Neil Olshey

Northwest Notes: Simons, Favors, Beasley, Timberwolves

Anfernee Simons‘ recent play has justified former Blazers executive Neil Olshey’s faith in him, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Olshey maintained that Simons was the most talented player he had ever drafted, even though he had also selected Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and CJ McCollum during his career. A late first-rounder in 2018, Simons has averaged 28.3 PPG and 8.2 APG in his last six games. Simons will be a restricted free agent this summer.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Thunder big man Derrick Favors shrugs off the trade rumors surrounding him, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. “I think every year I’ve been in the league, my name’s been in trade rumors … I’m pretty much used to it,” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to it. I try to control what I can control. I try to, like coach says, keep my feet grounded where I’m at.” Favors, who has appeared in 31 games with Oklahoma City this season, holds a $10.18MM player option on his contract for next season.
  • Malik Beasley‘s subpar perimeter shooting is hampering the Timberwolves offense and making him more difficult to trade before next month’s deadline, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic opines. Beasley is averaging 12.3 PPG while shooting a career-low 37.3% from the field. Beasley is signed through the 2023/24 season, though the final year is a team option.
  • On that same topic, the Timberwolves are in a tricky spot regarding the trade deadline, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. They are in the playoff hunt, hovering around the .500 mark, and could be buyers if they want to enhance their chances of a postseason berth. They could just as well trade veterans such as Patrick Beverley for assets or simply stand pat and see if the current group can develop more chemistry.

CJ McCollum Talks Lillard, Olshey, Trade Rumors, More

The dismissal of Trail Blazers head of basketball operations Neil Olshey could have a real impact on the future of guard CJ McCollum, whom Olshey valued especially highly.

Under Olshey’s leadership, the Blazers were extremely resistant to moving McCollum, even though he looked like the most obvious trade candidate if the team sought to make a splash and acquire another star to complement Damian Lillard.

In the wake of Olshey’s firing, McCollum’s top advocate within the organization is gone. And a report on Monday suggested that Lillard would like to see the club acquire Ben Simmons to improve its defense — such a deal would likely require McCollum’s inclusion.

Asked by Jason Quick of The Athletic about whether Lillard’s push for roster upgrades – possibly at McCollum’s expense – has put a strain on their relationship at all, McCollum said he remains close with his longtime backcourt partner.

“Me and Dame have a good relationship,” McCollum said. “I think when Dame speaks, you hear him. When you hear ‘sources’ and ‘anonymous,’ I don’t necessarily know if that is Dame or not, because it’s not Dame putting his name on it. He generally puts his name on things. I know where he stands with me, and he knows where I stand with him. The organization, they need to do what is best for themselves.

“… If he wanted me to leave, I think he would say that. He’s not speaking on me behind closed doors because that’s not in his DNA. He’s not built like that. He’s solid, and I know his word is his bond.”

McCollum admitted that it has been a tough season so far. The 11-14 Blazers are off to a slow start, and the 30-year-old guard’s numbers are down — his 20.6 PPG is his lowest mark since 2014/15 and his .424 FG% would be the second-worst shooting rate of his career. McCollum said that he and his wife are expecting their first child in a matter of weeks, which has diverted his focus away from the court at times.

McCollum stressed that it’s not in his character to “run from” adversity, but acknowledged that he isn’t oblivious to rumors about the Blazers potentially making changes to their roster after having overhauled their coaching staff and front office this year. He spoke to Quick about a handful of topics in a discussion that’s worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber. Here are some of the highlights:

On his first impressions of head coach Chauncey Billups, including Billups’ willingness to call out the Blazers’ players if he’s not happy with their effort:

“I like Chauncey. I like his approach. I think he’s approaching things the right way. He’s not a guy who thinks he knows it all. I think he’s approaching things the right way — asking for feedback, asking questions, and he’s holding himself accountable, which is important. It’s on us to be better, and he has stated that.”

On Olshey’s exit from the franchise:

“It was tough, unfortunate. Neil is a good friend of mine, obviously. He was someone who had faith in me, trust and belief in me, and I was in a solid position. I mean, a GM of a franchise, having been in the NBA a long time … it was just unfortunate that the situation occurred, and what happened in the investigation. I mean, obviously, they found something that was worthy of letting him go, which is not ideal. But it was tough.”

On the general upheaval within the organization:

“This is different than anything I’ve ever experienced because of the circumstances. This is the first year of my career where we lost our whole coaching staff, brought in a new coach, a new staff, the GM gets fired in the middle of the season … all of that affects you on the court. But there is no excuses. I didn’t come here to tell you ‘There’s a lot of s–t going on’ … but yeah, there is. There’s s–t going on — every day. And I’m a f—ing human being. But look, at the end of the day, my job is to play basketball. So I go play basketball.”

