Clippers’ Neil Olshey worked his way up from bit parts to leading role

Neil Olshey’s long and winding path from fledgling actor in New York to new general manager of the Clippers was one of those road trips guided by a series of fortunate coincidences and conversations.

One of the more telling twists in the road was directed, not by an influential player agent or front-office executive, but a venerable stage actor who achieved a measure of fame on the hit TV series “Law & Order.”

This was well before Olshey moved west and started helping out with coaching duties at Artesia High or his first fortunate meeting with then prep star Jason Kapono, who would be the first of his many clients (and future NBA stars) in private-workout hoop sessions.

Olshey recalled riding the New York subway with Jerry Orbach after a show taping and his words of career advice when Olshey was on his way to his night job at a local bar.

“Jerry Orbach, God rest his soul, was the one who convinced me, ‘Look, the payoff [here] isn’t big enough. You need to go to L.A., where you can hit a home run,’ ” Olshey said.

Well, in this case, it turned out to be a jump shot. Assist, Lennie Briscoe.

Coincidentally, Olshey was in New York Tuesday night when he got the biggest promotion of his career, taking a call during a Big East tournament game from the Clippers saying that they were severing ties with General Manager Mike Dunleavy.

Olshey spoke to Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and team President Andy Roeser and learned he would be assuming Dunleavy’s duties, moving up from the position of assistant general manager, which he had held since the start of last season.

“I definitely didn’t go to bed last night wondering how I was going to do this,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It was more about what we’re going to do. I feel completely confident that I’m ready.”

He came to Los Angeles to make it as an actor, and now, well, finds himself directing one of the more perplexing franchises in the NBA, one blessed with assets, salary cap space and never-ending intrigue.

Just maybe it will take an affable onetime soap opera actor with credits from “All My Children” to deal with this continuing soap opera of an organization.

Meanwhile, the Clippers lost to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, 108-97. Former Heat forward Rasual Butler scored 31 points, two off his career best, for the Clippers, who lost their fifth straight and are now 2-20 on the road since Dec. 19. Chris Kaman scored 16, Steve Blake added 12 and Baron Davis scored 10 for the Clippers (25-40). Dwyane Wade led Miami with 27points.

“We have to get better every day,” Clippers Coach Kim Hughes said. “We have to work and try to find that chemistry.”

As for Olshey, he has essentially been performing many of the GM’s duties for two seasons, mentored by Dunleavy, so it’s not like the training wheels were suddenly removed on Tuesday.

It was also tough replacing a close friend and ally.

“It’s very difficult because this would kind of be the crowning achievement of my career,” Olshey said. “I wish it came under different circumstances. But if you ask Mike [Dunleavy], I think Mike will take some pride in the fact he did discover me, gave me my break and mentored me through the process.

“Without the freedom Mike gave me to do the job, and the opportunity to talk deal with other general managers and handle the cap, and the draft, I don’t know if the organization would have the faith in me today that they do have”

He called the last two seasons a baptism by fire, adding: “The good news is we’re heading into the thing that is kind of my wheelhouse—the draft.”