“This is always where I wanted to be.” Blazers introduce new GM, Neil Olshey

PORTLAND — Neil Olshey came to terms with the Trail Blazers from Los Angeles Monday, flew into Portland Tuesday afternoon, and will hop on a plane to Chicago at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

In other words, he seems to be just what the team needs right now: A man who moves in a hurry.

For more than a year, Portland had been on the search for a general manager and finally found one in Olshey. And with the NBA Draft just a shade more than three weeks away, there’s not exactly time for a brew-pub tour or a visit to Voodoo Doughnut.

“The good news is, I’m a sprinter,” said Olshey, who served as the Clippers vice president of basketball operations for the past two seasons. “We had our best offseason (last fall) when we had a five-day free-agent period. I like working under pressure.”

Olshey, 47, was introduced to the Portland media Tuesday alongside Blazers president Larry Miller, who, because of the elongated GM search, dubbed the Q & A “my favorite press conference I’ve ever been at.”

Of course, it probably helped that Miller didn’t have to answer any reporters, as all the questions were directed toward Olshey, questions such as: What were the factors that lured him away from the Clippers and into the Northwest? What are his long-term plans to revitalize the franchise? Has a coaching search begun, and where does Kaleb Canales factor into the hunt? And how do the team’s current standouts, i.e. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, play into the Blazers’ future?

It was only last Friday that the general public (and most of the media) assumed that Olshey was no longer one of Portland’s GM candidates. Reports had surfaced that he had reached an “agreement in principle” to return to the Clippers, but Olshey said that such a statement was more of a means to stop the media from speculating on his decision. And as he asserted Tuesday, he had long been leaning toward Rose City.

“This is always where I wanted to be. This where my heart was. I want to raise my family here, and I want to be part of the community here,” said Olshey, adding that his jumping ship had nothing to do with what the Clippers did wrong and everything to do with what the Blazers did right. “Everybody that I’ve known raved about the situation here and the commitment to winning. All of that instilled a confidence in me.”

Olshey made a point of saying that in a year, he doesn’t plan on sitting around giving press conferences but instead watching the Blazers play in the postseason. He added that “retool” was a more accurate word than “rebuild” in regards to his plans of making Portland a winning organization.

Supporting that mindset was a rather audacious statement in which Olshey said that Aldridge and Batum were as significant to the Blazers as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are to the Clippers. Hyperbolic? Perhaps a bit — unless Olshey thinks there’s a coach out there who can morph potential into All-Star caliber production.

Who that coach will be remains to be seen, but it is now clear that Canales — Portland’s interim coach for the last month of last season — is a serious candidate. Tuesday, Olshey said that “Kaleb is my guy,” and declared him the early “in-house favorite” to land the full-time gig.
He added that Canales “has set the bar pretty high” and that outside candidates would have to prove quite a bit to land the job.

As for Olshey landing this job…

Miller said that Olshey had been on the team’s radar for nearly a year, and that interest escalated dramatically recently. About a week ago, Blazers owner Paul Allen flew Olshey out to London and made him a salary offer equaling that of the Clippers.
One reporter raised the point that the general manager position in Portland is among the most tenuous in sports, as the organization had gone through five full-time GMs since 2003.

Olshey said that this was a subject that he discussed with Allen, but not one he was worried about.

“Paul and I were on the same page and shared the same vision,” said Olshey, adding that he did not want to get in a bidding war once Allen made his offer because “money doesn’t trump integrity.” “I don’t think anybody works in this business for job security, they do it because they’re competitive.”

And with two lottery picks, the Blazers have a chance to be that much more competitive.

Olshey said that while his focus was on the Clippers, he was very much enticed by the GM vacancy in Portland earlier in this spring — so he wasn’t sure if he should be rooting for the Blazers to land the sixth pick from Brooklyn or against it. Now that he has it, however, he’s happy — and will head pre-draft camps in Chicago Wednesday to supplement the talent-evaluating he’s been doing on film.

“I think where we want to go with the future of this team, getting that sixth pick is another building block going forward,” said Olshey, who said “creativity” was among the most importants aspect for a quality GM. “With cap room, flexibility with free agents, and making thie right decisions in the draft, we can curve back to where we want to go.”

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com

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