On whether he feels less certain about his future in Portland with Olshey gone:

“That’s a question for somebody else. I just do my job: show up for work and do my job.”

Blazers Notes: Billups, Olshey, Roster Moves, Lillard, Eversley, Perry, Prince

In a fascinating piece released mere minutes before former president and general manager Neil Olshey was fired by the Trail Blazers, Jason Quick of The Athletic details how he views head coach Chauncey Billups as a poor schematic fit with Portland’s flawed roster — constructed by Olshey.

Even before star Damian Lillard was announced as being injured, it was clear that Portland was not functioning as a cohesive unit. Quite the opposite, in fact. Quick writes that the team had grown accustomed to ex-coach Terry Stotts‘ freedom on both ends of the court, and Billups wants to instill more structure and accountability, with a more aggressive defense and more ball movement on offense.

However, Billups’ stern exchanges have seemingly demoralized the group, and Quick asked Billups how he thought it was going over with the players.

I think pretty good, but at the end of the day, it’s not easy,” Billups said. “It’s not easy all the time to hear when you are not doing what you are supposed to do, especially from the coach. All I care about is I believe we should play one way. I know what wins, I know what’s important. When we don’t do it, obviously I’m going to always bring it to the table, to those players, to those people. And I know it’s not always going to be well received.

But I know it’s the best thing for the team, it’s the best thing for the player and at the end of the day, if you are mad or upset, if you actually really want to win and be a good teammate, you go home and think about that, look yourself in the mirror, and you are going to realize what I was saying was right, you know? With no agenda at all other than for us to try and get better. So, I can ride with that. That’s just kind of who I was as a player, who I am as a person, and I will be consistent there.”

Quick believes that while it is a talented group of players, the roster that Olshey built doesn’t make sense under Billups. He mentions the fact that the Blazers have three 6’3″ guards (Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell) all starting, which leads to them being exploited defensively. Quick also says that Olshey’s infatuation with McCollum and refusal to trade him hurt the team. He thinks a roster shakeup is absolutely necessary in order to break the team out of its early season funk. The Blazers are currently 11-12.

It’s a great article from Quick and worth reading in full for subscribers of The Athletic.

Here’s more from Portland:

  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks thinks the Blazers should explore trading Lillard (video link). He believes Lillard may have peaked as a player, pointing to his age (31), huge contract, and the high number of minutes he’s played over the years. Marks thinks it could be worth it to try and extract maximum value for Lillard before it’s too late. However, he acknowledges that the situation will be very tricky for whomever takes over the front office, as Lillard is one of the best players in franchise history.
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian is happy the Blazers pulled the plug on the Olshey, and believes that it will galvanize the organization and fan base.
  • Bulls general manager Marc Eversley and Knicks general manager Scott Perry are both candidates to replace Olshey as GM, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).
  • A source tells Quick of The Athletic that Grizzlies VP of basketball affairs Tayshaun Prince, who had previously been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Olshey, is not in the running for the role (Twitter link).

Trail Blazers Fire Neil Olshey

The Trail Blazers have fired general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, the team announced (via Twitter).

Olshey has been under a month-long investigation relating to his actions in the workplace, prompted by accusations of misconduct from at least one team employee. Workers have allegedly been subjected to “intimidation and profanity-laced tirades, among other bullying tactics” from Olshey.

The team addressed the investigation in a release announcing the move, stating that Olshey was terminated “due to violations of the Portland Trail Blazers’ Code of Conduct.”

“Out of respect for those who candidly participated in that privileged investigation, we will not release or discuss it,” the release states. “We are confident that these changes will help build a more positive and respectful working environment.”

Director of player personnel Joe Cronin will take over as interim general manager while the team searches for a permanent replacement, the release adds.

Two candidates who will likely receive consideration for the permanent job are Grizzlies VP of basketball affairs Tayshaun Prince and Spurs VP of basketball operations Brent Barry, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Former Celtics executive Danny Ainge may also be in the mix, tweets Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

A source tells Jason Quick of The Athletic that Olshey learned of his firing this morning (Twitter link). Olshey got no indication of the move during discussions Thursday night with vice chair Bert Kolde or team owner Jody Allen, Quick adds.

Olshey, 56, had served as Portland’s general manager since 2012, but there have been rumors for some time that his job was in jeopardy. In addition to the workplace investigation, Olshey has been under fire for the team’s string of first-round playoff exits and received criticism for not being more responsive about the hiring of Chauncey Billups as head coach in light of sexual assault allegations against Billups from 1997.

Several pressing issues will face Olshey’s replacement, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link). Damian Lillard has repeatedly expressed a desire to play for a contender, and the Blazers are currently in ninth place in the West at 11-12. The organization will also have to decide whether to hold on to Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, who both have expiring contracts.

