PLAYA VISTA, CA - DECEMBER 15: Vice president of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey speaks at a press conference introducing Chris Paul as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers on December 15, 2011 at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center in Playa Vista, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Neil Olshey won't find stability with the Blazers, but he will have a cache of resources at his disposal in comparison with his time with the Clippers. But what will Portland get in Olshey?
Neil Olshey is getting a few things from his sudden move from the L.A. Clippers to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he will serve as the first permanent general manager since Rich Cho was unceremoniously dismissed 11 months into his tenure a year ago. He's stunningly getting less stability, as if that were possible.
The circumstances around Olshey's promotion to GM of the Clippers in 2010 were odd -- Mike Dunleavy was relieved of his post via press release during halftime of a forgettable game for lottery-bound L.A. soon after stepping down as coach. But at least Dunleavy had had a few years to work out the kinks; Cho was, by most accounts, doing a fine job when Blazers owner Paul Allen dismissed him less than a year into his tenure.
At least the Clippers, that running joke, had some modicum of a plan when Donald T. Sterling, too awful to be made a joke, canned first Elgin Baylor, and then Dunleavy. That plan involved promoting Olshey, though without the typical pomp and circumstance. (It is the Clippers. Things must remain weird, even slightly.)
The Blazers had no plan at all: assistant GM Chad Buchanan ran the draft, ran free agency and ran what unfortunately became the ends of the Portland careers of Brandon Roy (amnesty waiver) and Greg Oden (waived to make roster space for a cap dump). And Buchanan did all of that as an interim GM! Cho's predecessor, Kevin Pritchard, was fired hours before the 2010 draft ... and was still allowed to stay on and make a pretty big trade (Martell Webster for Luke Babbitt) for Portland.
So no, Olshey is not getting more stability in Portland. The only franchise more shaky than the Blazers right now is the Sacramento Kings, who of course have the longest-tenured GM in the entire league. (Some things are simply mystifying.)
What Olshey will get is resources: though rumor has it Allen will be stepping back his investment in the Blazers' future, there's no question he'll likely continue to spend more than Sterling. Donald T. Sterling has changed a bit -- he paid Dunleavy quite handsomely (even though he tried to snake out of the coach-GM's contract after firing him) and has salary parity with other good teams. I mean, he agreed to pay DeAndre Jordan $42 million! DeAndre Jordan's contract and the word "cheap" can never both exist in the same realm.
But again, Allen's on a different level. He's the one owner who regularly kept pace with the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks in the era of the uncapped luxury tax. He's likely purchased more draft picks than any other owner, with the possible exception of Mark Cuban. He eats salary as a matter of course; he once swallowed Steve Francis' $20 million salary just to get rid of Zach Randolph. Sterling isn't doing that.
And maybe Allen isn't doing it anymore, either. But it's far more likely that Olshey would get nods on just about all requests in Portland than in L.A., setting aside the new tax and cap rules.
But what exactly are the Blazers getting in Olshey?
There's really no middle ground here. A survey of his moves as the Clippers' GM show some beautiful decisions ... and some completely awful ones.
Picked up Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 draft. The cost: the Clippers' pick this year, No. 22 overall. It was a risky move because the pick L.A. gave up was only protected in the top 10 through 2015, and Bledsoe was the No. 18 pick. But it paid off, and Bledsoe is one of L.A.'s best young assets.
Claimed Chauncey Billups off waivers. The Knicks made Billups, the former All-Star, an amnesty waiver player. L.A. made the winning bid, which was stunningly pretty low and risk-free. Billups was lost for the season early on, but it was still a canny move that deserves commendation.
Pulled off the Chris Paul trade. You can talk all you want about David Stern setting this up, but Olshey had the assets and will to get it done. That's no small thing. This was a franchise-changing deal.
Traded basically nothing for a Nick Young rental. Swaggy P ended up as one of the Clippers' more important reserves late this season. Olshey found him in the clearance aisle. A clear win.
These transactions don't quite elevate to the ugly level, but ...
Signed Randy Foye as a free agent. It was the summer of 2010, the Clippers couldn't even get a meeting with LeBron James and ... sorry, this was just a major strikeout. With all of the magical free agents available, L.A. didn't sniff a single one.
Picked Al-Farouq Aminu over Gordon Hayward and Paul George. The book on these three remains unfinished, but it's heading a certain direction that does not reflect well on Olshey's decision to take Aminu at No. 8 when the others went No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.
Matched DeAndre Jordan's $42 million offer sheet. Maybe L.A. had no choice here: Jordan is Blake Griffin's best friend, and the league isn't teeming with great secondary options at center. But man, what an ugly contract that appears to be right now.
Hired Vinny Del Negro. Seriously.
Traded the pick that became Kyrie Irving for some nominal cap savings. This remains one of the worst trades the NBA has seen in years. Olshey gave the Cleveland Cavaliers the Clippers' unprotected 2011 first-round pick to swap Baron Davis and Mo Williams. The deal saved the Clippers $11 million in salary over two seasons. And cost them Kyrie Fricking Irving! No matter what sort of mewing Olshey applies -- and he applied plenty through friendly media types back in 2011 -- this was an awful, awful trade that violated a cardinal rule (never trade an unprotected lottery pick for anything less than a legit star).
So that's what you're getting, Portland: the only GM in the NBA who can legitimately say that he has executed both the very best and the very worst trades of the past 16 months. Given the Blazers' current issues, that erratic performance seems like it'll be a perfect fit.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.