Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey joined Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report to discuss the performance of Portland’s young players at the Las Vegas Summer League, signing free agents Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, why the Spurs have been so successful and how he tries to utilize some of their philosophies and the paradigm the team uses when acquiring players.
Talk about, specifically with CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson, three key guys off the bench for maybe you next year, how do you see them developing, how they’re playing in summer league and what is next for them and the evolution of their game?
Neil Olshey: It’s so exciting for us. Last year we were all about winning. We had a tighter rotation, we played our veterans, so a lot of our focus last year was on our rotations guys. Knock wood, we were really healthy. We didn’t utilize our bench as much as we had to in the past and I think now, the focus can be on our six young guys that are here from a coaching standpoint, our team schemes and their development. Now they’re the focal point and I think you see guys like CJ getting their swagger back. You see Will Barton more in attack mode than he is when he plays with the veterans. Meyers missed the start of this, he had an injury, but he’s battled back and I think it’s important for him to be more of a focus within the offense than just a role player.
Two key signings with Steve Blake, Chris Kaman. What was the impact getting those two guys? What will they mean to you in that rotation next season?
Neil Olshey: We’ve got an owner who, he drives us every day to get better. We won 33 games, he wanted to know how we were going to get better. We won 54 games, he wants to know how we’re going to get better. In this league, you get better with veterans. We’ve got to keep developing our bench and our youth for the future, but at the end of the day, guys that have been through the wars, that have played playoff games, that know what it takes to win in our league are paramount. I was very comfortable with both guys. Chris and I came into the league together back when I was an assistant coach with the Clippers. Steve Blake and I are friends, I traded for him in L.A. so I know they both have the goods to get it done in a high-level playoff setting, and that’s what we need right now.
Against the Spurs, they won the championship, what did you see in that series against the Heat that made them such a great team to beat and how do you think you’ll have to get over the hump to beat them next year? The Spurs did something in that Finals that we haven’t seen in basketball for a long time, the ball movement, the off the ball movement …
Neil Olshey: I saw it in the second-round! It’s precision. Obviously Pop is probably the greatest coach of all time. R.C. Buford is probably one of the best GMs of all time. They really believe in their core philosophies and they stay with them. We’ve tried to emulate that a little bit ourselves. Instead of going outside the box to plug holes for specific skill sets we may be lacking, we have followed their model a little bit about getting more guys that do what you already do well, which is why we added Steve and Chris. We just think they’re addition resources of what we already excel at. I think we had a drop off last year when we had to go to our bench where we had guys that really weren’t as well suited to play our style of basketball. The one thing I’ll say about San Antonio is guys one through 15, they play Spurs basketball and they buy in and they sublimate their games for the good of the team. It doesn’t matter. Pop stays on them. If they’re not playing well early it doesn’t matter how your categorized. Starter, rotation guy, whoever is playing the best and doing more things that will help them win a game, gets to stay on the floor.
One thing in the NBA today, there’s so much constant movement, free agency, rebuilding but you guys have stability. Basically most of the team is back. How important is that to build on continuity? Is there a good chemistry in Portland? What have you seen to build the team forward with that?
Neil Olshey: Our model, the paradigm we use is three-fold. It’s talent, chemistry, character and everybody we bring in has to hit all three. Now, you’re not going to hit all three at 10’s the whole time, but it’s important that everybody encompasses our philosophy and I think we do have an advantage. I think we put this team together last season to compete and we wanted to see how far it could take us. We realize that the core of this group is good enough to compete at a high enough level where, instead of trying to break it up, we were just going to add, and that was Steve and Chris. I think you see some development from our young here that will be able to give us a lift next year that, in all honesty, they probably weren’t capable of giving us six months ago. And I think you see that when you look at a San Antonio team with the Diaw’s the the Belinelli’s and the Mills’ that come of the bench to help, but they’ve got contributions from guys that have developed within their system like Aron Baynes and Tiago Splitter and Kawhi made a huge leap and he’s a superstar. I think that’s what we’re expecting from our young guys as well.
