Friday, August 27, 2010
Unraveling the Clippers' executive name game
By Kevin Arnovitz
For a while now, many of us covering the Los Angeles Clippers have been referring to Neil Olshey as the general manager of the team.
So imagine my surprise when I learned, earlier this week, that he was the assistant general manager.
Here's how it happened.
"General manager" is a term that we probably use too loosely. Every NBA organization has someone who is referred to in that general way, but when you look at that person's business card, it often says "president of basketball operations," "senior vice president, basketball operations" or something similar.
Knowing Olshey was essentially the Clippers' GM, (he has been performing the traditional functions of a top executive since the Clippers severed ties with Mike Dunleavy in March) but realizing I didn't know his exact title, I consulted the team's official directory.
And do you know what it said?
It turns out that Olshey is designated on the ledger as "Assistant General Manager."
There are a lot of twists on the title general manager -- but assistant general manager is not one of them. That's a far different position. Top decision-makers do not have titles with the word "assistant" in them. Not to mention, assistant general managers, as a group, earn far smaller salaries than general managers do. People who plan and execute a team's draft and free agent strategy, and sit at the podium introducing new players ... those are not assistant general managers. And Olshey does all that stuff for the Clippers.
So what gives? Was this some kind of typo on the team website? Or have the Clippers been operating without a general manager since March? Perhaps the web directory hadn't been updated?
That seemed a little doubtful. Below Olshey's name you'll see head coach Vinny Del Negro followed by the Clippers' updated assistant coaching staff -- all those hires are far more recent than Dunleavy's departure.
Were the Clippers looking to hire someone to be the GM? Was this an open position? What was going on?
And how should we refer to Olshey when writing about the Clippers? Assistant general manager? Acting general manager? The Decider?
I searched through the team's official press releases from the summer, but that process didn't yield much clarity. For instance, the announcement of Randy Foye's signing refers to Olshey only as "Neil Olshey of the Los Angeles Clippers."
I reached out to the team, too. After some evasion, they eventually said that the Clippers weren't looking for a top executive and that Olshey has been carrying out all the duties of a general manager.
What they did not explain was why he was still officially being called an assistant general manager more than five months after he assumed the role of top decision-maker. Why effectively give Olshey the job without officially giving him the title? The mind wanders to different possibilities. Did the team expect Olshey to take on the new duties at his old salary, and he balked at taking the new title without a raise? Might the Clippers -- whose lawyers are still duking it out with Dunleavy -- be skittish about paying two different people a GM's salary? Could there be some other legalistic oddity?
It was a big question with little in the way of answers.
But whatever the holdup was in consummating Olshey's role at the top of the Clippers' basketball operations organizational chart, it's apparently over. Olshey is, as of today, officially called the Clippers' Vice President of Basketball Operations, and thus the Clippers have ended one of the NBA's more peculiar little mysteries.