In a completely unexpected development, the Los Angeles Clippers and their VP of Basketball Operations Neil Olsey decided to part ways on Monday afternoon. The split was announced in a terse press release from the Clippers a little after 5 PM Pacific Time:
The Los Angeles Clippers and Neil Olshey today mutually agreed to end discussions concerning Olshey's future with the team. An agreement in principle, reached and announced on June 1, will not be completed and the two parties have agreed to part ways.
"Circumstances have obviously undergone some movement since our announcement Friday. In light of that, we want to wish Neil well and acknowledge his contributions during the time he spent with the Clippers," said Clippers' President Andy Roeser.
A search for a replacement is already underway, headed up by Roeser. In the interim, all responsibilities pertaining to the team's basketball operations will be absorbed by Roeser, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, and Clippers' Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks.
This story has moved quickly, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Directly after the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs, Olshey referred to his contract situation during a press availability on May 21 in explaining that he was not going to answer questions about Vinny Del Negro's contract. Then later that week, it was reported that Olshey had met with Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen about the vacant GM position in Portland (a position the Olshey had interviewed for a year ago as well). Then during a media call to discuss Del Negro's extension on May 29, Olshey once again refused to answer questions about his status. The situation seemed to come to a head last week -- just after Ramona Shelburne posted a story reporting that Olshey and the Clippers had not spoken, the team announced that they had reached an agreement with Olshey.
That announcement came on Friday and promised a media call today with further details. That call never materialized, apparently in retrospect signaling a stall in the discussions. Instead, the Clippers dropped this bomb shell.
Olshey was considered a front runner for the Portland job, and this likely means that he's decided to move north. If so, we'll know soon enough (Eric Pincus writes that there should be an announcement tomorrow.) The Portland job will be a rebuilding similar to the one he just undertook in L.A., but few NBA owners have deeper pockets that Allen. Bear in mind, even if the Blazers decide to operate within the constraints of the salary cap rather than to spend wildly as they have done in the past, the cap doesn't restrict what Allen can pay a GM. It's entirely possible that Olshey just got a much more lucrative offer.
That's really the most logical scenario given the chain of events. Olshey interviews with Blazers, tells Clippers, they make offer, Blazers make a better offer, Clippers decide not to match. Is that what happened? We may never know, but it would explain the last week pretty well.
After having the same GM for 23, the Clippers will now be looking for their third GM since October of 2009. And for the first time, the organization will have to go outside the organization and conduct a real search. When Elgin Baylor was pushed out, head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. assumed the title a GM, the duties of which he'd been more or less performing for some time before Baylor's departure. Then when Dunleavy was summarily fired in March 2010 (the bizarre announcement coming at half time of a game), his assistant GM Olshey took over the reins and eventually got the interim removed from his title.
Olshey put together the most successful Clippers team in franchise history, with a series of shrewd moves, the most spectacular of which was the acquisition of Chris Paul. His first year at the helm featured a series of low impact and questionable transactions -- Eric Bledsoe is looking like a steal picking 18th in the 2010 draft, but Al-Farouq Aminu (since traded) is looking more like a bust; free agents Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook ranged from merely mediocre to truly terrible, though none were particularly expensive. But since February 2011 Olshey has been on a roll. The trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland may have cost the Clippers a first round draft pick, but given that Davis missed about half of this season and suffered a knee injury that could end his career in the playoffs, the deal is looking prescient. Olshey used the cap space freed up in the Davis trade to sign Caron Butler, who started at small forward all season. He then grabbed Chauncey Billups off of amnesty waivers, and more importantly, sold him on the idea of playing for the Clippers. Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin and Nick Young were all acquired for next to nothing as the season progressed, and all made significant contributions to a team that won a playoff series. Quite an improvement for a team that went 32-50 a season ago.
The trade for Paul was the coup de grace of course. Olshey and the Clippers may well have just been at the right place at the right time, but give them credit. Paul wasn't willing to go to just any team, and he was under no obligation to opt in for an additional season as part of any trade. Olshey was instrumental in selling Paul on a vision that convinced him to come to L.A. for at least two seasons, and while the Clippers gave up a lot, Olshey also had the clairvoyance to keep Bledsoe out of the deal, which is looking especially good after his breakout performance in the playoffs.
Today's events will certainly trigger a new spate of Clipper-bashing -- how the team couldn't hold onto a good GM once they had one, how the organization will always find a way to screw things up. And frankly, it hasn't been a good week. The conventional wisdom, for good reason, was that the Clippers went through this season with a below average coach and an above average GM -- and in the course of seven days they've now managed to retain the first and lose the second.
The next question is who will they get to replace Olshey. That decision will in large part determine just how big a blunder this turns out to be, and whether the old standby -- "It's the Clippers" -- is applicable.