Neil Olshey

Breakfast with the Blazers: Olshey may not be done with roster

Breakfast with the Blazers: Olshey may not be done with roster

Good morning, and welcome to Breakfast with the Blazers, which will hopefully become a daily item on the Trail Blazers as you ease into your day with a cup of coffee and/or your first meal. This spot will allow you to catch up on what happened last night, or look ahead to what is pertinent today with the Blazers.

This morning, we look at one item from yesterday’s Media Day interviews that flew under the radar: Blazers’ president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said he is still actively trying to improve the roster by using the team’s $12.9 million trade exception acquired in the trade of Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn.

Olshey said that over the summer the Blazers “tried to keep up in the arms race as best we could” – presumably referring to pursuits of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony – but in the end they didn’t want to part ways with “pieces of our roster we felt were irreplaceable.’’

As a result, Olshey admitted the Blazers did not accelerate their ascension in the West as quickly as hoped.

“But things are not over yet,’’ Olshey said. “We have the biggest trade exception in the league; we are still aggressive.’’

A trade exception is valuable in acquiring a player from a team that is looking to dump salary by absorbing the contract without having to give anything back in return. In other words, the Blazers can acquire a player making $12.9 million without having to give up anyone. The Blazers get a good player, the other team gets cap relief.

The $12.9 million trade exception was acquired because the Blazers sent out more money with Crabbe’s contract (about $19 million) than they got in return from Brooklyn in the form of Andrew Nicholson’s contract (about $6 million). Nicholson was later waived.

The Blazers have until July 2018 to use the exception, and it could be something that it utilized quickly, such as if Cleveland needs to move salary to sign Dwyane Wade, the Blazers could facilitate by absorbing Iman Shumpert and his $10.3 million contract.

Or it could be used later in the season, perhaps after a team that thought it would be a contender falls out of a race, or decides to go in a different direction. The point is, Olshey still has a chip he can play in improving the roster.

For reference, here are examples of some players who could be absorbed using the $12.9 million: Denver’s Kenneth Faried ($12.9 million); Washington’s Marcin Gortat ($12.8 million), Sacramento’s Zach Randolph ($12.3 million), Charlotte’s Kemba Walker ($12.0 million), Orlando’s Terrence Ross ($10.5 million), Detroit’s Jon Leuer ($10.4 million).

Certainly, none of those names are as impactful as a Paul George or Carmelo Anthony, but they could be pieces that improve the roster, even if it means going over the luxury tax threshold, which owner Paul Allen has made clear he does not fear.

“I think back in February,’’ Olshey said. “Who would have thought the impact Jusuf Nurkic would have had?’’

In other words, stay tuned. Olshey is still at work.
 

Some Blazers links:

I wrote about how belief is the key word as Blazers start practices.

I also wrote about some of the top stories from media day, including the maturation of Lillard and McCollum and the emergence of Caleb Swanigan.

Joe Freeman from The Oregonian touched on the top stories from media day, including Lillard becoming a vegan.

Mike RIchman from The Oregonain wrote about  Jusuf Nurkic's weight loss and Bad Boy aspirations for Blazers.

David MacKay at Blazer's Edge revisits Meyers Leonard path to working out with trainer Drew Hanlen.

Trail Blazers media day: In upgraded West, belief will be the key word for Blazers

Trail Blazers media day: In upgraded West, belief will be the key word for Blazers

The Trail Blazers enter the 2017-2018 season in familiar territory: a massive underdog, almost forgotten among the seismic changes in the Western Conference, which might be a good thing for this group.

After last season, when the Blazers sputtered to a 41-41 record -- during which top executive Neil Olshey said “I think guys went in thinking things could be given and not earned, to a certain degree,’’ -- these Blazers seem to have found a familiar preseason stance: Discount the Blazers at your caution.

 “I think we are flying under the radar, like a couple of seasons ago,’’ Maurice Harkless said. “We are back to being the underdog, and all of us embrace that mentality. And I think that gives us a different type of edge, a chip on our shoulders.’’

With 12 returners, and a rookie bigman in Caleb Swanigan whom the veterans raved will come in an make an impact, the Blazers know things won’t be easy in a Western Conference that has the defending champion Golden State Warriors and dramatically enhanced rosters in Oklahoma City (Paul George, Carmelo Anthony), Houston (Chris Paul), Minnesota (Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague), Denver (Paul Millsap) to name a few.

