Olshey Talks Playoff Race, Balancing Short and Long Term Goals On Woj Podcast
Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey was a guest on the most recent edition of the The Woj Pod with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The nearly hour-long podcast covers a range of topics from the Trail Blazers' status in the Western Conference playoff race to the career of Chauncey Billups. You can listen to the entire interview below, though I've also transcribed a few of the more interesting segments.
Neil Olshey on the crowded Western Conference playoff race...
"We could have dropped to sixth (Monday) night if Damian doesn’t pull another rabbit out of his hat, so that’s how quick (the standings can change). We’re 12 games over but we’ve only got a one-game lead between us and Minnesota and OKC and those guys. It’s gonna be a battle these last 18 games. Everybody is playing for the same thing, which is to avoid Houston or Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. Nobody is taking nights off, everybody is getting after it.
"You look at a game like (Lakers). If you look at the schedule you think ‘Well, that’s a game you should get’ then you realize the Lakers have been 17-10 since January 1, they’ve been really hot, they won five in a row, they’re good at home, they’ve got great young players who are coming together, they go pick up Isaiah Thomas who can really hurt you off the bench. He’s hurt us in the past when he’s been in Boston. So (Monday) night was a better win than it appeared on paper and I think we’re going to face a lot of that down the stretch when you’re really playing playoff level basketball with playoff implications, every night, for basically the last 25 percent of the season."
On balancing long term goals with short term goals...
"We’re very lucky to have a owner who loves young players. Clearly anyone that was a technological visionary is going to be about the future. What we’ve had the luxury of doing is not going out and trying to add veterans kind of on the downside of their career to stay relevant, but try to build the infrastructure of the organization through the draft, acquiring guys that are maybe undervalued by their current teams. Guys like Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis, they’d bee on minimum contracts the previous season and a lot of that comes down to trusting our scouting but really trusting Terry and his staff. They do a phenomenal job with player development.
"We’re one of the few teams in the league that don’t have a G League team, so our fanbase doesn’t necessarily see the development and then they see guys come out of the blue like a Pat Connaughton or an Allen Crabbe or a Will Barton and guys like that. But we see it behind the scenes every day in practice and we see these guys getting better. I think there’s a luxury there Woj that what’s happening is there’s development happening where guys are becoming functioning role/rotation players sight unseen and then we have the confidence to move them into the lineup.
"We’ve tried to go get the big deals. We were very active at the draft, we put our picks in play, we were active later in the summer. We feel like it’s incumbent upon us, we have an obligation to Dame and CJ and the guys on the roster to try and add that next guy. But it’s got to be the right guy and it’s got to be an upgrade because we really believe in the guys we went out and got, the guys we’ve developed and we owe it to them because they’ve contributed to two straight playoff teams since we’ve rebuilt after LaMarcus’s departure, we’ve advanced once, they’re great guys, we don’t have a single player on our roster over 29 years of age, so we’ve got a runway here.
"But we’re very protective of our culture. We want to make sure they fit, not just on the court with the chemistry and our style of play, but in the locker room. That culture is led by Damian and I run things buy him and make sure this is the kind of guy we want to commit to long term that we’re going to put assets in play to go get. Is he going to buy into how we do things in Portland, which again, because of Damian’s selflessness, it’s a very utilitarian approach. There isn’t a lot of flash over substance there. Damian grinds it out every day in that practice facility the way that Shabazz Napier did, the way that right now Caleb Swanigan and Jake Layman are. He’s the first guy in the building, he eats with the young guys, he mentors the young guys, he takes them under his wing, he’s out on the court last lathered up getting a workout in. We want to make sure anybody we bring in is willing to do things the way that we like them done because that’s what’s made us successful, even with the challenge of having to build strictly through the draft, player development and trade where free agency is a much more difficult vehicle for us."