It is of little surprise that the departure of Neil Olshey has left Clippers fans feeling a bit rudderless. As acting "GM", he led the Clippers out of the wilderness and, for the first time since 2006, decidedly headed in the right direction. But not all of the moves were golden. In fact, some of the moves were mixed AT BEST, while others were just plain lucky. (To be sure, luck is an essential part of any successful venture, particularly so in sports).
Some citizens of The Nation believe that Olshey inherited a mess (bad Baron Davis contract, bad owner, bad reputation), while others argue that he was handed a golden opportunity, with a roster made up of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, two decent 7-foot centers, and some first round draft picks. Whatever your view, we can all agree that Neil Olshey came in and "got to work". He was among the busiest GM's during his tenure, and undoubtedly left the team in a better position than when he took over.
Let's take a jog back thru recent Clippers history and separate the "NICE" from the "meh".
There were obviously some homeruns in there, beginning with the Chris Paul trade. There is no doubt that Olshey was instrumental in getting the deal for Paul done. But was he the biggest factor? That's probably a stretch. I would argue that appeal of playing alongside Blake Griffin was the biggest factor in Paul's willingness to come to the Clippers, as was the fact that the Clippers play in LA, a city which was desirable for Paul.
Let's not forget, Olshey didn't magically pull off an unexpected trade for CP3 out of the blue. It was Chris Paul who demanded a trade. And despite his early involvement and superior assets, Olshey wasn't able to immediately pull off the trade. One could certainly argue that Olshey was initially outmaneuvered by the Lakers, who were able to consummate a trade with New Orleans with a sub-optimal package (aided by the surprisingly acquiescent Houston Rockets acting as a conduit - Mitch Kupchak had to rip-off two teams to make that deal). The Clippers were only able to pull off a deal once the Lakers trade blew up, when it was clear that Paul MUST be traded.
While I still contend that making the Paul trade was a no-brainer, there is no doubt that Olshey gave up a lot to get Paul. He deserves applause for refusing to include Eric Bledsoe in the trade, but the price paid was a high one. And let us also consider that the Paul trade was centered entirely around pieces accrued during the previous GM's tenure. With the exception of Aminu, the Clippers trade pieces (Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and the Minnesota pick) date back to the Mike Dunleavy era. Whether you think he was the beneficiary of his predecessor, or was making lemonade, there it is.
I applaud Olshey for getting the deal done. But I don't think it makes him a genius. The deal was a no-brainer. It only required someone who knew how to use a phone. The biggest hurdle was getting Paul and his agent to commit to waiving his opt-out and playing thru 2013. Kudos to Olshey for persuading them to do so. But I think they both realized that it was Paul's only chance of getting out of New Orleans.
Next up, picking up the recently amnestied Chauncey Billups off waivers. Great move. When the Knicks released Billups, he immediately sent out warning signs that he would prefer to walk away from his $14M guaranteed salary and retire than play for an undesirable team. This certainly scared off a lot of the inferior and rebuilding franchises. But Olshey didn't blink. He put in a reasonable bid of $2,000,032 with a dash of sass (the extra $32 was a nod to Griffin's jersey number, and an acknowledgement that Olshey and Roeser recognize it all starts with Blake). The gambit worked, and the Clippers claimed Billups.
At first he balked. Consider, Chauncey Billups, a 35 year old veteran and a Finals MVP has been traded all over the NBA during his career. The man known as "Mr. Big Shot" has has paid his dues. Is it surprising that he felt that he should at least have a say in where he goes?
In the end, reason prevailed. Billups realized that the Clippers were on the verge of being a very good team, and that he could be a key part of that. They had Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. He may have been told he would start over Mo Williams. And he was going to get his $14M and live in Los Angeles. He would later learn that his good buddy Chris Paul was also headed to town. That may have been what ultimately sealed the deal.
In any event, Neil Olshey should be credited with calling Chauncey's bluff, and putting in a clever bid that would prove to be enough. He was able to get Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot, the ultimate leader, to come to the Clippers for just $2M.
Prior to the above moves to bring in the guards, Olshey was busy trying to address the Clippers glaring hole at the small forward spot. The previous years longshot run at LeBron James yielded Ryan Gomes instead. Gomes was never the long-term answer, but his first season in LA showed that he wasn't even a short-term answer. The Clippers need to add a SF, and fast.