It’s why the team’s pulse, captain Damian Lillard, says it’s important for the Blazers to adopt a simple, one-word concept: Belief.

“I think we just have to truly believe,’’ Lillard said. “It’s one thing to get up here and say I believe we can be a good team, and I believe we worked hard, and I believe we got better. But when it’s really in you .., that drive inside you, and you look to your left and right and say I believe in this guy and he can bring something to the table that can make us a good enough team? I know that I really have that.’’

Instilling that belief will be one of the subplots to a training camp that will feature competition for starting roles at small forward and power forward, and questions about the team’s big-man depth now that power forward Noah Vonleh is out for at least a month with a shoulder injury.

“I think I see more in my teammates sometimes than they see in themselves,’’ Lillard said. “I think that’s what it comes down to: We are all talented, have ability and are happy to be teammates, but when you have that belief, you can go further.’’

Among the Las Vegas oddsmakers, the Blazers are projected to be a borderline playoff team, better than Memphis and Utah, but behind Minnesota, Denver and the Clippers.

Last season, the Blazers found that talk is cheap. They thought they were ready to take the next step after finishing fifth in the West, but instead struggled to make the playoffs while playing with a losing record from Dec. 10 through April 1.

Now, as three All-Stars (George, Butler, Anthony) have moved from the East to the West, the margin for error has become even smaller.

“One of positives of such great players moving to the West is it’s obvious to everyone on our roster that we need to step up our games from day one,’’ Olshey said. “So guys have been dialed in more.’’

Odds and ends: One player Olshey went out of his way to praise: point guard Shabazz Napier.  “He’s had a really nice off season.’’ …  Olshey said he was “incredibly aggressive” in trying to upgrade the roster this offseason, presumably referring to his attempts to acquire Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in trades. “Look, we tried to keep up in the arms race as best we could,’’ Olshey said. “We made every effort  … most of the movement was by trade and you need willing partners when it comes to trades. I can tell you we were incredibly aggressive. We protected certain pieces of our roster that we felt were irreplaceable … we did everything in our power to try an accelerate where we are trying to get to as a team.’’

Coach Terry Stotts said three starters are locked in cement: Lillard at point guard, CJ McCollum at shooting guard and Jusuf Nurkic at center … Blazers’ team president Chris McGowan said the Blazers have been notified by the NBA they will not be under consideration for the 2020 or 2021 All-Star Game … After nearly coming to a deal with one client, McGowan said he has renewed pursuit of a partner to advertise on the Blazers’ jersey. He said a deal likely won’t happen until mid-season or next season.

Blazers officially sign Neil Olshey to contract extension

neilolshey2.jpg

Blazers officially sign Neil Olshey to contract extension

PORTLAND, Ore. (August 29, 2017) –The Portland Trail Blazers have announced a contract extension for President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, taking him through the 2020-21 season.  In keeping with team policy, financial terms were not disclosed.

“Neil has done an excellent job improving our team and getting us into the playoffs. With our young and improving roster, I expect our franchise to keep improving,” said Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen. “Continuity in the front office is important as we continue to grow, and this extension shows the confidence we have in Neil’s leadership.”

“I appreciate the confidence Paul Allen has in myself and the entire Basketball Operations staff,” said Olshey.  “I look forward to building on the foundation we have developed and the continued partnership with Bert Kolde, Chris McGowan, Terry Stotts and the entire Trail Blazers organization.  On a personal note, I’m very happy for my family as we’ve really embraced Oregon and the incredible spirit of Rip City.”

Promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2015, Olshey was named the 10th General Manager in franchise history on June 4, 2012, and finished his fifth season at the helm in 2016-17. In his role, Olshey leads the organization’s Basketball Operations, overseeing talent evaluation, player personnel decisions, contract negotiations and salary cap management.

Less than a month after joining the Trail Blazers, Olshey drafted Damian Lillard (sixth overall), the fourth unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year in league history, and Meyers Leonard (11th overall). He then named veteran coach Terry Stotts head coach of the Trail Blazers on August 7, 2012.  Olshey also drafted and developed guard CJ McCollum (10th overall in 2013), winner of the 2015-16 NBA Most Improved Player award.

