Posted Mar 27 2012 10:01AM
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the Blazers are in the middle of the draft intersection. Perhaps they'll be the stars of the lottery, surrounded by the deepest talent pool in years. At the very least, they'll be invested observers until the ping-pong balls announce otherwise. Or potentially, they could be trade partners come draft night.
Even after two bold-letter moves at the deadline, even if it means jumping out of a draft teams have been anticipating for years, even with their own roster uncertainty still a prominent factor, Portland remains very much in deal mode heading to selection night June 28.
If nothing else, it is clear they do not want to be done. Which is interesting enough, given the March 15 moves of trading Gerald Wallace (to New Jersey) and Marcus Camby (to Houston), waiving of Greg Oden and firing coach Nate McMillan in moves likewise designed to find a new future. The possibility of two lottery picks -- one their own, one from the Nets via the Wallace deal -- are trade chips as much as the steps in rebuilding the roster through the draft.
The youth movement that supposedly started with the Wallace and Camby trades that signaled a change of direction?
It may not have just started.
Contributing factors are everywhere. Most notably, the Trail Blazers are not going for a three-year plan in the very season their best player, 26-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge, turned into an All-Star and might make the Olympic team. They do not want to sell one of the league's best fan bases on a future playoff, not when Rip City is recovering from the title contender that never was, thanks to the masochists poking Brandon Roy and Oden dolls with pins. June 2012. That was supposed to be the future.
Plus, management has no interest in four rookies showing at training camp, counting Portland's own second-round pick and the one from Houston in the Camby trade that also netted Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet. The Blazers can even see not spending both No. 1s in June.
Instead, the first-rounders will be dangled.
"That's definitely something that would be appealing for us," said Chad Buchanan, the acting general manager. "A big part of acquiring that pick (from the Nets), we realize that there'll be value not only to us in the draft but also to other teams where you might be able to flip that high pick into a proven player that is ready to help your team now.
"At the end of the day, if it's two lottery picks in a pretty strong draft, we're OK adding that to our team and trying to add the proven veterans through free agency. We like to have the flexibility to do either.
"We're open to moving one of those picks for a proven player. But we also like a lot of the players that could potentially be in that draft range. We feel like it's kind of a win-win for us."
Portland will ask around about packaging both choices to move up, an unlikely outcome. It could send one to a team hoping to jump into the lottery in exchange for a future No. 1, which would allow the Blazers to play the lotto down the line when they may be back in the playoffs. At the very least, doing so would keep them from needing to find minutes for two prized prospects next season. They could ship a selection and a player to move up, but with Aldridge unavailable in that scenario, they lack the assets to climb far. And, there is the always-popular decision to sell off a second-rounder, which avoids some a rookie glut next season, but is a minor alteration compared to the real issue of the possible first-rounders.
The May 30 lottery will be a moment of great clarity. First, the Blazers will find out the availability of the Nets pick acquired in the Wallace deal. If it lands fourth or lower, the Trail Blazers take possession. If it's in the top three, New Jersey retains the selection, it moves to top-two protected in 2013, protected only for No. 1 in 2014 and unprotected after that.
Portland is 12th in the West and within striking distance of the playoffs. Barring the shocking outcome of making the postseason with a stripped-down roster, the Blazers will find out their own draft spot, too.
"The quality of the draft [factors in] when you're dealing with any trade involving picks," Buchanan said. "But at the end of the day, getting a pick that could potentially be as high as four-five-six, regardless of the draft, was going to be appealing for us.
"We were kind of headed in the wrong direction. If there was a move out there that would have improved us significantly this season, we would have been open to it. But we also were realistic that this might be time for us to shift course and start looking beyond the end of this season and to the future a little bit with our team. This trade opportunity that came up with Gerald and the pick was just too hard for us to pass up.
"We'd like to add some young talent to our roster, but also add some proven NBA players. We feel like right now we've got a mix of both. We want to blend that and have a mix of proven guys in their prime with some young developing guys so you can really build long-term. We want to be a consistent team that every year you feel like you have a chance to make a run."
So more big trades remains a possibility and the youth movement may never actually happen, not if they have coveted draft picks to deal. Not if they have their way.
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