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.