Last season, Olshey made a trade-deadline move to acquire center Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round draft pick from Denver in exchange for Mason Plumlee and cash considerations on February 13. That move ignited the Trail Blazers’ climb into the NBA Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season – even with the youngest roster in the NBA.

“Knowing Neil will continue to lead Basketball Operations well into the foreseeable future is a great thing for our franchise,” said Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan. “I am excited to continue our partnership in running this organization on and off the court with the goal of delivering a world-class experience for our fans.”

The Trail Blazers will tip-off the 2017-18 regular season beginning October 18 with road games at Phoenix, Indiana and Milwaukee, before returning to Portland for their home opener versus New Orleans on October 24. 

ABOUT THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Members of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Portland Trail Blazers were founded in 1970 and purchased by Paul G. Allen in 1988. The team's rich heritage includes 33 playoff appearances, three trips to the NBA Finals, an NBA championship in 1977 and a commitment to community service and sustainability. The Trail Blazers are dedicated to positively impacting underserved kids and their families throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington where they live, learn and play. Portland is the first and only professional sports franchise to receive the prestigious National Points of Light Award for excellence in corporate and community service. The Trail Blazers home arena, the Moda Center, earned LEED Gold Recertification in 2015 after becoming the first existing professional sports venue in the world to receive LEED Gold status in 2010. The team is also one of the founding members of the Green Sports Alliance. For more information, visit www.trailblazers.com.

REPORT: Neil Olshey agrees to contract extension with the Trail Blazers

trail_blazers_olshey_basket_t640.jpg

REPORT: Neil Olshey agrees to contract extension with the Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey have agreed to a contract extension that will keep Olshey with the Blazers through 2021.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first reported the news.

Olshey joined the Trail Blazers on June 4, 2012, when he was hired as the team’s new general manager. He made an immediate impact when later that month he drafted the face of the franchise, Damian Lillard, and just over a month later hired head coach Terry Stotts. Since Olshey took over the Blazers have gone from bottom of the West, to a perennial playoff team. In 2014 they ended a two-year streak of missing the playoffs, and their first round defeat of the Houston Rockets was the team’s first playoff series victory in 14 seasons.

All this success paid off for Olshey, resulting in his promotion to President of Basketball Operations in 2015.

Follow us on Twitter @CSNNW, and stayed tuned to CSNNW.com for more information.

 

 

 

 

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

As I sit back and watch another free-agent frenzy unfold in the NBA, I wish I could tell you where this is all going.

It seems to me there's a pretty good chance that in just a few seasons, nearly every team in the league that matters is going to be capped out. If there's money available under the cap, teams spend like a lottery's instant millionaires. It appeared the Trail Blazers dished out some pretty spendy deals last summer, but -- just as Neil Olshey said -- those deals look commonplace or even cheap compared to what's going on this year.

Yes, Allen Crabbe is going to be making about $18.5 million a season for the next three seasons. Maurice Harkless a little over $10 million for each of the next three, Evan Turner about $18 million a season and Meyers Leonard a little over $10 million per year.

Well, if you haven't noticed, Taj Gibson is going to be getting about $14 million a year over the next two years, Serge Ibaka about $21 million per season over the next three, Amir Johnson has a one-year deal for $11 million, Joe Ingles is going to earn $13 million a year over the next four, J.J. Redick has a one-year deal for $23 million and how about Jrue Holiday getting $25 million a year for the next five seasons?

And yes, Portland tied up Damian Lillard at an average of about $28 million a year over the next four seasons and CJ McCollum for a little more than $25 million a season over the next four years. Those deals are already looking like a bargain.

Paul Millsap just signed for three years at $90 million with Denver. Good player, but wow. Blake Griffin is going to get $173 million over the next five (probably injury-riddled) seasons with the Clippers. Kyle Lowry is going to be getting a total of $100 million over the next three seasons and Steph Curry is reported to be getting $201 million over the next five years.

Whew!

The NBA has become Escalation Station as far as salaries are concerned. It has always been that way, too. I can recall back in the 1980s when I was covering the team for The Oregonian, a young player actually called me when he signed his second contract, so excited he just couldn't keep the dollar figure a secret. "I'm getting two million over four years," he said. "I'm a millionaire."

