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NBA Saturday: Olshey Digging for Diamonds
Posted By Joel Brigham On April 13, 2013 @ 6:00 am In NBA | No Comments
Neil Olshey Talks Blazers at Portsmouth Invitational
Considering that there are only three or four college seniors with first-round potential in this summer’s NBA draft, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which is for seniors only, isn’t necessarily a breeding ground for the kind of stars teams draft in the lottery. Even the “big name” seniors that do have first-round potential tend not to show up, but that doesn’t stop NBA general managers from checking out the landscape, because according to Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, Portsmouth is still a great place to find character players who may be selected in the second round.
“You focus on the guys that chose to come. If guys want to compete, they’ll find an environment to compete in,” Olshey said. “We’ve been given a chance to see some guys who have maybe been over-scouted, but we’ve got to see them play a different position. And then you see some guys who are under-scouted from smaller schools, and I think that’s where the value is.”
According to Olshey, Portsmouth is a good way to gauge work ethic. Only seriously hard-working seniors find their way to this event, and that’s something NBA scouts watch out for.
“They’ve been through a long college season, so one of the indicators here is that the guys who are playing are guys that really love basketball,” Olshey said. “These are guys that are fringe draftable players, so this is a first step. Are they committed to the game? Do they play because they love it? Do they want to compete no matter what the environment is, or just when the popcorn is popping on ESPN that they bring their game?”
Olshey hopes he can find a second-round diamond among this year’s field, which isn’t unreasonable considering some of the players that have appeared in these tournaments in the past. Wesley Matthews, for example, one of Portland’s top scorers, was once a participant, and in recent years scouts have also seen Jeremy Lin, Jimmy Butler and Landry Fields come through Portsmouth, as well.
In short, there are good players to see there, though for Olshey and his Blazers, the future is bright no matter what he may get out of the experience.
“Terry Stotts has done a great job,” Olshey said. “All our young guys are better today than they were. We’ve got the presumptive choice for Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard and a franchise-caliber point guard there. Guys like Meyers [Leonard], Will Barton and Victor Claver have showed flashes that they can be productive NBA players. I think we’re off to great start. We’ve got a considerable amount of cap room this summer, we’ve got a lottery pick, and we’ll be aggressive in free agency building a roster.”
Of course, a great sleeper pick from the Portsmouth pool wouldn’t hurt anything either, because Portland needs all the depth it can get. Olshey sounds like he’s committed to finding that depth this offseason, whether it be through some of these young players or other avenues. However he reshapes the roster, though, it’s hard to deny that the core of this young Blazers team looks very strong moving forward.
San Antonio Cuts Stephen Jackson Loose
With less than a week left in the NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs went through with a relatively surprising case of addition by subtraction on Friday, sending away veteran swingman Stephen Jackson.
Jackson was waived after persistent rumors that he had become a distraction in the Spurs’ locker room because of diminished playing time. Jackson is a career boat-rocker, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that as his playing time diminished, he reportedly grew harder to deal with, eventually pushing things to where San Antonio simply didn’t want that rubbing off on younger players or distracting a top Western Conference team looking to make it back to the Conference Finals again this season.
“[It was a] tough decision because, on a personal basis, I’ve known [Jackson] a long time and I enjoy him very much,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said before Friday night’s home game against the Sacramento Kings. “But you’ve got to make decisions that are tough sometimes… It was a basketball decision and a family decision.”
But, most likely, it was a basketball decision first and foremost, though the move does leave the Spurs precariously thin in the frontcourt, especially considering Boris Diaw is expected to miss up to four weeks to recover from surgery.
Despite that, the Spurs’ front office has proven time and time again that they know exactly what they’re doing, so it’s hard to question them on this front. The really frustrating thing for Jackson, is that despite his griping, he will not be eligible to play for another team in the playoffs if/when he clears waivers because the deadline for that was midnight on March 1.
Since that’s not possible, it isn’t likely that Jackson signs on anywhere else for the last three to four games of the regular season. Based on his track record, he’d probably only be a distraction anyway. He’d have been better off just accepting his diminished role in San Antonio, so instead of competing for another ring, he’ll sit these playoffs out. Only time will tell if the Spurs will be better off because of it.
Knicks Waive Kurt Thomas, Too
Considerably less surprising was the New York Knicks waiving Kurt Thomas, the NBA’s oldest player, to make room for the considerably healthier Solomon Jones.
Thomas, who is halfway to 41 years old, experienced a foot injury nearly a month ago, but as the Knicks continue to see their frontcourt rotation fall apart (Thomas, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace, and Marcus Camby all have been dealing with varying states of disrepair), it became evident that they’d need a healthier body for the postseason. Thomas was the most reasonable cut, so one of the league’s nicest (and oldest) guys was probably just sent to an early retirement.
“We thank Kurt for all that he has done,” said Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald in a team statement. “I have the utmost respect for Kurt as a player and as a man.”
He added, “Kurt’s contributions to the Knicks have been immeasurable. From the first day of training camp, to his last game against the Utah Jazz, Kurt has been a key contributor to our team. The team’s success this season has been driven by leadership on and off the court—it is something that cannot be quantified or read in a box score.”
Jones, who had been playing for the Liaoning team of the Chinese Basketball Association, is big and healthy, which is what New York felt they needed heading into the postseason as the East’s two-seed. Since Jones did not require waiving prior to March 1 (he wasn’t even on an NBA roster at the time), he is eligible for the postseason, and that’s why Thomas’s cut was justified.
It doesn’t make it any easier for Thomas, though, who has most likely played his last game in the NBA. He was a member of the Knicks in the late ‘90s and early aughts, playing in two Eastern Conference Finals during that time. He’s been in the league for 18 years and has also played for Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Chicago and Portland. He averaged 2.5 ppg and 2.3 rpg in just over ten minutes of action this season over 39 games, but hasn’t played since the first win of New York’s recently-snapped 13-game win streak.
Now, there’s a good chance that he’s done playing for good, and if that is the case, congratulations to Kurt Thomas on an excellent NBA career.
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