Jan. 10, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey poses with point guard Damian Lillard (0) as Lillard was presented with the Western conference rookie of the month award for December 2012 before the game at the Rose Garden. The Blazers won the game 92-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey


The Blazers are 6-9 over their last fifteen games, and it seems like there’s been a general pessimism around the team recently. I’m doing my best to resist pushing the panic button on a team that’s already two wins shy of their over/under on the season. These losses have been close, and there’s nothing to suggest this isn’t just the team regressing after an unsustainably hot start.

That said, it’s clear that the good vibes from the first half are gone, and now is as good a time as any to scrutinize the Blazers and figure out what we really have here. Specifically, I want to talk about Neil Olshey.

Olshey’s been hailed as the Joe Torre to Paul Allen’s George Steinbrenner, the first Blazers GM since Pritchard to last more than a season and the initiator of the team’s renaissance. But let’s look at his major moves and see how they hold up to his reputation*.

1. Drafted Damian Lillard. This one’s not difficult. Maybe, maybe you could convince me that Drummond would have been a better pick, but this is unambiguously a great pick. It was also not an easy one—someone worried about his job more than success might have taken Ross, Barnes, Drummond, or some other prospect from a big school.

2. Drafted Meyers Leonard and Will Barton. Neither of these picks have worked out well, but it’s hard to see exactly how they might have been improved. Mike Scott (the Regional Manager!) was picked 43rd, and he would probably represent an upgrade over the slop Portland’s trotted out at the backup four the last two years (this is poorly timed given Robinson’s incredible game last night. Keep it up, T-Rob). Second-round picks are crapshoots, though, and Barton hasn’t been terrible, all things considered. Leonard is a different story. Olshey could have taken Kendall Marshall. A bust until recently, he’s been a boon for the miserable Lakers. The miserable Lakers. The miserable Lakers. Sorry, what were we talking about? Right. Marshall would probably be an upgrade over Williams, but it would have looked like a terrible choice for quite a while. Jared Sullinger, John Henson, and especially Terrence Jones would all be solid backup power forwards as well. On the face of it, this looks like a bad pick. But Olshey was understandably looking for his starting center of the future, a role filled at the time by JJ Hickson. Hardly any centers were taken after Leonard, and Olshey can hardly be blamed for missing on Miles Plumlee, can he?

3. Signed Nicolas Batum. Batum’s taken flak lately after his annual maybe-lingering-injury-related slump. He’s certainly not scoring like he should be, but I’d say this move has worked out. Going by on/off numbers, he is the second most important Blazer on the offensive end, behind Aldridge and just ahead of Lillard. This no doubt has a lot to do with the lack of backup small forward help, but that’s the point. He might not fetch quite this much on the open market anymore, but the Blazers are getting a solid return on their investment.

4. Signed Roy Hibbert to an offer sheet, which the Pacers matched. I won’t go too far into this one because it’s a move that didn’t happen. There was a recent Bill Simmons/Zach Lowe column at the trade deadline where Simmons mentioned that the best way for a new GM to guarantee job security is by bottoming out. I can’t speak to exactly how true that is, but Zach Lowe agreed, and I usually defer to him. In that case, we should applaud Olshey for deciding to swing for the fences the moment he took the job. Also: can you imagine this Blazers team plus Hibbert? Portland and Indiana run similar schemes, but we have Lopez cleaning up the interior, so it doesn’t work as well. Had that pairing worked out, the Blazers would be like the Monstars crossed with the ‘86 Celtics [citation needed].

5. Traded Jeff Withey, cash, and two second-rounders for Robin Lopez. This looks to be an absolute coup. Withey might yet become the shot-blocking badass he was in college, but it’s unlikely. Lopez’s defensive impact as an upgrade over Hickson has probably been overstated, but he’s been phenomenal on offense as a low-usage finisher and rebounder. He might not be a center for a championship team, but it’s clear at this point that he was absolutely worth it.

6. Traded two Eurostashes and two second rounders to the Rockets for Thomas Robinson. It’s Houston, so you never know. They use second-rounders like no one else, and it’s possible they see something in Kostas Papanikolau and Marko Todorovic that Portland didn’t. We should also stop acting like Robinson’s special due to his draft position. At this point, he’s an NBA player and should be evaluated as such. Caveats aside though, this trade looked like a steal at the time.

Although it’s hard to say that Olshey definitively missed on any of his major moves, his image as the orchestrator of the best Portland team in years is probably overblown. Lillard aside, he’s never made what might be called a needle-moving move. His two signature trades in Portland–Robinson and Lopez–were both value trades, meaning that the returns were great for the price, but not necessarily in isolation. Hibbert would have been that move, but it didn’t happen. In his tenure as GM he’s proved pretty conclusively that he’s clever, but the jury’s still out on whether his cleverness will lead the team anywhere.