About a year later, after inflation did its usual thing, that deal didn't look very sweet after all.

"I'm playing for chump change," he told me. "I'm getting screwed."

True story.

And as the numbers go up, the ability to shed salaries and clear cap space becomes more important. The Trail Blazers have work to do in that area but remember, when you do that, you usually lose players with some degree of talent -- which has an impact on team performance.

"Cap Space" doesn't look any better running up and down the court than "Cash Considerations."

Everyone was excited for Portland to go all-in on the Paul George Sweepstakes -- which it did. Olshey's offer of all three first-round picks in the recent draft PLUS a player of Indiana's choosing outside the Big Three was probably the real deal, although I did hear that it could have ended up with the Pacers choosing two players rather than one.

That would clear cap space when George departed a year from now. I know a lot of fans would have been overjoyed with a George deal -- a lot of them seemed ecstatic at the prospect of a season of futility chasing Golden State at the cost of long-range goals. For me, I'm fine with the two draft picks. I think there's a real chance at least one of them will pop. At some point, salaries will be dumped and that will mean their talent will go out the door with them.

As I said, I can only guess where this is going -- in Portland or the rest of the league. But I'm more convinced than ever that the great baseball general manager Bill Veeck was so prescient when he said many decades ago, "It isn't the high price of stars that is expensive, it's the high price of mediocrity."

Behind Neil Olshey's excitement for Blazers' rookies is talent and some grit

Behind Neil Olshey's excitement for Blazers' rookies is talent and some grit

Before Trail Blazers rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan even put on a Portland jersey, there have been some pretty heady statements tossed around.

Collins, on the night he was drafted No. 10 overall, confidently and matter-of-factly stated that he doesn’t see a reason why he can’t win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

And for Swanigan, the 26th overall pick, his surrogate father Roosevelt Barnes said on Monday that the goal is for the 6-foot-9 forward to some day lead the NBA in rebounding.

It’s part of the reason why Blazers’ president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has been buzzing since Thursday’s draft, telling any one and every one about the skill of Collins and the toughness and relentless nature of Swanigan.

“We are incredibly pleased with what we were able to accomplish in the draft with both of these guys,’’ Olshey said Monday.

Not since 2013, when Olshey gushed about stealing CJ McCollum with the 10th overall pick, has Olshey been so effusive in praise of his picks.

His confidence flies in the face of critics who say the 19-year-old Collins didn’t start in high school until his senior year, and came off the bench during his only season at Gonzaga.  It also belies those who say that Swanigan is a “tweener” who is not quick enough to guard small forwards and not big enough to neutralize power forwards.

So what is it about these two that has Olshey so enthusiastic?

The more people talk about Collins and Swanigan, the more the same words keep surfacing: Fight. Tough. Compete.

“They are aggressive,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “And I like their mentality.’’

**

Swanigan has a well-documented background of living in homeless shelters as a youth and attending more than a dozen schools between Indianapolis and Salt Lake City.

His father was in and out of jail, and struggled with drug addiction, which eventually contributed to his death at the age of 50. It is the reason Swanigan will wear No. 50 for the Trail Blazers.

Compounding his childhood struggles was a weight problem that Swanigan says ballooned to 350 pounds as an eighth grader.

When he was 13, at the urging of his older brother, Caleb was adopted by Roosevelt Barnes, a former three-sport athlete at Purdue who became a sports agent. Barnes, who played three seasons as a linebacker for the Detroit Lions in the NFL, had coached Caleb’s brother in AAU basketball.

“He gave me structure early on, support, everything you would want a father to do for you,’’ Swanigan said. “He’s always held me accountable, always told me the truth in everything I did, and that’s all I could ask from someone.’’

At first, Swanigan was a tough shell to crack.

“Very quiet. Very guarded,’’ Barnes said. “Which was natural because of the environment he was in. He didn’t express a lot. But he was always really intelligent.’’

An early conversation, Barnes said, was teaching Swanigan the origin of his first name.

“First thing we talked about was who he was and what his name meant,’’ Barnes said.

He told him the Biblical story of Caleb, and how he was one of Moses 12 spies.