The NBA’s July moratorium isn’t even over yet, so we’re still a ways away from knowing what Portland’s roster will look like come the start of the 2016-17 regular season. But there is no such mystery, at least not anymore, regarding who the Trail Blazers will be taking to Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, the team announced their 2016 Summer League roster and as expected, current Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton, Cliff Alexander and Luis Montero are all on the team, as is rookie second round Jake Layman out of Maryland, who was acquired from the Magic during the 2016 Draft for a future second round pick and cash considerations. As for the rest of the roster, it’s rounded out with undrafted rookies, players who recently saw time in the D-League and overseas and even a few familiar faces…
Both Johnsons (no relation) have had previous runs with the Trail Blazers, with the lanky Chris playing a combined 30 games over the course of two seasons in Portland while Omari, a former Oregon State Beaver, was a training camp invite in 2015. There are other recognizable names on Portland’s summer league roster, from Pierre Jackson, who seemed to be on the cusp of cracking the NBA before blowing out his Achilles in a summer league game back in 2014, to Stacy Davis, who finished his career at Pepperdine as their all-time leading scorer, to Russ Davis, who won a national championship with Louisville in 2013. Assistant coaches Dale Osbourne, David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts will share head coaching duties (as is often the case at summer league).
Though many of these players, if not all of them, have been working out at the team’s facility in Tualatin, summer league practices officially run from July 6th through July 8th, with their first game scheduled for July 9th at 1 pm versus the Phoenix Suns at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. That game, along with their contests versus the Spurs on the 10th, the Jazz on the 12th and whenever and whoever they play in the summer league tournament, will be broadcast on NBA TV.
LAS VEGAS — The Portland Trail Blazers completed pool play at the Las Vegas Summer League Tuesday afternoon with a 79-75 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. With the loss, the Trail Blazers move to 1-2 at summer league, meaning they’ll start tournament play Wednesday at 7:30 pm versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Trail Blazers had a chance to tie the game late in regulation, but rookie Pat Connaughton’s baseline jumper missed the mark with 4.3 seconds to play, tipping the scales in San Antonio’s favor.
“It’s a learning experience,” said Connaughton, who was selected with the 41st pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Nets before being traded to Portland. “Whenever you lose a game, you’ve got to learn from it. The last shot is something I’ll think about for a while, but it’s not just the last shot. I was more or less disappointed in myself on being short on the majority of shots I missed. The ones I made, I wasn’t short. As a shooter, you never want to be short and the end shot was just a little short as well. It’s a matter of trying not to think about shooting it, you’ve got to just shoot it. You’ve got to trust in yourself and it’s something I’ll learn from moving forward. The older guys have done a great job helping me with that and a phenomenal job to draw up the last play for me.”
Connaughton finished with 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds and a steal in 25 minutes. Dale Osbourne, who handled head coaching duties for the Blazers Tuesday afternoon after Nate Tibbetts ran the first two games, said Connaughton turned in his best defensive performance of the summer league, though that effort might have played a part in the 6-5 shooting guard missing what would have been a game-tying jumper.
“Noah Vonleh set a good screen and Pat was wide open,” said Osbourne. “Pat’s young, he plays hard. This was probably the first game he understands what it means about locking and sprinting and chasing guys around screens, so he expended a lot of energy on the defensive end, kind of lost his legs a little bit in the second half. But he’s going to be fine, very coachable and works hard.”
While Connaughton hitting what ended up being Portland’s final shot of the game would have put the Trail Blazers in a better position to come away with the victory, it was in no way the reason they lost the game. That honor goes to turnovers. The Trail Blazers gave the ball away 22 times, which the Spurs turned into 24 points, or roughly a third of their total Tuesday afternoon.
