BEAVERTON – Damian Lillard said Neil Olshey has briefed him on the Trail Blazers’ free agency plan, and the star point guard said it left him feeling “excited.’’
Lillard said he is “somewhat” in the know of Olshey’s plans when free agency opens Thursday night at 9 p.m. Portland time, but he chose to let Olshey’s actions do the talking.
“I will keep that in house,’’ Lillard said. “You all will find out soon.’’
Lillard was coy when asked whether he is scheduled to meet with free agents, saying “maybe … maaaaybe” while smiling and rubbing his chin.
The Blazers, coming off a second-round playoff appearance, can have as much as $40 million in cap space to address their needs, which include a rim-protecting big man and depth at small forward.
Rumors have linked the Blazers to Miami center Hassan Whiteside, who led the NBA in blocks, and Houston center Dwight Howard, one of the NBA’s most accomplished big men in the last decade.
“I’m excited because it’s not hard to see,’’ Lillard said. “There are guys … our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us … this guy could help us …’ so it’s just a matter of how bad (the free agent) wants to be here, how much we have to offer compared to what they like. We will see where it goes.’’
Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations, said on Wednesday that he will not comment throughout free agency. ESPN has reported that Whiteside will meet with the Blazers on Friday morning. If that meeting does take place, it doesn’t figure to include Lillard, who said he will be in Beaverton for the final day of his youth basketball camp.
Both Whiteside and Howard come with red flags, mostly from an attitude and chemistry standpoint. The Blazers, meanwhile, have one of the NBA’s strongest cultures when it comes to work ethic, togetherness and team-first priorities.
Much of that culture has been fostered by the leadership of Lillard, and on Thursday Lillard said he will be up front in addressing any potential character flaws with a free agent.
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team and how we do things, and what will be tolerated and what won’t be,’’ Lillard said. “If we happened to get someone who, like you said, has red flags – we don’t know for sure if that’s he-said, she-said, or if it’s real. Or if it’s the situation, or the people around him, or what.
“But if it comes to our culture or this individual, it will be addressed. Ain’t nobody going to back down to nobody or let someone come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. It’s not just me. I will be the first one to say something, because that’s just what it is,’’ Lillard said. “But I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back it up. We show up to practice each day to work , we show up on time, we hold each other accountable and we allow out teammates to hold each other accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do the cute stuff … we show up and do what we do, that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, then it won’t work.’’
Lillard, who says he is in the best offseason shape of his career, said he isn’t worried about Olshey’s success in the free agent market because he has a belief in the guys who are already under contract with the team.
“I think there are some guys out there who can take our team to the next level, but I really like the guys we have, too,’’ Lillard said. “I’m a strong believer in if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back and we will be that much better. We will continue to get better.’’
In the meantime, the player in the know of Olshey’s plans is on call to be the team’s ambassador with free agents, as well as the locker room spokesperson to Olshey and his front office.
“When I’m asked about a player who can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion,’’ Lillard said. “That’s my duty to our team.’’