“Caleb made it to the Promised Land,’’ Barnes said. “So I told him he was supposed to make it.’’

The biggest lesson in his quest for the Promised Land, Swanigan said, was developing a work ethic. In six years, he shed 100 pounds and earned Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award as the state’s top prep player. He went on to attend Purdue, where he shed 15 more pounds and became the Big Ten player of the year last season.

“Never stop working, that’s my biggest thing I try to carry about myself,’’ Swanigan said. “Always keep working, always keep my head down and focused on a narrow path.’’

**

While Swanigan’s story is more rags-to-riches, Collins has been groomed to be on the elite stage from an early age.

But that hasn’t come without some hardship.

He was white in a black-man’s game, and even though he was skilled, he went through an awkward stage during a late-growth spurt.

“I just think from a young age, regardless if I’m white or black, I’ve been doubted and had certain expectations that I’ve exceeded,’’ Collins said.

At Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, the school won four consecutive state titles, but he wasn’t a starter until his senior season.

“The simple answer is I was a late bloomer,’’ Collins said. “Up until my junior year, I wasn’t a jumper. My sophomore year I was 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, and I could barely dunk. My body just took a long time to develop. So from middle school to high school a lot of people have doubted what I can do on the court.’’

Once his body was done growing into its 7-foot frame, he still had the skill of a 6-foot-5 wing.

“At first I wasn’t very quick, I was a little clumsy, then once my body developed, people understood that I could actually play,’’ Collins said.

It’s not just the skills that stand out with Collins, however. His demeanor, according to Olshey and Stotts, is that of a winner. He fights for rebounds. He challenges people trying to dunk. He scraps on the floor for loose balls. And above all, he carries himself with an air that he belongs.

“My dad was a guy who taught me to never back down from anybody,’’ Collins said.

His dad, Mike, is 6-foot-10 and was once the Nevada high school player of the year. He went on to play collegiately at New Mexico State and was planning to transfer to Duke before he had a severe foot injury that ended his career.

“When he played he wasn’t the most skilled guy on the court all the time, but he was probably the meanest wherever he went,’’ Collins said. “That kind of runs in the family.’’

If Mike was the meanest wherever he went, Collins’ mom, Heather, might be the toughest.

“My mom is a fighter ,’’ Collins said. “Everybody hears about my dad, and that’s great, but mom is really the one who holds it down at home.’’

Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Zach was a child.

“She acts like she doesn’t have it,’’ Collins said. “She’s probably going to be mad I told you, because she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She just fights through it. You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you knew.’’

**

The first test for both rookies will be at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Blazers kick off their schedule on July 8 against Utah, when Collins is expected to start at center and Swanigan at power forward.

It will be the first inkling whether Olshey’s giddy mood the past week is warranted.

For Swanigan, he says fans should not judge him on his stats, but rather his effort. If at any time they don’t feel like he is giving effort, he says they should “boo me off the court.’’

Much of that effort, he says, will be exerted in the pursuit of rebounds.

What makes a good rebounder?

“Going every time. That mentality. There’s nothing else but that. Wanting the rebound every time,’’ Swanigan said. “And not being tired. So you have to be in the best shape if you want to be the best rebounder.’’

At Purdue last season, Swanigan led the Big Ten with 12.5 rebounds as a sophomore and had the nation’s No. 2 defensive rebounding percentage.

“If you are going to be a great rebounder – you have to have want-to,’’ Barnes, his adopted father said. “He wants to be best rebounder in the league. He’s always been the best rebounder wherever he has been – every team, every league – he has always been the best. So his goal is to come here and be the No. 1 rebounder in the NBA. Most people, they think about they want to score – he wants to do the dirty work.’’

Collins, meanwhile, already has his teammates intrigued.

McCollum has amassed a scouting report on Collins and came away impressed.

“Collins is polished and very skilled,’’ McCollum said. “I hear comparisons to (Orlando center Nik) Vucevic. I think he has a big ceiling.’’

Whether the heady talk and exuberant moods of executives is warranted will play out over the coming seasons, although Olshey forecasted that both rookies will make a contribution this season.

“I’m going to try and go in and have high goals for myself,’’ Collins said.

