As the Blazers off season kicks into gear, I thought it would be beneficial look at the in charge of leading the decision-making process for the next few months: Neil Olshey. If you ask fans their opinions on the Blazers’ President of Basketball Operations, you are likely to receive a mixed bag of responses ranging from “#FireOlshey” to praise for the man who built a roster that fought its way to the 2019 Western Conference Finals.
First and foremost, Olshey’s strength lies in June - most notably, around the draft. Time and time again, Neil has proven that he can consistently acquire talented players leading up to and during the draft.
Since his hiring in 2012, Olshey has drafted the likes of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Will Barton and Meyers Leonard, while making deals to acquire Allen Crabbe, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier and even Zach Collins. While only Lillard and McCollum have developed into legitimate stars, the list still includes players who have contributed to Blazer wins. Anfernee Simons, who was drafted last year, also seems like he could be a part of this list very soon – despite many pundits thinking Simons was not a first-round talent.
In the summer of 2015, Olshey made several moves to retool the roster:
- Steve Blake and a 1st round pick (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) were traded for Mason Plumlee and second round pick (Pat Connaughton).
- Nicolas Batum was traded for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson.
- Maurice Harkless was acquired for a heavily protected pick in 2020.
- Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis were signed to multi-year contracts.
While nobody seemed quite sure of what Olshey was doing after the mid-summer rebuild, many of those players proved valuable in laying the framework for the current roster.
Not only has Olshey made some trades that have helped the Blazers, he also made perhaps the most important hire in recent memory: Terry Stotts, who was hired two months after Neil took over. Stotts has guided the Blazers to a .566 winning percentage in his seven seasons, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in this past season. The Blazers’ play continues to surpass expectations from Vegas (the 2018-2019 over/under was 41.5 wins), and it starts with the beloved head coach.
Summer 2016. That’s all I’ve got to say. Some $200 million plus dished out to Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless. Need I say more?
There are times where I think Neil relies too much on internal development – again, Summer 2016. I recognize that it’s harder to draw free agents to the Pacific Northwest than it is in a place like Los Angeles, though it seems like he uses that as a reason why the Blazers don’t aggressively pursue big-name players. Either way I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt because, as I’ll discuss in the coming paragraphs, he has shown a penchant for attempting to make moves.
While the Summer of 2016 is heavily scrutinized, there is a silver lining: he’s been working on making amends while improving the roster. Just a year after matching the Nets’ four-year, $75 million offer sheet with Allen Crabbe, Olshey moved the swingman back to Brooklyn for Andrew Nicholson (who was promptly waived and had his contract stretched). He also moved on from Evan Turner this past week, trading him to the Hawks for Kent Bazemore - though this appears to be a trade relating to style of play more than anything.
Throughout the years, Olshey has shown a tendency to be quiet during most of the season but be active right around the trade deadline. Just this past season, Rodney Hood and Skal Labissierre were acquired, with Enes Kanter coming into the team soon after (via the buyout market). Before February, the team’s only moves during the regular season were moving players between the NBA and G-League.
Olshey has tended to favor small tweaks and continuity over bold moves. In 2017, coming off a season that saw the Blazers went 41-41 and got swept by the top seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, Olshey’s biggest move was trading Justin Jackson and Harry Giles for Zach Collins on draft night. While he did get Crabbe’s bloated contract off the books during that offseason and dealt Tim Quarterman for cash considerations, NBA stars were on the move. Kyrie Irving, Paul George, and Chris Paul were all rehomed that offseason, and the landscape of the NBA was changed.
Even though we have yet to see Olshey execute a trade for a bonafide star, reports say that he has certainly tried. One report says the Blazers offered all three first rounders (turned into Caleb Swanigan and the Collins deal), as well as any player other than Dame/CJ/Nurk. There have also been rumblings of interest in Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers, though nothing has come to fruition. Even though moves involving superstars haven’t happened, it appears as though it has not been from lack of effort.
While the team never did acquire a star talent to play with Dame and Co., Olshey has executed multiple trades involving impact players. Robin Lopez was acquired for Jeff Withey and some picks, and Jusuf Nurkic in a deal centered around Mason Plumlee. This past season, the team acquired Rodney Hood for Sauce Castillo and some picks, and now Kent Bazemore by way of Evan Turner - all made with the intent to move the needle in a positive direction. There is certainly a long list of positive trades, though we must also remember he dealt Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and a 1st rounder (ended up being pick 19 - Malik Beasley) for Aaron Afflalo. While his trades tend to involve depth players, he seems to always be focused on improving the roster in whatever way possible.
Despite his tendency to focus on continuity for the last few years, Olshey has been aggressive since free agency opened this past Sunday. In the first 24 hours of free agency he has:
- Resigned Rodney Hood
- Signed Mario Hezonja
- Traded Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless for Hassan Whiteside
This doesn’t include the four year, $196 million extension that Dame signed either, which was reportedly complete just a few hours before free agency began. It is by no means what I expected, but I’ll be interested to see how the roster shapes up as we near the start of training camp.
Overall, I think there have been a lot of positive moves made by Olshey. While he has swung and missed on a few, most GMs in the league have - everyone is trying to build the next great dynasty. His strength clearly lies in his trading ability, and his track record has shown that he’s one of the better executives in the league (as shown by his 6th place finish in the 2019 Associated Press Executive of the Year voting). With that in mind, drop a comment and let us at Blazer Gang know: what do you think of Neil Olshey?