Making Sense of The Draft

The twin faucets of emotion and speculation following the Portland Trail Blazers' 2009 draft performance are running full on, threatening to spill over the sink and wet the carpet around here.  To avoid invoking Blazersedge's flood insurance policy let's find some perspective on the matter.  We'll still have a trickle, I'm sure, but perhaps more manageable.

General Observations

First of all, a general observation.  For those expecting a big blockbuster tonight, it wasn't meant to be.  We foreshadowed this a bit in our recap of the Blazersedge Mock Draft a few days ago:

"The chief complaint about the [mock] draft this year was that it was more boring than usual, what with fewer big trades and also with the Blazers moving out of the first round.  I don't feel too bad about that because there's a strong possibility that Thursday's action will also be understated.  Unless this Minnesota pick-hogging opens up the 5th or 6th selections for cheap I don't see the Blazers paying the price to move up into the elite picks.  There are too many question marks to justify the payoff...We may all leave Thursday evening saying, "That was IT?"  But again, this is a sign of a good team.  The season isn't supposed to hinge around the draft.  You're not supposed to need rookies that badly."

Also you have to look at the make-up of this draft.  Every player drafted tonight would be slated to be a back-up for the Blazers.  Granted some of the higher-level point guards might possibly have taken a starting job somewhere during the season or at least over the next couple years but "might possibly" is still in that sentence.  No matter what move you made you were getting a bench player.  Pick #3...bench.  Pick #15...bench.  Pick #30...bench.  The only question was how much you were going to pay for that privilege.  The Blazers paid Sergio, some cash, and a second-round pick to get the players they acquired.  That's not a steep charge.  They could have gone for the top of the mountain.  They still could, in fact.  But the cost would have been higher.  It would have felt like a big move until November.  At that point reality would hit and you'd realize you just filled a rotation spot somewhere between 8 and 12.  That's not a problem unless you traded away spots 6 and 7 to get there.  Then it doesn't look so good.

The Claver Pick

Now to the specific picks.  The biggest scream was over Victor Claver, who was projected as a second-rounder but became the 22nd pick courtesy of KP and company.  "WHY?!?" came the plaintive cries.  Was it a bad move?

From time to time I dabble in a little bit of songwriting.  When you do that, every once in a while you'll hear somebody else's music and think, "Damn...THAT'S the song I was aiming for and couldn't quite get to."  There are songs--Pachelbel's Canon or the Beatles' "Yesterday", for instance--that are simple and yet elegant...difficult to achieve before you hear them but so obvious afterwards that you assume they were always there.  That's exactly how I feel about the Claver pick.  We all tried to write a pretty song with this year's pick.  What we ended up with--Lawson, maybe a long shot at Rubio, Blair, Pendergraph--was fine, but in the end it was the old four-chord G-Em-C-D tune that's been done a hundred times.  It was pretty, but predictable.  Pritchard and company used some of those same chords and wrote something far better.  And indeed, after I sat down and considered the situation I slapped myself on the forehead wondering how the hell I missed seeing it before it was done.  Darn you, KP!  And thank you.

Here's how the song goes.

One option for the Blazers is to keep Victor Claver.  This is the option the Blazer bigwigs are insisting they are taking.  Ben Golliver got it from the horse's mouth at Blazer HQ tonight.  Kevin Pritchard insisted that Claver was the target all along.  He said VC was the number one international player on Portland's board.  (By comparison Nate McMillan said that DeJuan Blair, a popular pick at that point, was not on Portland's board at all.)   The trade up to 22 was specifically to ensure that the Blazers could get him.

While Ben said KP was quite adamant in these statements, we must acknowledge that this is exactly what he'd say no matter what the situation was.  I think it's possible that the Blazers had plans with 22 that went awry in this mostly-unpredictable draft.   It is possible, however, that Sacramento or Dallas could have snagged him.  Whether the two-spot jump was necessary or not, that doesn't change the fact that Claver was a decent pick on his own merits.  As we said, everyone in this draft was a back-up.  We've also said multiple times in the last month that you don't pick back-up players intentionally if you can avoid it, let alone move up for them.  Unlike many other players in this draft, though, Claver carries a reasonable upside.  He's a back-up because he's young, European, and injured, not because of talent.  Some speculate his career arc could mirror that of Rudy Fernandez.  That may be hyperbole.  But that's exactly the kind of risk you want to take with this level pick on this stacked of a team.  If you weren't going to go for a point guard in this draft you needed to go for the home run.  That's what the Blazers have done.

Better yet, Portland doesn't have to commit any salary to him while he's learning.  He will have the standard cap hold for the 22nd player selected during the summer, as would any player we selected at that point. But once the summer is over he counts $0 against Portland's cap...no contract, no footprint, no financial effect.  By drafting Claver in this situation the Blazers got a first-round pick with (in essence) second-round finances. 

