Posts Tagged ‘Neil Olshey’

Two Coaches With Everything To Lose

LOS ANGELES — Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.

Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.

And, finally, job security: Neither man has it.

In a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence, the first-round playoff series between Del Negro’s Los Angeles Clippers and Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies, a rematch of last season’s seven-game, first-round thriller won by L.A., features two lame-duck coaches.

While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.

“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.

L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.

“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)

Del Negro Playing It Cool While Seat Remains Hot In Clipperland


DALLAS — Jerry Reinsdorf hired Vinny Del Negro to lead the Chicago Bulls despite not a single coaching gig on his resume. Five years later, the lame-duck coach of the Los Angeles Clippers still can’t escape the stigma of being a cheap hire for a bad team.

Only the Clippers aren’t a bad team any longer, not since Chris Paul arrived a season ago. Despite a mini-slump of late, 5-5 in their last 10, L.A. is 48-23 and closing in on franchise firsts of 50 wins and a division title.

Still, there’s little love for Del Negro. No Coach of the Year mentions as the season winds down to its final month. No contract extension forthcoming. Only one hot seat.

Worry about his future? Del Negro said it’s not something he does.

“No, my future is great. I’ve got a great future no matter what,” Del Negro said Tuesday before the Clippers lost in overtime at Dallas, 109-102. “I’ve been pretty fortunate, so I don’t really worry about that stuff so much. All those things take care of themselves. Where we finish, we’re going to be prepared, we’re going to be organized, we’ll play hard and at the end of the day, you got to try to win some basketball games and finish as high as you can and have a great playoff run. But a lot of playoff teams are saying that right now and it doesn’t always work out like that.

“But you have to put yourself in this position on a consistent basis year-in and year-out and learn and keep the core of your team together. And if  you do that, with stability, usually at the end of it you get it figured out as you move forward with a young team that’s trying to develop.”

The Clippers won 32 games in Del Negro’s first season. Over the last two seasons — the last being a lockout-shortened, 66-game schedule — they’ve won 88 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Expectations have been boosted this season and there’s speculation that Del Negro, hired by Neil Olshey, now Portland’s general manager, won’t be back if L.A. makes a quick postseason exit.

“I enjoy the pressure. I love the competition,” Del Negro said. “Could things be a little bit better in certain areas? Of course. But, all those things get answered at the end of the year. Our focus is on tonight’s game and on this season and all those things get answered at the end one way or the other.”

The Clippers are locked in a three-way battle for the No. 3-5 seeds with Denver and Memphis. Tuesday’s loss at Dallas slipped L.A. into fourth place with a game tonight at New Orleans, followed by road tests at Houston on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.

“I want the highest seed possible, but we just want to make sure we’re playing the right way into the playoffs,” Paul said. “We have the capability, regardless if we have homecourt [advantage] or not. You got to be able to win on the road so either way it doesn’t matter.”

Clippers players have applauded Del Negro’s ability to manage one of the deepest rosters in the league and keep harmony among players who might not get the minutes they feel they deserve. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Del Negro for two seasons in San Antonio, has lauded Del Negro’s strategic incisiveness.

At some point doesn’t Del Negro deserve credit for the Clippers’ massive turnaround? Not that it matters now. The pressure is on and expectations heightened.

“Like I tell the guys, we should thrive on the pressure because you’re in a situation where these games matter where we’re in a playoff run instead of being out of the playoffs.” Del Negro said. “So take advantage of the situation and handle the pressure in terms of be excited about it. And everyone’s vying for certain things, but we can only control what we can, and that’s our preparation and the intensity we play with.”

Blazers Face The Aldridge Question

It’s getting late early in Portland.

Of course, the shadows can’t get much longer and the outlook much bleaker than when you’ve become the first team all season to lose to the Wizards.

Still, these things happen. If it were a one-game pratfall, it would be easier for the Trail Blazers to move on up the road and try to work out their frustrations on the soon-to-be-Rondo-less Celtics.

But the trouble is that 15 games into this season, it is already beginning to look a lot like last season. And the one before. And the one before.

“Inexcusable,” is the way guard Wesley Matthews described the loss at Washington and nobody was really sure if he was talking about the way the Blazers shot the ball, rebounded, defended or got off the bus.

