where on Friday it was becoming a distraction and people were taking shots and it was tearing a little bit away at the fabric of what we had built. And Mr. Sterling and I just engaged in an initial conversation and I think they felt comfortable enough that it was heading in the right direction that they just wanted to address it with the media to end, over a slow news weekend, anymore articles or blogs or anything else. But we knew we were still kind of open-ended on it. There was nothing contractual, there was no oral agreement, it was just lets end the speculation so that we can do this in our time frame. And like I said, in the interim it motivated Paul and the guys here to accelerate their process to make sure that, I told them Monday morning that I’m going to walk into an office and either hand in my resignation or sign a contract with you guys so it’s one or the other. And likeI said it was during dire circumstance but the fact that they were willing to do that meant a lot to myself and my family.
You talked about no quick fixes and your vision long-term for the organization, from a tangible stand point does that mean you’re less likely to go after guys like Steve Nash and you’re more likely to keep your draft picks this time around?
I can’t talk about specific names per league rule, but I will say that anybody we’re going to pursue, in terms of a major addition, is going to need to be somebody that’s going to be here long-term that we can build with. We’re trying to build. The one-offs, as it were, those are the guys that once you’ve got your nucleus together and I think we did that this year with the Clippers. We needed rebounding we added Reggie, we needed defense we added Kenyon, we needed scoring off the bench for the playoff run we added Nick Young. But if it wasn’t somebody that we were willing to commit to long-term as a piece to a championship-caliber team we weren’t going to go and get pregnant on a contract that we would then be saddled with. I think it’s the same thing here. I think that we’re going to try to build something sustainable. I would anticipate more having younger players, wether they’re free agents, a draft pick or acquired via trade, that can be a part of the organization for the long term. At the end of the day, when you look at the playoffs right now what do you see? Teams that have been together. Teams that know each other. Teams that in playoff basketball they communicate defensively. They get into their second and third counters once good coaches take your initial action away. And that can only come with consistency and stability and you can’t build that if you’re constantly retooling a roster every year. So like I said, I think right now the goal is to look at the draft first, look at deal flow, look at free agents that fit into our decision making matrix and then as we go forward make sure that whatever we have, we have a core group of seven or eight players that are here for the foreseeable future and then we start addressing needs specifically on one, two year deals for guys that bring something to the table in the short term.
Let’s talk big picture for a moment, 35 years ago today Portland celebrated it’s one and only Championship. What are your thoughts and feelings about being introduced here today?
It’s overwhelming. Different organizations around the league have different bars. The bar here is clearly to win a Championship.And it’s going to take a lot more that just me. It’s going to take the entire basketball operations staff, the business side, everyone in the front office, the coaching staff all working together and pulling in the same direction. But I don’t think anybody works in this business because of job security I think they work in it because they’re competitive and they want to win. In our business you do in to win a Championship. The Trail Blazers and the community have been lucky enough to do it one time, which is one more than a lot of other organizations, and the goal is to come here to try and do it again.
What’s the outside perception of the Blazers and what can you do to help change that?
I don’t think there’s much to change. I think you guys are in a little bit of a vacuum here, but I think nationally it’s one of the most respected organizations in the league. How they handle their business, the resources they have, practice facilities, the arena, the fan base, sold out 192 games in a row. Up or down, thick or thin, this community supports the Trail Blazers. It puts added pressure on me and the perception about how quickly we’re going to turn this around, but this is a team that’s been in the playoffs consistently over the last bunch of years and for a lot of other organizations that’s be cause for celebration. Here it’s like you’ve underachieved. The good news is that even though the team took a step backwards last season, there’s room to make a giant step forward because of the resources that we’ve talked about. The draft picks, the cap room , the free agent status of some of the key players. So we can accelerate the cure to get back to where we want to be. So I think the perception here is that this is an organization to be feared. Knowing everything that we have at our disposal and as long as it’s handled correctly, we’re going to be a threat to everybody around the league.
Considering the devastating injuries to some of the key players over the history of this franchise and knowing how the fans view that, how important is it for you to make sure that the guys you bring on are medically fit and don’t have the potential to break down as easily?