Home-run potential, no long-term financial cost...that's a decent job.

This is exactly why Claver made sense at 22 even though he might still have been available at 31.  We still could have left him in Europe as a second-rounder, but we would have been paying the first-round guy at the same time.  We dumped our first round pick without dumping it at all specifically by taking a European player we weren't bringing over for two or more years.  Another way to look at it is that we converted this year's first-rounder into whatever first round pick Claver might have been drafted with in 2011.  It's somewhat like trading with yourself for a future first-round pick.  Provided, of course, he's talented enough to play in two years.

Things get even more intriguing if you consider Claver's potential for a trade.  One of the moves strongly rumored is the Kirk Hinrich deal with Chicago.  As noted in the draft open threads, Chicago Bulls' General Manager Gar Forman threw some extra wood on the fire tonight in his interview with ESPN's Stuart Scott.  Scott asked him whether he envisioned any future in which the Bulls retained both Ben Gordon and Luol Deng.  Forman immediately sang Gordon's praises and said the Bulls were highly interested in retaining him.  He mentioned that Deng was almost fully recovered from injury and was back in the gym.  He didn't forget Deng or answer only half of the question, mind you.  He specifically, and seemingly consciously, failed to mention his commitment to keeping him.

Let's consider a hypothetical trade for Hinrich, Deng, or both.  Salary matching is one bar, but the Blazers can overcome that.  Another bar is that Chicago specifically wants to dump salary in the short term to avoid the luxury tax and in the long term to maintain financial and cap stability.  A third is that the Bulls have to retain enough talent in the exchange to make it credible.  As we've seen with the Richard Jefferson and Shaquille O'Neal trades that doesn't have to be a ton of talent, but something has to remain for them.  They can cut some players and pocket the savings, but not everyone.

Consider the value of a player like Claver in such a deal.  He's definitely not going to make much difference in the initial talent balance.  It's not like the Bulls are going to pull the trigger specifically because Claver is included.  But how much sense does he make for them?  He's that same potential future home run.  He costs them nothing now, when money is tight.  If they sign him it'll be in a couple years when their big contracts have run out and they can afford it.  You couldn't ask for more.

Those who are bemoaning the lack of a big deal should realize that maintaining cap flexibility plus the ease of moving Claver if necessary make more room for the Blazers to make just such a deal...certainly more than they would have had making a bigger splash tonight with a guy they had to sign immediately. 

Bottom line:  whether the Blazers are willing to be patient and wait this guy out or whether they envision him in an eventual deal, acquiring him made a lot of sense.

The Sergio Trade and Other Picks 

Ben reports that the Blazer brass were clear all along that Jeff Pendergraph was a strong target.  The Sergio Rodriguez deal was specifically to get that 31st pick in order to take him.  Apparently a decent amount of cash went along with Sergio to sweeten it for Sacramento.

Coach McMillan anticipates that both Pendergraph and Cunningham will make the team.  They both worked out on the same day (you can read the workout report here) and both impressed.  Pendergraph has the skills for the reserve power-forward role while Cunningham might be more of a swing guy.  It's hard to avoid the impression that these are younger, cheaper (and obviously not as good yet) replacements for Channing Frye and Travis Outlaw.  Both making the team certainly frees Outlaw for trade purposes.  Both will participate in Summer League providing their contracts are signed.

Patty Mills was a nice pick-up late in the second round.  Ben quotes KP as saying Mills "has a passport", likely indicating that he'll play overseas.  Certainly he's no threat to Jerryd Bayless as the primary reserve point guard.  Indeed the Sergio trade appears to put more pressure on Bayless, at least for now, pending other moves.

Beyond that, Ben reports both Kevin Pritchard and Nate saying that Nate and Tom Penn had to rein in KP and Paul Allen a little bit when their aggressiveness would have added more youth--likely second-round prospects--to an already young roster.  Clearly for the top guys the draft is a buffet.  Coach and Penn play Jenny Craig.

Other Notes

Coach McMillan expressed surprise that Minnesota took point guards at the 5th and 6th picks.  Nate seems pretty certain that either Rubio or Flynn will move, citing their value and their position duplication.  I echo those sentiments.  Minnesota got those picks for a reason and it wasn't to play dueling point guards.

Conclusion

It looks like the Blazers are looking for non-draft avenues to improve the team.  They didn't reach for an immediate contributor.  They didn't pay much to move around.  They retained cap flexibility.  They left a hole at point guard.  All signs point to some veteran help coming this summer.  Once the draft frenzy is over and we've all calmed down, I'm pretty sure that will seem like the correct (and most productive) course.

I'm going to let Ben spend some time over the next couple days acquainting you with our new picks, as he saw them work out in person and will see them again in Summer League.  We'll look forward to that.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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