And that, is a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooked on a feeling: Neil Olshey was sold on Zach Collins in January

Hooked on a feeling: Neil Olshey was sold on Zach Collins in January

It was in January this year when Neil Olshey had a feeling about Zach Collins.

Throughout his career as an NBA executive, Olshey had often experienced a defining  moment in his evaluation of college players that changed his view of a player from a prospect to a target.

On Thursday, Olshey used his latest feeling to trade up in the NBA draft to select Collins – a 7-footer from Gonzaga -- with the 10th overall pick.

“He is a franchise-level building block,’’ Olshey said.

It’s not the first time Olshey has felt this way about a player.

In 2013, Olshey drove through an east-coast snowstorm to watch a Lehigh guard named CJ McCollum. It wasn’t the 34 points McCollum scored that night against Bryant College that stuck with him. And it wasn’t the fact McCollum missed a floater at the buzzer to win it.

It was how the loss gutted McCollum to the point where he stayed motionless in the key after the buzzer sounded. To Olshey, it showed a player who cared more about winning than his individual stats.

That summer, Olshey took McCollum with the 10th pick, and McCollum today has emerged as one of the NBA’s most prolific and creative scorers.

The year before, in 2012, after an afternoon of workouts with draft prospects, Olshey picked up a point guard named Damian Lillard on the way to a dinner with owner Paul Allen. Olshey was fresh on the job with the Blazers and didn’t know the area beyond the Blazers’ practice facility, and soon found himself lost en route to Oswego Grill.

“I remember he didn’t know where he was going,’’ Lillard would say later. “We got off on the wrong exit. Then we had the right exit, but were going the wrong way … and he was all mad, saying ‘Where the hell we at!’’’

During it all, Olshey remembered looking over at Lillard. He was calm. Cool. Unfazed. And as Lillard recalled, he remembered telling Olshey, “I know you are going to find it.’’

To Olshey, that moment of chaos revealed something special about Lillard. The young point guard was cool under pressure. And he was supportive of a teammate, even if it was an executive stressing behind the wheel.

A few weeks later, Olshey took Lillard with the No. 6 overall pick, and Lillard has shown the same traits both on and off the court as he has become on of the NBA’s marquee players.

Which brings us to January, and Collins, and Olshey’s latest moment.

The scene was the University of Portland’s Chiles Center and the event was Gonzaga at Portland, where Olshey and assistant general manager Bill Branch went to scout Collins.

At the time, the Blazers were scuffling through a disappointing season, were out of the playoff picture, yet to inflicted with Nurkic Fever. They were targeting lottery picks and were unsure whether they would find a target at the West Coast Conference game.

But soon, they saw a 7-footer who had a nice shooting touch. He also defended. He was also tough and competitive. Then, there was one play that sealed it. It wasn’t as subtle as the McCollum or Lillard moments, but it was enough to turn him from prospect to target.

“He caught a ball on the left block, got doubled teamed, and threw a behind-the-back, no-look pass,’’ Olshey said.

He turned to Branch.

“I said, OK Billy, we can go home,’’ Olshey said. “We’re done. Top 10 pick. We knew right then.’’

**

Funny thing is, in one way, Collins beat Olshey to the punch when determining his fate.

In October of 2012, when Collins was 14, he was playing the NBA 2k video game, which enables you to create yourself as a player. Collins created his profile and entered the video game’s draft.

He was selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick, which he captured with a photo and tweeted.

As he remembers, Collins that season with the Blazers on the video game won the Rookie of the Year.

“Possibly MVP,’’ Collins said.

Nearly five years later, Collins acknowledged that video games are easier than real basketball, but that didn’t stop him from aspiring to match his 2012 “award.”

“I don’t see why I cant be the Rookie of the Year,’’ Collins said.

While Olshey touted the Las Vegas-native as a franchise-level building block, he also cautioned that Collins might take some time to make an impact, especially on a deep  and experienced team like the Blazers.

Still, Olshey offered a glowing assessment.

“He’s the whole package,’’ Olshey said. “He’s a big-time rim protector, a great one-on-one defender, a big time post defender, he can really pass it … he can stretch the floor, score over both shoulders … he’s everything you look for in a big man in our league today.’’