*I’ve left out the Claver/Freeland signings and CJ McCollum for space. Real quickly: These are tricky because Olshey didn’t draft either Euro and they’re both early in their Portland careers. That last bit is doubly true for CJ, plus the 2013 draft was so bad that the opportunity cost on that pick was practically zero.



Tags: Damian Lillard Meyers Leonard Neil Olshey Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers Robin Lopez Roy Hibbert Thomas Robinson

  • blazerfan808

    I’m stoked so far. I knew that we would cool in the win dept, and that the injury bug would rear its ugly head and some point or another. I think we have been very blessed, even in our current state. I look at it this way, lamarcus gets some much needed rest, we get to play with some line-ups and the rooks get some burn, should we need them in the post season.

    Lillard is a stud, and though Drummond was there, Lillard’s intangibles are off the chart. I am extremely pleased with Rolo and would actually take him above Asik atm. Olshey found guys that can play together and a coach that could maximize their offensive potential. Though LA, Batum, and Matthews are not new comers, they are still learning to play. They are all entering their window, as is Lopez, and I feel as a unit they can peak in the next few years. Lillard plays like a season vet, and mentally be ready when the rest of the guys are.

    Now that they dont have to worry so much about scoring, and have shown that they can still score when the 3-ball is not dropping, they can focus more on defensive effort. Lillard mention that he never learned a lot about defense growing up. I think Stotts does a good job of pinpointing the reoccuring mistakes in the first half. There is still a huge learning curve.

    The Leonard pick is one I revisit over and over, and I actually applaud Olshey for swinging for the fences. You don’t work to put together a .500 pct team. You should always swing for the fences in the lottery. NO was very clear about taking their time with Leonard and his development. The “Re-Tool” phrase is a little more clear at this point in time.

    Marshall is showing very well getting those min with the Lakers, but I’m actually completely relived we passed on drafting a back up PG instead of swinging for the fences on a possibly starting C. I am gonna wait till Meyers is 26 (ie. Freeland) before I pass judgement on him. Mentally, he is 9. Gonna have to wait and see. The good thing about him is teams will always be interested in a 7’1″ 250 lbs kid. It’s a little bit harder to convince a team to take a chance on a guy like nolan smith or luke babbit. It would have been virtually impossible to move marshall. Here is my logic for the other players we passed up:

    Lamb – low motor, not enough upside (no starter/all-star potential), no intangibles

    Marshall – slow, can’t shoot, back-up pass first PG that didn’t really fit our roster at the time. We needed an elite PG that could do it at both ends. If we didn’t find this guy through the draft, then we would have to search through FA.

    Henson, Sully, Zeller, T Jones, Nicholson, would have been ok picks here, We eventually got T-Rob, while his IQ may not be as high as these other players, his athleticism is superior. I wouldn’t make any of these guys starters, unless I had the right C to pair them with.

    Barton was a random pick, but a good one. He is a high energy guy, that would not be a defensive liability, who rebounded, and could create his own shot if he needed to. If he can get steals, lead/finish the break, spot up, rebound a little, and play defense, then you definitely got a bang for your buck. Teams can always use wily energy guys who can play d, lead the break, shoot threes, and can potentially score 20 pts on any given night. That is his destiny. You need to encourage the good parts of his game, and work on the bad decision making part. He was drafted to become an 8-10 min energy guy on a contending team. I still believe he will get there, whether that be with us or someone else. I enjoy his game.

    Not that I would have taken them at #11, but Royce White and Perry Jones III were the type of risky players you wanted to take a chance on in a draft like this. Not that you can burn picks, but those guys had the most all-star potential of anyone in the mid-first round. I thought Royce White had a little early-Charles Barkley in his game. And he seemed moody and aggressive (perhaps a bit to much) which could definitely work to his advantage. Perry Jones III has Paul George’s body and demeanor. He’s a walking mismatch. If he could ever put it together, he could be awesome.

    I thought Tayshawn Taylor was a good pick at #41, and still think he has an NBA back up caliber should he focus on defense. Physically I think he is on par with a guy like Patrick Beverly. We might have taken a look at guys like Kyle O’Quinn or Robert Sacre, but it is apparently the Blazers are not gonna waste their time trying to develop guys that don’t have much potential to begin with. Pleased so far with Olshey’s work.

  • Draftdog

    Olshey gets an A-. An A- only because Stotts has not given proper attention to developing Leonard or T-Rob. Right now if Robinson was to leave the blazers and go to a team that needed a good backup PF (like the Blazers don’t) he would move the needle. It won’t be long and he will be starter, somewhere.

  • Jim Knowlton

    If you compare Lopez and Hibbert this year statistically, it’s basically a dead heat, with Lopez coming out actually slightly better. Considering we offered a max contract to Hibbert, I think that’s a major, major move.