Coming off of the teams first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since the 1999-2000 season, the Portland Trail Blazers have given the man who put that roster together, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, an extension through the 2023-24 season.
Since taking over as the GM in the Summer of 2012, Portland has made the postseason in every season but one and his hiring coincides with Terry Stotts being hired as the head coach. Out of those six postseason appearances, Portland has won a playoff series in three of those seasons and then of course won game seven in Denver this season in the second round to make it to the Conference Finals for the first time in nearly two decades.
Olshey is also responsible for the drafting of the teams franchise player Damian Lillard. Lillard was his first draft pick as the GM with the 6th pick in the 2012 draft. In the draft the next year he also drafted Lillard’s backcourt mate C.J. McCollum. They could’ve had Giannis Antetokounmpo in that draft, but so could have a lot teams so you can’t blame him for passing up on Giannis.
Under the watch of Olshey the Blazers have been very stable and he has shown a knack for finding diamonds in the rough whether it be in the draft, trade market or in free agency.
He traded for the rights of Allen Crabbe on draft day in 2013, who was a second-round pick and ended up being a key bench player for Portland before being traded to Brooklyn. He traded a second-round pick for this years starting small forward Maurice Harkless and then in the offseason last summer he signed Seth Curry, who was coming off of an injury and ended up being a key player in their run to the conference finals, and then at this years trade deadline he traded for Rodney Hood, who was arguably the MVP of Portland’s second-round win over Denver.
His best trade though came with the Nuggets when he traded for Jusuf Nurkic, who was seen as a cast off in Denver and someone with a terrible attitude who was out of shape. Following the string of players fitting in, Nurkic came to Portland and fit in immediately, becoming maybe Portland’s second-most important player this season before breaking his leg. Overall though Nurkic is a franchise cornerstone going forward, assuming he recovers well from his broken leg, and that was a trade that was very much an afterthought at the time.
One criticism of Olshey has been him being too loyal to players that he views as his. That was obvious when he signed Meyers Leonard to a four-year, $41 million contract when he was out in free agency and had virtually no market, or him deciding to match the four-year, $75 million offer sheet that Allen Crabbe signed with the Nets in 2016. Crabbe was a key bench player for the Blazers, but he wasn’t worth that deal and luckily for Olshey he was able to eventually move that contract to the team who signed him to that offer sheet.
It was also very evident in his refusal to breakup the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum when a lot of people around the league believed that he was eventually going to have to do that to bring in a difference-maker on the wing to advance in the playoffs. That narrative was shattered this season though by them making it to the conference finals and McCollum showing that he can be more than just a scorer when it’s needed.
So Olshey does deserve credit for being patient with that backcourt, especially after the sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last season in the first-round.
To go with the Meyers Leonard deal and arguably Maurice Harkless’s contract, there’s the Evan Turner contract handed out in free agency in the 2016 offseason. Turner has not been a very good fit with that roster, but he was huge in the fourth quarter of game seven against the Nuggets, but overall he has not been a good fit over his first three seasons and could be a possible trade candidate this offseason.
Neil Olshey certainly has his shortcomings as a front office executive and that has largely been in the form of stubbornness regarding the roster and his willingness to make tweaks that are even mildly sizable, but he has also built a consistent winner in the form of a team that has been in the postseason six straight seasons.
His biggest objective this offseason is signing Damian Lillard to a new extension. Lillard is eligible for the super max and will likely receive that, and Olshey deserves credit for creating an organization the star player loves and wants to continue being a part of.
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