“That hurt,” said Osborne. “That’s a good team, they do a good job executing. When you look at the stat sheet, our defense was really good, but you can’t give a team like that opportunities to score and score and score. That kind of hurt us. It’s a learning process, obviously we’re a young team and we’ll continue to get better.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Noah Vonleh, who turned in yet another quality performance Tuesday with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 shooting from the free throw line to go with eight rebounds and an assist. Vonleh hurt his right knee in the second half, but said post-game that he planned on playing in Wednesday’s contest.
Allen Crabbe went 7-for-13 from the field for 15 points, two rebounds and two assists, though he turned the ball over a game-high seven times in 31 minutes.
Malcolm Thomas went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and 3-of-6 from the free throw line to finish with 15 points and four rebounds off the bench. Tim Frazier added eight points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Spurs were led by Kyle Anderson, who shot just 5-of-14 from the field but went 9-of-12 from the line to finish with 19 points in 29 minutes.
Though it comes one day late, Noah Vonleh is ready to make his summer league debut as Portland Trail Blazer.
After sitting out Portland’s 85-76 loss to the Boston Celtics Saturday night in the Trail Blazers’ 2015 Las Vegas Summer League opener with a sore left ankle, Vonleh, a 6-10 power forward out of Indiana, will play in Sunday night’s game versus the Dallas Mavericks at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV.
“I went through shootaround yesterday, I felt really good,” said Vonleh, who the Blazers acquired along with Gerald Henderson from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Nicolas Batum. “I went through it this morning and I’m feeling even better, so I’m definitely going to play tonight.”
There is probably more interest among Trail Blazers fans in Vonleh than any other player on Portland’s summer league roster. Not only is he new to the team, but after playing in just 25 games during his rookie season in Charlotte, Vonleh is still a relative unknown. And while summer league performances aren’t typically a great gauge of how skilled a particular player is, the book on Vonleh is so small that any game reps, even in Las Vegas, could prove enlightening even in a guard-dominated environment.
“I don’t think that limits me,” said Vonleh of the guard-heavy play at summer league. “I’m a real versatile player. In high school and college I played on the wing so I’m used to covering guards and using our versatility. I like when teams go small, it just creates a mismatch problem for me on the other end.”
The addition of Vonleh to Portland’s summer league rotation comes at just the right time, as the Trail Blazers gave up 15 offensive rebounds to a much smaller Celtics team in Saturday night’s loss. One assumes Vonleh, who looks to have added quite a bit of muscle since his rookie season, will be able to help in that regard.
“Last night the Celtics were just playing real hard against us, they were beating us on the boards,” said the 19-year old Vonleh. “They had a small lineup in, so it was crazy how they were beating us on the boards but we picked it up in the second half. I think it’s going to translate to the game later tonight. We’re going to be aggressive on the boards and try to stop second-chance points.”
Vonleh also gives Portland another big to throw the ball to in the paint, something they did too infrequently in the first half of Saturday night’s loss.
“I think we needed to get that first game under our belt,” said Allen Crabbe, who scored 15 points before fouling out Saturday night. “During the minicamp that we had, we were playing against each other and everybody knows the plays, we kind of cheat, so I think it’s different once you play against another team who hasn’t seen your sets. The way we played in the second half was good. The guards didn’t just take all jumpshots like the first half, we kicked it into the post, let them feel a little good about themselves instead of just having them run up and down and rebound and not getting any touches.”
As the only big man on Portland’s summer league roster who is also under contract with the Trail Blazers for next season, you should expect to see Vonleh get the majority of those touches, though Malcolm Thomas and Daniel Orton both had success at times in the paint Saturday night.
But more than anything, just getting a chance to see Vonleh in game action as a Trail Blazer for the first time, regardless of how many touches he get or points he scores, will be a welcomed event considering the hopes many have pinned on his development in Rip City.
“Tonight, just try to go out there, play hard, help my team win the best way I can,” said Vonleh. “I’m going to rebound the ball really well, go after every rebound, offensive, defensive, and just try to help my team win. When they find me open looks on the offensive end I’m just going to try to go to work down there and try to create for the other guys.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm on CSNNW and 620 AM.