Intolerable for their fans is the knowledge that over the past decade, the Blazers have done more rebuilding than FEMA and still have little to show for it. They have the longest current Western Conference drought without winning a playoff series (13 seasons and counting) and are giving little indication that it’s about to end. Enthusiasm for new coach Terry Stotts’ up-tempo, move-the-ball offense is leaking like air from a flat tire.

All of which quickly brings up the question of what to do with LaMarcus Aldridge?

The Blazers official stance is: nothing. That’s what general manager Neil Olshey told Aldridge in an October meeting, asking for patience and promising that the power forward would not be traded.

But how wise is that from both sides?

Aldridge is 27 going on who knows what. He’s previously had a heart condition, was sidelined last season by a hip injury and is now bothered an achy back, probably from having to carry so much of the load. He’s averaging a team-high 38.2 minutes per game and a career-low shooting percentage of 43.9.

On one hand the Blazers need their best player on the floor for his lion’s share of time in order to even dream of competing for one of the lower rung spots on the playoff ladder. But if this is a team that isn’t really going anywhere until rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard develop, Nicolas Batum gets a real clue and then significant free agent additions are made next summer, does it make sense to wear Aldridge out?

The Blazers, with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy as cautionary tales in their recent past, are quite familiar with players that simply break down physically. If it’s going to take Olshey’s two-year window to get Aldridge the help he needs, what state will he be in physically, not to mention mentally? Might there come a time, even this season, when L.A. is ready to flee to L.A. or OKC or any other playoff contender with a need for the kind of firepower he brings? In this NBA era that we live, players are far less likely to commit themselves to a franchise for an entire career. How much longer before those around him, or Aldridge himself, conclude it’s time to start inching him toward the door?

If you’re the Blazers and have seen Aldridge’s game deteriorate into mostly jumpers and fadeaways this season, it could be easy to conclude that he’s past the point — if he ever was — of being a No. 1 option on a championship contender. If you’re already thinking about the next remodeling of the roster, wouldn’t it make sense to move the process along with a deal that could bring in young talent to grow at the same pace with Lillard, Leonard and Batum?

Of course, the trade deadline isn’t till February. But it’s already gotten late early in Portland.

Long-Awaited Picks Claver, Freeland Finally (Set To Be) Blazers

HANG TIME WEST – They are coming, finally. Eventually.

The Olympics are the last step. Victor Claver will play for Spain as a heavy favorite to medal and Joel Freeland for host Britain as a heavy favorite to not medal. They then become Trail Blazers teammates with enough recovery time on their hands before training camp opens.

That they will become Blazers at all is a development more significant than most international arrivals. Two at the same time is noteworthy. Two at the same time for the frontline, with the chance to immediately join the rotation, is important for a team trying to push back into the playoffs and can use their help.

Claver, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound small forward who can play some power forward, was the No. 22 pick in 2009. Freeland, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward who can play some center, was No. 30 in 2006. That’s a lot of waiting that, at last, faces a payoff.

“I think the time was absolutely right for both of them to come,” said Neil Olshey, the new general manager who joined the organization years after both were drafted. “We’ve got a young roster and they’ve both got a chance to contribute immediately if their game translates from what they’ve done in international basketball. They both play positions where we’re going to need some depth. And they’ve both got transferrable skills. Joel’s ability to rebound, score around the basket, defend multiple positions. And Victor’s length, his ability to stretch the floor, he’s a nice complement to Nic.”


Clipper Nation Grows With Turiaf

HANG TIME, TEXAS — Remember how things used to be with the Clippers? They were the NBA’s version of the groundhog, coming out on rare occasion only long enough to see their shadow and then going back into hibernation.

Not anymore, Punxsutawney Phil-breath.

After a thoroughly enjoyable 40-26 season that earned them the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and then a stirring seven-game first-round playoff series win over Memphis, the Clips have hardly spent the summer relaxing on the beach.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times says they have boosted their bench with another addition:

The Clippers and free-agent Ronny Turiaf have agreed to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract worth $1.146 million, said NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Turiaf, a 6-10, 245-pounder, will be a backup power forward and center for the Clippers.

He becomes the fifth big man for the Clippers – behind starters DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and reserves Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins – the 13th player on the roster.

Turiaf played his first three NBA seasons with the Lakers.

