Trail Blazer President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been tasked with getting his team’s roster ready for its return to play in Orlando. And he’s been, as a member of the league’s competition committee, a part of the NBA preparations to go there.
So now, as teams grow closer to embarking on this unprecedented journey to a bubbled-up end of a season, how does he feel about going there himself, amid social unrest and global pandemic?
“It’s two-fold,” he said Wednesday. “On one hand, I’m excited to see our guys play again. You know, the season ended so abruptly, we were just getting healthy. We were three days from getting ‘Nurk’ (Jusuf Nurkic) back and Zach (Collins) was on the horizon -- he was about three weeks out from returning. At that point, Trevor (Ariza) was in the starting lineup, so the exciting thing is to see the guys out playing basketball again.
“I missed basketball.”
But at the same time...
“I don’t think anyone can be cavalier about the health risks,” he said. “Our players and our traveling staff have tested negative over the course of our two weeks of mandatory testing. But, it’s a concern, and we have family members concerned about us going into the environment. I do think there will be diligence down there.
“I do think Adam’s (Commissioner Adam Silver) model of trying to make it the safest place in the country, i think the league will do everything in its power to do that. But I can’t tell you that people aren’t concerned about their health.
“And, more than anything, we are used to being away from our families for intermittent periods of time, but certainly not for weeks and months at a time. And certainly not during a major pandemic and a climate of social unrest in our country.”
How does Olshey feel at this point about the league’s chances of pulling this off? Does he think the NBA will manage to crown a champion in Orlando?
“I do,” Olshey said. “I think the league, the players and the players association are resolute. That’s where they’re going.”
And what about his team’s chances of making some noise down there?
“I think one of the things that’s understated is that guys aren’t going to give up,” he said. “We’ve had guys back in this gym since May 8. They’ve stayed in market and they’ve continued to work out with no end in sight for part of that.
“And then they’re going to go to work out for three weeks in Orlando and live in a hotel without the freedom and independence that they’re used to. They’re not doing that to go through the motions and get a paycheck. We’ve had between 90 and 95 percent participation at our practice facility since May 8.
“Guys have stayed. They are dialed in. They are locked in. They’re ignoring whatever the strength of schedule we’re going to face down there. And they’re going down with the mindset that Day One, this is playoff basketball for us.
“We’re training and preparing and we’re going to give it our best shot. One of the things that has been consistent with this group is that this is a group of closers. We’ve always been better the second half of the year. It’s a testament to the character of the guys we have and our coaching staff not burning guys out and keeping them engaged and I think you will see that when we get to Orlando.”
But it won’t be easy. They’re going to have to be ready to handle tough, must-win games immediately.
“We’re going to have to get off to a fast start,” Olshey said. “It’s baptism by fire. We’re three and a half games behind Memphis and we get them on opening day.”
And there is a very small margin for error -- with the virus and the games.