**

By Thursday morning, Olshey and his staff knew they wanted Collins, but weren’t sure he was attainable. The Blazers owned the 15th, 20th and 26th picks and long knew Collins wouldn’t last until the 15th pick based in part by their inability to get him to Portland for a workout.

“We had no shot to get him in (to Portland for a workout),’’ Olshey said. “There was no way he was going to be there at 15. I think we got lucky he got to 10.’’

Olshey figured the key would be Sacramento at 5 and New York at 8. If the Kings didn’t get a point guard with the No. 5 pick, the conventional wisdom was they would use 10 to pick either Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith. But once Boston drafted Jayson Tatum at No. 3, it opened the way for the Kings to take point guard De’Aaron Fox at five, giving them flexibility to explore trades.

And when Ntilikina went to the Knicks at eight – not Malik Monk like some had projected – he knew it was time to pounce at the chance to get Collins.

So Olshey swapped 15 and 20 with the Kings for No. 10.

“He’s the only guy we would move both picks to get,’’ Olshey said.

In reality, Olshey’s anxiety about Collins started in March as Collins started taking on a bigger role in Gonzaga’s run through the conference and NCAA tournaments.

“He just kept playing better and better, and we kept getting more and more frustrated, knowing the more minutes he got, the more the rest of the country was going to catch up,’’ Olshey said.

In the end, Olshey followed his gut and that feeling from January, and got his man.

The plan is to play Collins as a backup to Jusuf Nurkic, and perhaps at times alongside Nurkic against bigger lineups.

Collins says he doesn’t want to pigeon-hole himself as a center or a power forward, he just wants to play, improve, and mostly, win. Other than that, he says he doesn’t know much about the team outside of the latest players who Olshey had a “feeling” about -- Lillard and McCollum.

“I just know they are a tough team and they don’t really back down from anybody – and those are traits I grew up with and those are part of my game as well,’’ Collins said. “I think … I can fit in perfectly there.’’

Trail Blazers may have addressed several needs with draft picks

Trail Blazers may have addressed several needs with draft picks

If you want to go down a checklist of things the Trail Blazers could have sought in the 2017 draft that would make their team better, it might go this way:

  • Outside shooting in the front court.
  • Rim protection.
  • Overall defensive improvement.
  • Toughness.
  • More players who can pass.

And after the draft, you might just be able to put a checkmark next to all those categories.

Portland traded two first-round picks for Gonzaga center/forward Zach Collins at No. 10 and then selected Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan at No. 26.

Collins, a seven-footer, doesn't lack for confidence, calmly telling the Portland media via conference call, "I don't see why I can't be rookie of the year."

Neil Olshey, Portland's director of basketball operations, called him "a franchise-level building block" and pushed Collins as a rim-protector, one-on-one defender, pick-and-roll defender and gritty competitor. "We got lucky he got to 10," Olshey said.

Swanigan, a 6-9 forward who can pass and make threes, is known for what is now his rags-to-riches story of attending 15 different schools and living in homeless shelters before getting his weight under control and his life together. "An incredible kid... a great story," Olshey said.

If social media is any indication (and it's not always) the Blazer fan base came away from draft night with a degree of disappointment. There was no blockbuster trade involving Jimmy Butler or Paul George and no drafting of any of the available Oregon Ducks.

But Olshey is sticking to the plan he's had since taking over this roster. "At the end of the day, we have to do what's right, long-term," he said.

The Blazers have built around Damian Lillard and his career arc. The idea is to accumulate players around Lillard's age or younger, then grow them together and be ready as a team for a championship run when Lillard reaches his peak.  Collins is still 19 and Swanigan turned 20 just a couple of months ago so both will need development time.

But front-court players who can make threes, pass and defend always have a shot at playing time. Collins, I would expect, has a real shot at earning rotation minutes as a rookie. Swanigan is one of those players who doesn't quite fit a position but is what Olshey called "a basketball player" -- and the league is shifting more and more to players who don't necessarily fit a stereotype.

How will it work out? Nobody really knows... but it's going to be fun to watch.

Neil Olshey on Blazers' draft: Team has 'luxury' of going young or trading for experience

Neil Olshey on Blazers' draft: Team has 'luxury' of going young or trading for experience

CHICAGO – Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey on Thursday was a guest on NBA TV, during which he answered questions about the Blazers’ approach at the NBA Combine and the franchise’s strategy heading into the June 22 draft.