He played for the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat last season. (more…)

Blazers Swing For The Fences In Coaching Search

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Portland Trail Blazers need a head coach. And apparently, their search starts at the top.

Chris B. Haynes of reports that new Blazers GM Neil Olshey has been swinging for the fences in his search for a new coach.

The Portland Trail Blazers attempted to snag former Utah Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, out of retirement this week by formally offering him their head coach position in Salt Lake City.

Sloan later turned down the offer, but that wasn’t the Trail Blazers first big swing.

For the last few months, the Trail Blazers have been in back-and-forth discussions with Phil Jackson in an attempt to persuade him to take their head coaching vacancy, a close source said.

Hey, there’s no harm in asking, right? The worst thing that can happen is they say “No.” And it’s not like other coaching candidates are going to be offended that you went after a pair of Hall of Famers first.

The Oregonian reports that Olshey will now conduct interviews with several candidates at the Las Vegas Summer League. Kaleb Canales, who took over for the fired Nate McMillan in March, is still a candidate to be given the job full-time.


Despite high cost, Blazers likely to match Batum’s offer from Wolves

HANG TIME WEST – The plan from the beginning was the right plan: The Trail Blazers would match any offer sheet Nicolas Batum signed and keep an important part of the lineup in place while they made significant additions through the draft and free agency.

Grow the team with Batum at 23 years old and set at small forward. Protect an asset. It made perfect sense.

But then came Thursday and news that restricted free agent Batum and the Timberwolves had agreed to a four-year, $45-million deal that can top $50 million with incentive bonuses. It came with the kicker that Batum and his agent urged Portland officials not to match.

And suddenly the end result was not so simple. Not the part about the request to let Batum go Minnesota. That is common in these situations, is usually rightly ignored by the original team, and in time becomes a forgotten part of a tangled negotiating process. Same thing with Eric Gordon and the Hornets – he has an agreement with the Suns, he said his heart is in Phoenix, and every indication is that New Orleans will match anyway.

It’s the other part. The one about Nicolas Batum averaging $11.25 million annually.


Hibbert Favoring Portland’s Max Offer

Free agent center Roy Hibbert is now leaning toward wanting to play with the Portland Trail Blazers next season, a day after the restricted free agent got a verbal commitment from the Blazers that they would tender a four-year, $58 million offer sheet to him, the maximum he can receive under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources confirmed Sunday.

Hibbert, acquired by the Indiana Pacers (from the Toronto Raptors) on Draft day in 2008, had long expressed his desire to remain with the team that traded for him and helped him develop into an All-Star last season. But the 25-year-old was apparently blown away by the presentation made Saturday in Washington, D.C., by the Blazers’ contingent, which included Portland’s new general manager, Neil Olshey.

The Pacers would still be able to match any offer for Hibbbert when the July moratorium expires, but teams generally work out deals for players who express a specific desire to be elsewhere once they become free agents.

The Pacers are still likely to match the offer, because Hibbert has become one of the league’s top centers and his skills as a passing big man are a rare commodity in the NBA these days. But a source indicated Sunday that the organization would have to take a look at the offer before making a definitive commitment.


Some Thoughts On The End of Chicago’s Pre-Draft Camp

CHICAGO – Downtown to O’Hare at 6:15 p.m. on a Friday? No problem.

So, quickly, a few thoughts as the two-day pre-draft camp ends at the University of Illinois Chicago…

  • Dion Waiterswithdrew from the combine after the first day, a move that essentially confirms unusually candid statements from at least one opposing executive that the Syracuse shooting guard has received a draft promise and will be cancelling future workouts.It is not known which team (apparently) gave Waiters the completely unenforceable verbal agreement in exchange for the completely unenforceable verbal agreement to call off whatever showcases had been scheduled. But with Waiters bound for the lottery anyway and climbing the board as June 28 approaches, logic dictates it would be someone in the 5-to-10 range. He would be foolish to give up the chance to reach mid-lottery for a promise from a team in double digits.Raptors president Bryan Colangelo told the Toronto Star that “His agent has told me there’s a promise to another team,” which is more public candor than normal from an executive or agent on the topic. And as Colangelo noted as well, Toronto, or anyone could still take Waiters. Just as the team that gave Waiters the promise could conveniently forget the handshake arrangement on draft night if another player is unexpectedly available.
  • There is a good chance the Trail Blazers will wait until after the draft to hire a new coach or remove the interim tag from Kaleb Canales.Indications are that general manager Neil Olshey, hired Monday, is more open to keep both lottery picks and build for the future in contrast to the previous plan that seemed to lean toward trading No. 6 and/or No. 11 for immediate help in win-now mode around LaMarcus Aldridge. The new Portland management team, wanting the roster to help dictate the coach, is more likely to see the direction of the team before deciding whether to go with an assistant in line for a first job or an experienced hand.


