NBA general managers are working to form an association that would support front office executives across the league with shared access to “legal defense funds, lawyer referrals and public relations professionals,” sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. The group would be structured similarly to the National Basketball Coaches Association, per ESPN’s duo.
According to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, NBA front office executives began this process back in March, so it predates the independent investigation the Trail Blazers opened into the conduct of president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. However, that probe further convinced the GMs of the need for such an association, sources tell ESPN.
As Woj and Shelburne explain, dozens of executives have told ESPN that the Olshey investigation has “stoked fears” around the league that a team could part ways with an executive for a traditional reason – such as a team’s performance or a difference in philosophies – and look for a way to turn it into a firing for “cause” in order to avoid paying the exec’s remaining salary.
Those front office executives feel that phrases used in media reports to describe the Blazers under Olshey – such as “toxic environment” and “hostile workplace” – may be part of a campaign to void the remaining years and salary on his contract if and when he’s dismissed, according to ESPN.
It’s easy to view this story cynically from either side. It’s certainly plausible that an ownership group would look for ways to avoid paying the rest of a top executive’s salary after deciding to fire him for basketball reasons. It also wouldn’t be surprising if there are execs around the NBA who have, in fact, created hostile workplaces and have become increasingly concerned about facing consequences for their actions.
While it remains to be seen how the Olshey situation will play out, the Blazers have at least been relatively transparent about the probe so far. The team hired an independent firm to conduct the investigation into Olshey and publicly identified that firm (O’Melveny & Myers). We’ll see if the organization is as transparent about O’Melveny & Myers’ findings.