The Clippers held a media availability with Assistant GM Neil Olshey yesterday. Kevin posted a couple of the more interesting points on ClipperBlog (hat tip to Citizen swamigusto). In addition, there's a pretty complete transcript of his comments on the MyClipperNation site (it requires a registration, but if you're not registered for it already, you should be - hat tip to citizen k0d4).
I was actually there, shoulder to shoulder with the real reporters like Shelley Smith and Cheryl Miller, shoving my voice recorder in Neil's face like everyone else. The Nuggets were scheduled to use the Clippers training facility later in the day, so there were more reporters there than I thought there might be. It's an interesting sort of first baby step in the world of access - the Clippers did a good job of getting the transcript published, so as it turns out, I didn't have to be there to know what was said. But at the same time, I heard HOW he said it, and I think that matters as well. At any rate, read the transcript - and here are my thoughts.
Olshey's clearly pumped. As Kevin pointed out, he's on a first name basis with the number one overall pick, and that pick's name is 'Blake' (before the lottery "we were all hoping for the result to be Blake.") Why was Andy Roeser playing coy Tuesday night, when MDsr told Lisa Dillman over the phone later that the pick was Griffin and Neil Olshey spent 20 minutes talking about the guy Wednesday morning? Basically, they just wanted to make sure that they had all spoken internally before they said anything externally. Once that happened, they dispensed with the coy act:
We didn't want to jinx anything by talking about what ifs prior to getting to New York, and we were all hoping for the result to be Blake. Look, Mike (Dunleavy) was in Spain, Andy Roeser was in New York and the owner and myself were in Los Angeles. We just felt it was appropriate to make sure Mr. Sterling was the first to know our plans prior to everybody that has access to the internet.
I asked Olshey if they thought Griffin was quick enough to play the three, something that's been a topic of conversation around here. He believes he can:
I absolutely think so. Offensively I think Blake is a lot more versatile than people give him credit for. Part of the college game is using guys to the advantage of the team. Jeff (Capel) is a phenomenal college coach and Blake was very one-dimensional there because he was so good at that one dimension, they didn't need to expand it. They had perimeter guys like Willie Warren and Taylor (Griffin) and they kept him kind of in a box. He averaged 23 and 14 doing it. He has phenomenal lateral movement, he's quick and he's a high level athlete.
I want to go into this a little bit more. Chad Ford has also made the point that Griffin is much better in several areas - shooting, defense, quickness, etc. - than people believe, simply because he was not asked to do those things in college. That's great news. But let's be clear - he's a prototypical power forward. Olshey called him 'ideally suited.' Playing him anywhere else is a luxury that he may be able to afford the team with his versatility, but it's a kludge. I'm a big believer in getting your 5 best players on the court, and if Blake Griffin needs to play some minutes at the three for that to happen, that's fine for now. But the better solution in the long run is certainly to clear up the logjam among the bigs, and improve the depth at small forward. Having said that, you have to look at both sides of the ball when considering whether a guy can play the wing. The idea that Marcus Camby could was always dubious. Despite his DPOY bona fides, Camby's prowess is as a shot blocker; he is not a particularly good on-ball defender, and he certainly has no perimeter offense beyond that set shot. Defensively, it sounds as if Griffin has the lateral quickness to defend some NBA threes. Not Kobe Bryant when he's at the three, but guys like Lamar Odom and Carmelo Anthony. Offensively, we certainly didn't see anything at Oklahoma to indicate that it would work, but Ford says he has a great handle and solid range in workouts. Or maybe Zach Randolph can step out to the perimeter, and so you might be able to play them together some. But view if for what it is: a luxury that may be useful in some situations, but a less than ideal solution.
I mentioned this Tuesday night, but it seems to me that the most important thing is the enthusiasm that Griffin can build for the team as a whole. Olshey already sees it starting:
I got text messages from Baron and Marcus and Zach, Baron was twittering away about Clipper Nation. The exciting thing is it's not just another organizational decision and we got a hall pass and no longer have to do any work on the draft and just take Blake, but the players know how good this kid is. I think Baron is going to love running the floor like this – a guy that can finish, a guy that can play with Marcus, Chris and Zach. I think there are lineups where he can be a small five or a big three and be out there with Zach. The players are as excited as we are, and the message really is the past is the past.
He went on to say that Baron has been in the training facility every day since May 4th, working out twice a day. While he was talking, DeAndre Jordan was at the other end, working on post moves with Kim Hughes, mixed with free throws with Fred Vinson. Jim Eyen was looking on from the sideline. This is all anecdotal, and who knows how it will translate into next season. But in May of 2008, we didn't even have a team - only Thornton and Kaman were even on the roster. There's an opportunity here for these guys to work hard and build something, to develop the chemistry that was so sorely lacking last season. The enthusiasm that comes with the first overall pick is a great catalyst.
Be sure to check out Olshey's comments about trade possibilities. Certainly there weren't any bombshells there, but he seems very open to the possibility that the team will do more than nothing this summer. (More on that in a later post.)
It was also interesting to hear him give voice to a common perception around here, that the rest of the league was looking for the Clippers to hold a fire sale last February. According to Olshey, DTS told them they absolutely were not required to reduce payroll - that the decisions had to be basketball related:
At the trade deadline I think a lot of teams around the league thought we were going to try and dump salaries and that they were going to be able to steal a player to help them in a playoff run when we were no longer a viable option. Mr. Sterling had one comment for Mike, myself and Andy Roeser, ‘Any decision you make I want you to make the best basketball decision for our organization.'
I've got one other minor observation from the day: I came away with the general impression that Olshey is not a huge fan of Mike Taylor, though I may be reading too much into things. On the subject of trades, "somebody to play behind Baron" was one of the things he mentioned, and when he was talking about the recent drafts, he mentioned Thornton, Gordon and Jordan, but omitted Taylor: "What we've done in the last couple of drafts with Eric, Al and DeAndre, is kind of rebuild a youth core, not unlike some of the other teams in the league." I found this strange - didn't Mike Taylor have an even better rookie year than DeAndre Jordan? If you project some improvement, isn't backup point guard taken care of? In fact, "somebody to play behind Eric Gordon" is a much bigger problem than "somebody to play behind Baron." I'm sure I'm overreacting, but I found it interesting. Obviously he mentioned Taylor on the subject of summer league, and that will be our next chance to see how Taylor is developing.
Speaking of summer league, I was of course floored by the dropping of references to MBFGC, Sofoklis Schortsianitis, but that's a subject for another post.