Olshey Leaving Clippers, Taking GM Reins In Portland

In another bizarre move from pro basketball’s most bizarre franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers announced Monday that general manager Neil Olshey — whom they had said three days ago had agreed to terms to remain with the team — was instead leaving, with sources confirming that Olshey would be named the Trail Blazers’ new GM. A news conference is expected in Portland Tuesday.

Olshey, who engineered the trade that brought All-Star Chris Paul to the Clippers in a franchise-altering deal in December, had been working all season without a contract, with owner Donald Sterling unwilling to sign him to a long-term deal.

On Friday, the Clippers had announced Olshey had agreed to terms on a new deal, with a conference call set up for Monday afternoon. But one side clearly didn’t think a deal was done.

“Circumstances have obviously undergone some movement since our announcement Friday. In light of that, we want to wish Neil well and acknowledge his contributions during the time he spent with the Clippers,” team president Andy Roeser said in a statement released by the team Monday afternoon.

Olshey had been the Clippers’ GM for two years, replacing Mike Dunleavy in 2010, and his acquisition of players like Paul and free agent forward Caron Butler dramatically re-shaped the team’s roster. But he interviewed with Blazers owner Paul Allen a couple of weeks ago in Europe, and was believed to be Allen’s choice for the job.

In Portland, he will replace interim GM Chad Buchanan, who had been the Blazers’ acting GM since the team fired Rich Cho last summer. The Blazers had interviewed several candidates for the job, including TNT analyst Steve Kerr and former New Orleans Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Portland may also be looking for a new head coach to replace interim head coach Kaleb Canales, who replaced the fired Nate McMillan in February.

Olshey opted for Portland, according to a source, because the Blazers — while not being an easy place to work either, having fired several executives in the last three years, including Cho, his predecessor, Kevin Pritchard, and Pritchard’s assistant, Tom Penn — nonetheless have the resources available to be involved in any transaction. With Allen’s largesse, the Blazers are always potential players in any trade, free-agent signing or Draft day deals. The Blazers currently have the sixth and 11th picks overall in this month’s Draft.

In Los Angeles, Olshey only had a handful of people working with him in the basketball operations staff — “he was basically MacGuyver down there, “ a source said — and had difficulty getting decisions made quickly. Nonetheless, he had enough clout to dramatically, and historically, remake the Clippers’ roster in a frantic two-week frame in December.

First, after the NBA, which owned the Hornets at the time, controversially vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Olshey was able to leverage the Clippers into position to make a deal with New Orleans to acquire Paul in exchange for guard Eric Gordon, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, center Chris Kaman and a 2010 first-round pick.

Then, the Clippers signed Butler to a three-year, $24 million deal. They followed that by convincing guard Chauncey Billups to report to the team after they claimed him off waivers from the Knicks. Finally, the Clippers matched a four-year, $43 million offer sheet that restricted free agent center DeAndre Jordan received from Golden State.

During the season, Olshey added veteran big man Kenyon Martin, who’d been playing in China during the lockout, signed free agent Reggie Evans and acquired guard Nick Young from Washington as part of a three-team trade.

With the team’s new core surrounding third-year star Blake Griffin, the Clippers dealt with expectations they had never dealt with before. For the first time, there were serious questions asked about which Los Angeles basketball team was better. In the end, both the Clippers and Lakers reached the second round of the playoffs, and while that was a disappointment for the Lakers, it marked only the second time in 35 years that the Clippers had gotten that far in the postseason.

A search for a replacement for Olshey is already underway, headed up by Roeser. In the interim, all responsibilities pertaining to the team’s basketball operations will be absorbed by Roeser, head coach Vinny Del Negro, and Clippers’ Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks.