Neil Olshey is the GM for the Clippers! Neil Olshey is the GM for the Blazers! Did we just slip into an alternate dimension? Where did the timeline fracture? And how, for a brief instant, did we glimpse into the other side of the rabbit hole? Here’s the sequence of events (as best as I can surmise) that caused a flux in the space/time continuum:
With Neil Olshey’s contract about to expire in October, ESPN begins to report that the Portland Trailblazers have Olshey on their wish list. Ultimately, the Blazers do not hire anyone for the 2011-12 season.
Olshey’s contract expires. He becomes an “at-will” employee, working month to month.
May 23, 2012
After exit interviews, Olshey is on a flight to London to interview with Paul Allen.
May 28, 2012
Ken Berger reports that Neil Olshey had recently flown to London to meet with Paul Allen regarding the vacant position in Portland.
May 31, 2012
Ramona Shelburne lists Olshey as a finalist for the Portland front office job.
June 1, 2012
Olshey and the Clippers agree to a new contract in principle.
June 4, 2012
With no information on the teleconference mentioned in the Clippers press release, rumors begin to swirl until news breaks late in the day that Olshey had accepted the Portland GM position.
June 5, 2012
Neil Olshey is introduced as the new General Manager of the Portland Trailblazers.
So how did the Clippers end up on the wrong side of the coin?
HEADS (Go to Portland)
The Clippers let their General Manager’s contract expire during the lockout and decided not to lock Olshey up to a new deal. They made no adjustment to his status, leaving him with the same title as when he was an assistant GM, Vice-President of Basketball Operations.
And the Blazers have more or less courted Neil Olshey for the better part of a year, flirting with the idea of hiring him as GM as far back as October 2011. Portland did not even need permission to speak with Olshey this time as he was not under contract.
Additionally, Portland is a lower risk job from a managerial perspective. Paul Allen carries the brunt of the Blazers criticisms, as he is infamous for firing three well-regarded GMs in less than two years. But when you evaluate Portland’s salary cap flexibility, roster composition and draft picks, this is the quintessential sell high-buy low maneuver by Olshey. It’s easier to take a low expectations team with a bevy of options and rebuild it into a good team (as Olshey had done with the Clippers). It’s much harder to take a good team with limited assets and fine tune it into a championship.
TAILS (Stay in Los Angeles)
Although Neil Olshey worked without a contract for the 2011-12 season, it wasn’t a move without logic. Olshey had only been the GM for a year and the Clippers had to be poised to build a serious team with the emergence of Blake Griffin. Could a neophyte GM construct such a team? Wouldn’t it be prudent to give the young GM another season to evaluate his work?
And Olshey did prove himself, assembling the best Clippers team in franchise history in terms of winning percentage. They maintained a cordial relationship even if working month-to-month was an awkward situation. But the entire compressed season was awkward, and trying to negotiate a new contract during the season could have been distracting and impractical. Like Olshey said during the Del Negro conference call, the Clippers had “a chronological order of things that need to take place.” And when the time came to retain their homegrown product, the Clippers did reach an agreement in principle with Olshey. Even when Portland made their offer after the fact, the Clippers were more than willing to match it.
COIN MEANS CHANGE
There’s enough blame here to find fault in everyone. Olshey never should have made an agreement of any kind to the Clippers if he was waiting on the Portland job. In his press conference today, Olshey stated that he promised not to use the Blazers offer in a counter to the Clippers. That it wasn’t about money, it was about integrity. But what about the integrity in the “handshake” deal he had made with the Clippers days prior?
And the Clippers never should have let Portland enter the picture. The Clippers’ chronological timeline should have begun with Olshey’s contract status; before the draft, before free agency, definitely before the decision to retain Del Negro. I hate to beat a dead horse, but DJ Foster has repeatedly stated that the Clippers are a “wait and see” type of organization. And that lack of proaction was the direct cause for this uncomfortable situation.
Ultimately, Neil Olshey would state that he wanted to be in Portland as far back as last August. He had spent much of his tenure talking about changing the culture and would often be caught using the phrase “wanting guys who wanted to be here.” Olshey didn’t want to be with the Clippers anymore. He wanted the Blazers. And the Clippers will wish him well, but they want guys who want to be here.