Just 11 months ago, the Portland Trail Blazers stole General Manager, Neil Olshey, from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Blazers had been without an acting GM for nearly a year after Rich Cho was fired. Sniping Neil from LAC was the best move the Blazers have made in recent years, because the man specializes in team building; and he’s great at it.
Remember what the Clippers looked like just a few years back? They were the notorious laughing stock of the NBA. It didn’t help that they were juxtaposed with the ‘apple of Stern’s eye’ Los Angeles Lakers, but they were what I would call exceptionally insignificant. The brightest star of Olshey’s inheritance in 2010 was a crippled rookie named Blake Griffin.
Now, the case could be made that the Clippers’ success is owed to the infamous gift-wrapping of Chris Paul, and it’s a strong one, but let’s delve more deeply into what suddenly made the Clippers a successful franchise.
The aforementioned duo of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul drew free agent interest. Players began to realize that the cruel joke of modern basketball wasn’t messing around, and the laughter turned to intrigue. Of course, while David Stern’s uncharacteristic reversal of favoritism yet completely characteristic impulse for intrusion denied CP3 a Laker jersey, Olshey was the one to orchestrate the deal and officially reel in the NBA’s best point guard.
Here’s where I see undeniable parallels to Portland’s situation. The Blazers are also building around a unanimously selected Rookie of the Year, with a two time All-Star to boot. Portland has the cap space, the management, and, for the first time in ages, the free agent interest to really make the most of their position.
Portland’s biggest problem in Olshey’s first season with them was depth. The Clippers are widely regarded as one of the deepest teams in the NBA. These are the free agency moves Olshey made in his 2nd year with the Clippers that made them so versatile:
- December 9th, 2011: Clippers sign free agent small forward, Caron Butler
Butler was hot off of a championship season with the Dallas Mavericks and gave LAC the 3 point threat they needed to spread the floor. Though a streaky shooter, he showed veteran decision making skills and helped glue the team together.
- December 12th, 2011: Clippers sign free agent point guard, Chauncey Billups
3 days after landing Butler, the Clippers signed 2004 NBA champion, finals MVP, and 5 time All-Star, Chauncey Billups. This was huge for them. Billups provided consistent bench scoring until tearing his Achilles tendon and missing much of the season. While injured, Billups guided the younger players and acted as a pseudo-player coach to cover up Vinny Del Negro’s spotty effectiveness.
- December 22nd, 2011: Clippers sign free agent power forward, Reggie Evans
Just before the start of the lockout-delayed season, Evans signed with LAC to back up Griffin. Thank goodness for that. Griffin’s explosive style doesn’t lend itself well to longevity and Evans relieved a lot of the pressure with productive play in limited minutes. Plus, it never hurts to have a dummy to pick up necessary fouls.
- February 3rd, 2012: Clippers sign free agent power forward, Kenyon Martin
K-Mart was one of the coveted players returning mid-season after playing in China during the lockout. When his contract with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers expired, Martin joined the Clippers and brought much needed toughness to an otherwise soft and flopping group. His presence helped fill out LAC’s low post.
By pursuing and successfully signing those free agents, Neil Olshey effectively laid the foundation for the present day Los Angeles Clippers. Now he is entering his 2nd season with the Blazers in a nearly identical position. Portland needs depth like a fish needs water and Olshey knows how to find the gallons. He has already expressed his intent to make aggressive moves this off-season which will bring the Blazers back to the playoffs. Before his management in Los Angeles, the Clippers had not advanced past the regular season in 6 years. Neil Olshey is the perfect fit to convert Portland’s skid to a streak. His history is set to repeat itself in favor of the red and black.