A transcript of Olshey’s interview with Scott Howard-Cooper:

Q: What are looking for when here?

Olshey: Here it is more about confirmation than evaluation. Look, a lot of the top 20 guys aren’t here but there are still guys we have to evaluate in terms of things we can’t see when they are with their college programs. We are getting the metrics, the metrics testing, the interviews are critical in terms of getting to know these guys. We haven’t really spoken to them in person. It’s nice we are getting more guys participating in the 5-on-5; it allows us to see them later in the year, what they have done with their body, maybe they played a different position on their college team than they are playing out here … it gives us a chance to see them play more our style of basketball. Anytime you can get in the gym with guys, or get to be around them, it makes our process easier because we have a bigger sample size.

Q: Does your gut tell you you won’t have three rookies in camp come October?

Olshey: (laughs) No, it doesn’t, really. Look, we’ve been rebuilding the organization based on Damian Lillard’s timeline and we’ve been lucky enough to be a playoff team in both of those years.  So, look, it’s whatever the best decision long term for the franchise is: If that’s three rookies, it’s three rookies. If that’s an aggregation of picks to go get an impact player, then that’s what it will be. We have a very aggressive owner, we are very lucky to have one that doesn’t shy away from a high payroll; he loves young talent and in a market like Portland, where we have been most successful, has been drafts and player development.

Q: What are your thoughts on using picks to get veteran player who can help now opposed to rookies who might take time?

Olshey: I think we have the luxury of doing either. We had the youngest team in the league last year. We had the youngest team in the playoffs for the second year in a row. We are all on a timeline with young stars like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who haven’t even entered their prime yet. So we can be more patient. I think we have a longer runway, so it’s not a matter of the urgency. All of our players are under long-term contracts, or we control their rights. So we are building long term. The end game is to hopefully win a championship in Portland. If we can accelerate that process because we’ve got the three picks in a very deep draft, where these picks are coveted and we can get a player on a timeline from a team that is maybe going in another direction, we will absolutely push our chips in and do that. But if it’s about finding more stars to join our young guys with Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, and they are out here (at the Combine), then that’s what we will do. 

Neil Olshey says Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum won't be traded

Neil Olshey says Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum won't be traded

If the Trail Blazers are going to get better in a trade this summer, it won’t involve Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ top executive said on Tuesday.

Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, said the Blazers will look to improve the roster this offseason, but said that process will not include using one of their star guards for trade bait.

“The odds of anything ever coming up of commensurate value is so hard to even fathom,’’ Olshey said when asked whether Lillard or McCollum were off limits in a trade. “I could give you the trite answer that ‘Nobody is untradeable,’ but clearly they are.’’

Both Lillard and McCollum are under contract through the 2020-2021 season and both are coming off career seasons.

Lillard, who signed a five-year, $120 million extension in July of 2015, this season averaged 27 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range.

McCollum, who last summer signed a four-year, $106 million extension, this season averaged 23 points, 3.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds while leading the NBA in free-throw percentage (91.2). He also shot 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range.

The Blazers have $132 million committed to contracts for next season, and many of those contracts figure to be difficult to move, or unlikely to garner a significant player in return, leaving some to wonder if the only way for the Blazers to make a jump is to trade one of their stars.

Also, Lillard and McCollum – both of whom are generously listed at 6-foot-3 -- are considered below average defenders, both because of their size and technique, creating an obstacle for the team’s long term success.

However, Olshey on Tuesday said it is his job to surround the guards with support.

“It presents a challenge,’’ Olshey said, noting that the size isn’t a problem when either plays the point guard position. “It’s my job to fortify the other positions to the point where they are not as vulnerable when they are out there together.’’

Olshey said the late-season addition of center Jusuf Nurkic helped cover some of the Blazers’ size deficiencies in the backcourt because the team’s overall size and length improved, and he noted the team’s defense jumped into the top 10 after the All-Star Break.

“I look at it like we are really blessed and lucky to have Dame and CJ, understanding it does present some challenges on the defensive end,’’ Olshey said. “So it’s my job, and the job of guys on my staff, that we support them and make them less vulnerable when they share the floor together.’’