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Trail Blazers fire GM Neil Olshey after investigation into his workplace conduct

Neil Olshey is out as Blazers general manager. (David Zalubowski/AP)
3 min

The Portland Trail Blazers fired general manager Neil Olshey on Friday after a month-long investigation into alleged workplace misconduct concluded that the longtime executive had violated the organization’s code of conduct.

Last month, Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen launched an independent investigation into Olshey’s workplace demeanor and the organization’s handling of the 2020 death of a video assistant, among other topics.

“We are confident that these changes will help build a more positive and respectful working environment,” the Blazers said in a statement, adding that they will not release the results of the investigation or discuss it “out of respect for those who candidly participated” in the probe.

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Joe Cronin, Portland’s director of player personnel and salary cap guru, will serve as interim general manager while the team conducts a search for Olshey’s replacement.

Olshey, 56, was hired by the Trail Blazers in 2012 after a previous stint with the Los Angeles Clippers and received a multiyear contract extension in 2019. During his tenure, Portland made the playoffs eight straight years, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019 for the first time since 2000.

But Olshey’s temper occasionally was on display during his time with the Blazers, including a 2017 incident when he was seated courtside and flipped his middle finger toward the Clippers after a last-second loss. While he often struck a caustic and confrontational tone with reporters during his Portland tenure, Olshey remained silent and largely out of the public eye throughout the investigation.

The firing of Olshey follows the unexpected departure last month of team president Chris McGowan after 10 years. McGowan insisted his departure was a personal decision aimed at pursuing a new career opportunity, adding that leading the Blazers through the coronavirus pandemic “had a real effect on me.”

Before Olshey’s exit, the Blazers endured months of turbulence under Allen, who has largely avoided making public statements on basketball or business matters after inheriting control of the team following the 2018 death of her billionaire brother, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

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Olshey’s decision to hire Chauncey Billups as coach in June prompted backlash in light of a 1997 sexual assault allegation against Billups. Subsequent reporting revealed that the Blazers had not contacted Billups’s accuser as part of their vetting process and that the organization cut ties with a private investigator involved in the Billups investigation after it was revealed that he had shared pornographic material on Twitter.

In October, the Blazers placed assistant coach Milt Palacio, a new member of Billups’s staff, on leave after federal prosecutors charged him and 17 other former NBA players with defrauding the league’s retirement health-care plan.

Portland’s coaching search process was one of several tension points with franchise star Damian Lillard, who also expressed dissatisfaction with the team’s ability to improve its roster under Olshey. While Lillard denied that he had made a trade request in July and then recommitted to the Blazers, his future in Portland has remained a major story line this season. Currently sidelined with an abdominal injury, Lillard has averaged 21.5 points per game this season, his lowest scoring average in seven seasons.

The Blazers, who have faced sagging attendance at Moda Center, are off to an uneven 11-12 start and have won just one of their 11 road games. Portland suffered a 114-83 blowout loss at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, leading Billups, a first-time head coach, to repeat a consistent theme by calling for his team to play with better effort.

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