Northwest Notes: Gilgeous-Alexander, Olshey, Gay, Rivers

After initially arriving in Oklahoma City as a complementary piece on a playoff roster, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has since become the centerpiece of a rebuild for a Thunder team that appears lottery-bound for a second consecutive season. While Gilgeous-Alexander would obviously like to be winning more, he told Joe Vardon of The Athletic that he’s enjoying his role as the focal point of OKC’s offense.

“Yeah, absolutely. It’s something I’ve dreamed about as a kid,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Everyone wants to be that guy, you know what I’m saying? With high pressure comes great rewards.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Trail Blazersinvestigation into Neil Olshey may be entering its final stages, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv, who says Olshey was interviewed earlier this week as part of the probe. Sources tell Begley that Olshey is still owed more than $12MM on his current deal, which could become a sticking point if the franchise decides to part ways with the executive, as we outlined on Thursday.
  • Rudy Gay had an impressive first game back from offseason heel surgery, pouring in a team-high 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting in just 18 minutes in his Jazz debut on Thursday. The performance displayed how Gay is capable of helping Utah this season, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News.
  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said on Thursday that his assistant coach Sam Cassell was the first to suggest that the Nuggets would be a good fit for Doc’s son, Austin Rivers. As Mike Singer of The Denver Post details, Rivers signed with Denver last season, then re-signed with the club in the offseason and is playing regular minutes. “It’s always great when your kid is happy,” Doc said.

NBA GMs Forming Association To Give Execs Access To Legal, PR Resources

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.

Blazers Notes: Olshey, Billups, McGowan

Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey is scheduled to be interviewed next week by investigators from law firm O’Melveny and Myers, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic (Twitter link). Quick notes that the firm has already interviewed over 60 people as part of its investigation into Olshey and Portland’s front office.

As we previously relayed, the investigation will take longer than expected. A deadline of November 5 was originally set, but that date has since been pushed back.

Olshey is under investigation after numerous employees complained about a hostile work environment. The longtime executive is fighting for his job and has no interest in making a deal or buyout settlement, Quick notes in a separate tweet.

There’s more out of Portland tonight:

  • Speaking of Olshey, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian reports that several employees have experienced or seen him ‘”berate, belittle and intimidate” staffers. “You tried to not be around him,” said one of Fentress’ sources, explaining how employees actively tried to avoid Olshey at the team’s practice facility.
  • In an article for The Athletic, Jason Quick examines the factors that led to Chris McGowan resigning as president and CEO. McGowan, who recently stepped down Portland after spending nearly a decade in the position, said there were “a lot of things” that factored into his decision. One, according to Quick, was that he wanted to become the “voice of the franchise” – overseeing the team’s messaging, not its basketball decisions – but was rebuffed by team owner Jody Allen.
  • Head coach Chauncey Billups recently described the team as “under construction,” Quick writes in a separate article for The Athletic. Aside from some off-court issues, Portland’s on-court product doesn’t look much better. The team is 6-7 through 13 games, though it’s worth noting that Damian Lillard is averaging just 20 points per game (38% shooting from the field and 27% from downtown).

Western Notes: Blazers, Ainge, Lillard, Landale, Gay

It’s too early to say whether the Trail Blazersinvestigation into Neil Olshey‘s conduct will lead the franchise to make any major changes at the top of the front office. However, Howard Beck of SI.com said on the latest episode of The Crossover NBA Show that he wouldn’t be surprised if Danny Ainge‘s name is connected to the president of basketball operations role in Portland if the team looks to replace Olshey (hat tip to RealGM).

“I don’t know if Danny would take it, but I would expect Danny Ainge would be in the mix for a vacancy in Portland,” Beck said, admitting that he was putting the horse before the cart. “It’s one of the cities he’s been connected to over the years because of his history there.”

Ainge, who spent a couple seasons with the Blazers as a player, was also born and raised in Oregon, which is the “history” Beck is referring to. Ainge has shifted into a consultant role in Boston after stepping down as the Celtics’ head of basketball operations this summer.

Let’s round up a few more notes from around the Western Conference…

  • The NBA has acknowledged that its referees are still working to find the right balance between instituting the league’s new philosophy on foul calling and continuing to allow freedom of movement. Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard believes there’s still plenty of work to do, as Kurt Helin of NBC Sports relays. “I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable,” Lillard said on Tuesday night. “I don’t want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the s–t that’s getting missed, I mean, come on. I felt like coming in, the rule change wouldn’t affect me, because I don’t do the trick the referees, the trick plays… (but) it’s just unacceptable.”
  • Spurs big man Jock Landale has been placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News, who says it’s unclear whether or not Landale tested positive for COVID-19. The rookie is the second Spur to enter the protocols, joining fellow center Jakob Poeltl.
  • Rudy Gay, who signed with the Jazz in the offseason, is inching closer to making his debut for the team, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. The team said on Tuesday that Gay has been taking part in “controlled court work,” and Todd says he’s begun participating in 3-on-3 action. Utah will provide another update on the veteran forward on Monday.

