Posted Jun 9 2010 11:40AM
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The man standing in the intersection of all that is happening around the Clippers is a rookie general manager. Actually, he's not even that yet. Neil Olshey is, technically, the acting GM of the Clippers, though the title is just a formality. It's his job. That will soon become official.
Action swirls all around him. The Clippers have the No. 8 pick in the upcoming Draft and a unique set of circumstances that make them an obvious target for trade possibilities. So the phone has started to ring. That spot could become the highest pick to be moved.
"I've had a few of those," Olshey said of approaches for No. 8. "It's very preliminary. Guys are checking in to see if the pick's in play at all."
In an offseason of several critical decisions, with a coaching hire and space for a max free-agent deal bearing down on the horizon, the Clippers are one of the intriguing teams of the Draft. They have a good pick. Not a great pick, but eight is territory for a serious prospect.
Yet they are also in win-now mode with Chris Kaman coming off an All-Star campaign, as well as Baron Davis at point guard and Eric Gordon heading into his third season at shooting guard.
While the Clippers won't say they're committed to trading out of the No. 8 spot -- that would be bad business for driving up the price, and there are, too, advantages to keeping the pick -- clearly this is not a team that wants to be patient while a rookie develops. They'll already have one first-year player making the transition, 2009 top choice Blake Griffin, who missed last season with a knee injury. No team wanting to, at the very least, get into playoff contention after a 29-53 season wants to rely on two rookies.
The Clippers don't consider Griffin a newcomer, though, and they're partly right. He was in summer league last year, and played very well. He lasted a portion of training camp and the preseason before his season-ending knee surgery. And he was constantly around the team, getting a sense of the travel grind and the daily routine.
Still, he hasn't played a game that counted. The new L.A. coach will be reminding everyone, once that first bad stretch of the season comes, that his starting power forward is a rookie and people need to be patient.
The compelling case to keep No. 8: The Clippers could get a highly regarded prospect at a budget-conscious price without relying heavily on him.
The Clippers have a war chest built up for summer spending, allowing them to add a necessary impact player even without trading the pick for a veteran. Making a move before the Draft will mean spending some of that cap space for free agency.
"The win now, that's going to have more to do with July 1st than June 24th," Olshey said.
The compelling case to trade No. 8: The known vs. the unknown -- acquiring a veteran takes the uncertainty out of what they're getting and fits better with the win-now attitude in team headquarters here.
The Clippers also have the Timberwolves' pick protected through the top 10 in June 2011 and unprotected in '12, and they're getting trade calls inquiring about that prize. So even if he trades this year's pick, there will be plenty of opportunities for the new GM to add youth.
"If you ask me right now, I'd say we're going to use the pick," Olshey said. "But from a deal-flow position, we've only recently been talking to [other teams]. It seems like it's just now heating up."
There is a lot to be done in the next couple months: picking in the lottery (maybe), making a major trade instead (possibly), choosing a coach (definitely) and signing free agents (for sure). They'll almost certainly make a play for LeBron James, but, short of that thunderous success, can still try to address small forward by pursuing restricted free-agent Rudy Gay. Among their own free agents, there will be interest in bringing back Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Craig Smith and Drew Gooden. Or maybe they'll all be gone -- or so the Clippers hope -- because needing to renounce everyone means they will be able to land a star.
For now, they have only five players under contract: Davis, Gordon, Griffin, Kaman and DeAndre Jordan. More specifically, they have those five players, a major decision about whether to make the pick or trade it, the coaching hire, free agency and a unique set of circumstances.
And a rookie general manager in the intersection of it all.
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