The SF market was loaded with veterans, including Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier and Caron Butler. Despite Prince being from LA, he ultimately decided to stay in Detroit (not everyone wants to play in their hometown - I sure wouldn't). Battier, a player in decline, chose to sign with Miami. That left Caron Butler, coming off of a knee-injury. While not the best fit for the Clippers needs, he was certainly an upgrade over what the Clippers had at the position. Butler had other suitors, including contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. But he liked what he saw with the Clippers. Olshey singed Butler to a fairly reasonable 3/yr, $24M contract, and immediately gave the Clippers some much need veteran credibility and leadership.
Some may say the contract was too high for a player that is not a perfect fit. Also, Butler had ties to Los Angeles, having previously lived here before, so it's not as if he needed a ton of convincing. Again, we can't underestimate the allure of playing alongside Blake Griffin on a young, up-and-coming team.
Still, I give Olshey credit for filling the need that needed filling, and doing so at a reasonable price, despite competition.
Re-signing DeAndre Jordan was the next order of business. It was well-known that Blake and DJ are great good best buddies and that Blake would not be happy if the Clippers went all cheap on DJ. I tend to think that might have been overstated, but why take the chance? When the Golden State Warriors offered Jordan a $43M contract, the Clippers quickly matched it. For some reason, 7-footers continue to get overpaid in this league, and DJ's contract is no exception. Olshey had little choice in the matter. If he didn't match, he risked upsetting Blake, and rebooting the narrative that the Clippers won't spend. Plus, Kaman was being dangled in every trade scenario, so the Clippers needed to sign a center. What other options were there?
Well, Tyson Chandler was out there. And he and Chris Paul have a very strong relationship (although Chandler signed before Paul was traded). I have little doubt that the Clippers could have landed Chandler for approximately the same money the Knicks gave him if they were still intent on landing Paul. Did New York overpay for Chandler? Possibly. He is on the wrong side of 30, and has had injuries. Also, the contract does hamstring them from making other moves in the future. But the same could be said for the Clippers regarding Jordan.
On the other hand, all Chandler's done recently is help lead the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA title and win Defensive Player of the Year in his first season with the Knicks. Might he have made sense for the Clippers at that price? I think it was worth a look. Others may not. Moot point. We move on.
Adding Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin were great moves. Evans was huge for the Clippers early, who were surprisingly struggling in the rebounding department to begin the year. Evans, the best pound-for-pound rebounder in the NBA, quickly changed that. Signing Evans was a dicey move (pun intended) considering his past history with the Clippers. That was all forgotten. Evan hustle was quickly recognized and appreciated by the Clippers faithful.
Signing Kenyon Martin was an even bigger coup. KMart was receiving interest from multiple teams, some he may have been able to start with. But he found the Clippers to be most appealing and decided to sign here mid-season. His contributions can't be overstated.
Olshey should be credited for both of these signings, but I am open to the possibility that Chauncey Billups, and possibly Kiki Vandeweghe, were instrumental in convincing these guys to come to town.
Along those lines, he did manage to miss out on JR Smith. The Clippers should have been the favorite to land Smith. They had several of his former teammates and friends, and could offer him a starting role. Instead, perhaps hypnotized by Linsanity, he chose a backup role in New York to play along his NOT-friend Carmelo Anthony. This could be listed as an Olshey failure, though, in hindsight, it would have prevented our next move, which would have been a shame.
How about the Nick Young trade? Not much needs to be said here. It was a masterstroke. The Wizards and Nuggets were working on a deal to exchange Nene for JaVale McGee, and the Clippers offered to help faciliate and take Young off their hands. The cost: Brian Cook. Bing, bang, boom. He perfectly filled a need, and came at zero cost.
Along the way there have been moves that drew mixed reviews. The Gomes, Foye and Cook signings. The Baron Davis + 1st Rd Pick for Mo Williams trade, especially when the pick turned out to be Kyrie Irving. Questionable moves are part of the territory, more so when the GM is as busy as was Olshey.
He will be missed, but I don't believe Olshey was essential. And I certainly don't believe all is lost. He made some great moves, and some obvious moves. He had luck along the way. I have no doubt that another savvy basketball person can come in and duplicate, or possibly improve upon, the work of Neil Olshey.
(Let me know if I missed anything)