Northwest Notes: O’Neale, Olshey, Bazley, Jokić

Starting Jazz small forward Royce O’Neale appears to be increasing Utah’s ceiling this season by becoming a bigger offensive threat, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic.

“I’m trying to just take what the defense gives me,” O’Neale said of his revamped offense this season with the Jazz. “I’m trying to find ways to get open, whether I am finishing at the basket or kicking it out for the open three. I’m trying to find the open guy. I don’t want the ball to stick in my hands. Everybody thrives off moving the ball, finding the open guy.”

Though O’Neale is still averaging a fairly modest output of 7.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 2.2 APG, along with an excellent 2.2 SPG, Jones contends that O’Neale’s consistent three-point shooting and his improved cutting away from the ball have made him a player that opposing defenses need to respect. This could improve the Jazz’s outlook in the postseason.

“This is what I’ve been trying to train for in the offseason,” O’Neale said of how he hopes to help the Jazz. “I want to do whatever I have to do for us to win. Whether that’s guarding the best player, or knocking down shots. I’m just trying to not be tired and to play the whole game, if I can.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazersinvestigation into the alleged workplace misconduct of longtime president Neil Olshey could last a few weeks, well beyond the duration initially anticipated, writes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
  • Third-year Thunder forward Darius Bazley has looked to learn from 30-year-old veteran center Mike Muscala, the team’s oldest player, per Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman. “I don’t know if Mike knows this, but I look up to him,” Bazley said. “Just to see Mike and his readiness, whether he’s playing good or playing bad, he always comes in with the same energy and effort, and today he was rewarded for it.”
  • The league continues to gather information on the on-court fight between All-NBA Nuggets center Nikola Jokić and Heat forward Markieff Morris. Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets that a league announcement on an expected suspension period for Jokić could be announced as late as tomorrow. Denver head coach Michael Malone has indicated that an extended absence for Jokić could open the door for more rotational run for reserve big men Bol Bol and Zeke Nnaji, per Sean Keeler of the Denver Post“Maybe some guys like Bol Bol (and) Zeke Nnaji that haven’t had a great chance to play yet are going to have a chance to get out there and play rotational minutes,” Malone said. “But we’ll react once we get that news.” Malone also noted that he would feature forwards Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, and Aaron Gordon in the post more frequently should Jokić be unavailable tomorrow for the club’s next game against the Pacers.

Northwest Notes: Whiteside, Azubuike, Olshey, Wolves

Hassan Whiteside‘s time with the Heat was often stormy, but he doesn’t hold any grudges against his former team, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Whiteside, who signed with the Jazz during the offseason, said he remains in contact with some of his ex-teammates.

“(Udonis Haslem), Bam (Adebayo), I still talk to them guys,” Whiteside said. “I even talk to (coach Eric Spoelstra). I told him, ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ I still talk to them guys. There are no hard feelings. We broke up. We were in a relationship and we broke up. I don’t hate nobody.”

Whiteside revived his career with Miami in 2014/15 after two years out of the league. He was the team’s starting center for five seasons, although he sometimes clashed with Spoelstra about playing time and his role on the team. He was traded to Portland in 2019 and is on his third team since that deal. In Utah, Whiteside has reunited with former teammate Dwyane Wade, who is a part owner of the Jazz.

“It’s a special feeling. Having D-Wade, seeing a familiar face like that,” Whiteside said. “He was a part of me even wanting to come to the Jazz. I don’t know what I would have been without D-Wade. D-Wade, I don’t think he knows how much he means to me.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Jazz picked up their third-year option last week on Udoka Azubuike, which shows they still have confidence in the first-round pick from 2020, per Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. General manager Justin Zanik admits Azubuike has been placed in a difficult situation. “Last year we drafted him, and four days later he shows up to camp and we’re asking of him, one; you’re not going to get any reps in the regular season because of the goals that we have as the veteran team, and two; nobody in college plays like us,” Zanik said. “The only way you can learn that is reps, but last year he had a major injury. He only played in one game.”
  • The “bully act” by Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has been allowed to continue for too long, contends John Canzano of The Oregonian. The team has opened an investigation into Olshey amid accusations of a toxic work environment. Canzano states that Jody Allen deserves some of the blame for not controlling Olshey’s behavior during the three years she has owned the team.
  • Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic examines the issues that have caused the Timberwolves to go into a four-game tailspin after a 3-1 start. Krawczynski notes that teams have discovered Minnesota doesn’t have enough shooters to make them pay for doubling Karl-Anthony Towns, while Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels have hit rough spots after strong rookie seasons.