Clearly that process starts Saturday in Chicago with physicals. I think very highly of Jay Jenson. I’ve known Bobby Medina for a long time, we’ve worked together at various camps, ABCD Camp Coach Grg’s camp, he spoke, we had a coaching clinic at the Clipper facility last year. I think some of it’s just been bad luck. But I think one of the things I bring, and I’m not going to go into it because it’s proprietary, but with the Los Angeles Clippers we had some injuries as well and we were right up at the top half of the league for a while and we reevaluated what we were doing with the same people in place. We didn’t fire anybody but we brought it some new tools. We brought in some things that do a better job of evaluating player’s deficiencies and instabilities before you ever draft them or sign them. And then we made a real commitment to corrective exercises. We travelled a full-time deep tissue therapist, a full time yoga instructor, we travelled a full-time chiropractor, so keeping guys healthy so they don’t start breaking down and making them more susceptible is part of the process. We clearly have the resources to do that here and those are some of the things that I’ll be evaluating as we go forward.
Can you evaluate yourself? What your best move has been and your worst move.
Mr. Sterling always says the higher up you move in this organization and the more decisions you make the more mistakes you’re going to make. And it’s just a matter of what you do after you make those mistakes. I’m proud of everything this past year, but I’ll tell you, conceptually what I’m really proud of, because people will point to the Chris Paul trade, certain draft picks or free agent acquisitions. And I’ll tell you, the thing that I’m most proud of is we had an experience this year with one of the greatest guys in the league. A guy who’s going to end up running a franchise as some point or being a head coach and that’s Chauncey Billups. I get choked up when I talk about Chauncey because nobody has done more for this league and been treated more poorly because of the mechanics of the process of the last year and a half or so. And we did what was best for the organization, we claimed him off amnesty. It was horrible for him, it wasn’t what he was anticipating. The perception at the time, of the Clipper organization, played into it. And I asked him to give us a chance and we brought him in and we slowly got him on board and then 24 hours we trade for the best point guard in the NBA. And right now, today, there is no bigger advocate for our organization than Chauncey Billups. Even though it ended with injury, he was one of my best recruiters to get Kenyon Martin. He helped the coaching staff, he helped me, he believed in what we were accomplishing, he wants to return to the Los Angeles Clippers. So the statement that that makes, that a guy who was almost hijacked because of a mechanic and a vehicle that was put in place in collective bargaining could turn around and so believe in an organization that he’s become it’s biggest advocate, that’s what I’m most proud of.
Do you consider LaMarcus as untouchable?
I think it’s sill to ever say anybody is untouchable but clearly it would take a lot to get anywhere near him, but as far as I’m concerned LaMarcus is a cornerstone of the franchise. In my mind, he and Nic Batum are what Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were to the Clippers and what we were trying to build there. And once you have those two pieces, that bedrock in place, now we start working out tangentially and start adding guys that compliment those players and I think LaMarcus has become more of a leader. I think he’s taken more ownership of the outcome of games in the absence of Brandon. And I think he just keeps getting better and better. He’s in Dallas right now working out. His agent is one of my closest friends, he was one of the first conversations I had when I got the job once it was released, to talk to him about where LA is mentally, how he feels about everything on the roster and what he thinks going forward. So, I’m excited to see him and I know Coach Grg worked with him a little bit last year and I was with Coach Grgurich yesterday in LA, he was working with some guys at my facility and he was raving about LaMarcus. He’s a basketball player and you need basketball players. And like I said, I can’t imagine anybody that you would rather have than him right now.
How much was money a factor in you decision to come to Portland?
Zero. The money was a wash. It wasn’t about that. It was really about that proactively
Paul and Larry and the organization was willing to make a commitment to me. Mr. Sterling was phenomenal. We didn’t get a deal done based on just he and I speaking, but once Portland came in he was clearly ready to put any resources together to make sure that the financial part of this wasn’t an issue. And I respect him for that, but what I had told Paul on Monday was ‘if you make the offer you’re talking about and it’s fair and it’s equitable, then I won’t go and get a counteroffer. I won’t do that.’ And Paul needed to hear that from me to know I was committed. And I gave him my word. And as much as I love the Clippers and they gave me my start, I just didn’t feel it was right or ethical to go back and play that game. Paul gave me the offer he said he would give me when I got on a plane to London and he never vacillated from that and that was enough for me and my family. And that was enough. At some point money doesn’t trump integrity and that’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to be here because Paul wanted me here.