Draft Night Digest

A lot happened today and there's no way I have the energy to get it all out to you tonight.  

But let me run through some of the most exciting and pertinent information, sum up my thoughts and provide a draft grade (which is surely pointless... but whatever).

Post-Draft Availability Notes

Full Post-Draft Availibility Audio (Right Click and Save As to Download MP3) 

In the videos posted below, you might get the sense that Kevin Pritchard is a bit more excited than Nate McMillan is but that neither one really looks all that excited.  Don't read too much into that; these guys were drained.  The only time I'd seen Kevin Pritchard look as tired in the past 12 months was at the trade deadline.  I've never seen Nate McMillan look that tired in the last year.  Period. 

If you take a look at the interview I did with Nate posted below, he actually said quite convincingly that he's "happy" despite being "exhausted." If you're feeling a little unhappy with how things turned out, I understand that, just don't project those feelings onto them.

Positives

Sergio Traded

The subtraction of Sergio Rodriguez was an absolutely necessary step towards roster clarity.  Bottom line: there was no way Kevin Pritchard or Nate McMillan was going to say a negative word about Sergio but here are a few of my own words on the subject.

The team's motto last fall was 15=16: a team dynamic of self-sacrifice for the greater good.  If there was one player that didn't fully buy into that motto and really embrace it, it was Sergio Rodriguez.  He had a fundamental disagreement with the coaching staff about his role and value to a team that ended up being unresolvable. Sergio, in my opinion, has serious concerns about his future in the NBA and acts in whatever way is necessary to give himself the best chance of sticking in the league.  And, again in my opinion, he did so, at times, at the expense of team chemistry: his moodiness over playing time got in the way of his quality of play and his meltdown at practice last fall was the team's biggest off-court distraction, minus Darius Miles.

You can tell the toxic nature of the team's relationship with Sergio over the last year not only by his repeated trade demands that were floated through the Spanish media but also by the shockingly miniscule value the team received when trading him away.  Sergio is a legit backup point guard making less than 2 million dollars next season. Despite his faults his combination of skills and salary makes him a commodity to some degree. Yet the Blazers were willing to pay a cash-strapped team (who are short at the one, by the way) to take Sergio off their hands for the luxury of moving up just seven spots in the second round in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory.  Granted, that move up was a valuable commodity to the Blazers, as it allowed them to draft one of their top targets: Arizona State Power Forward Jeff Pendergraph. But make no mistake: this was a firesale. Almost reminds me of last week's Charter Cable deal.  

I'm sure there will be plenty of people who didn't want to read the previous paragraphs and who will nitpick them word by word to mount a defense of Sergio's honor.  Fine.  I understand that.  

Before you do that, know that I truly wish Sergio the best in his future NBA career.

And also know that the Blazers' locker room is a better place without Sergio in it.  Period.  And read between the lines when KP says "it was time" because it wasn't just time for Sergio, it was time for the team as well.

I asked Kevin Pritchard if Sacramento had approached the Blazers with interest in Sergio in an attempt to determine how hard it was for the Blazers to move him.  I was looking for some explanation for why the team was able to receive so little in return.  Here's his answer verbatim. 

I'm not going to go there.

What I'll tell you is that we talked to Sergio and it was time. It wasn't easy. Sergio is a heck of a player and I'm going to miss seeing him in a Blazers uniform. There are going to be nights when we are going to miss him.

It's time for Bayless to step up.

You guys know this: Sergio served very well here, did it with a lot of class and so I want to honor that. That's the big thing, honoring what he did. He was part of that turnaround. He came here and times were a little tough. He helped us win some games and I want to honor him with that.

There was also some confusion regarding whether the trade netted the Blazers another trade exception.  Here's what Pritchard had to say on that subject. Pritchard did not seem entirely sure about this and there was some back and forth discussion and I was unable to get confirmation from Tom Penn. But here's where the conversation ended...

It's a good question. I think [there's one created] for this year's [salary]. A small one. Not as big as our other one [created during the Diogu trade]. It won't be [Sergio salary for next year's] it will be [for Sergio's salary this year]. So yeah we created another exception for almost $1.6 million.

Jeff Pendergraph

I'll talk more about Pendergraph in detail later this summer but if there was a noticeable excitement among team staff today, it was with regard to Pendergraph.  As you know he was slotted at the #2 spot in my final Draft Prospect Board and the Blazers succeeded in getting their guy.  Kudos are in order. It's fun to watch plans come together like that.

Point Guards / Patty Mills

No, the Blazers didn't take Ty Lawson (or any other point guard) in the first round like I had hoped and predicted, despite the fact that he fell into a range that was definitely reachable.  The team did end up drafting a point guard, though, in the second round.  What to make of this?

First, it's clear if Lawson was really their guy they could have had him.  Indeed, he was traded by the team that drafted him for not-that-much.  We can conclude the team's interest in Lawson was not as serious as I had hoped and expected.  That's on me.

Mills was drafted for two reasons: he was a steal value at #55, as many draft boards had him going late in the first round or early in the second round.  Indeed, on Thursday morning's radio show I told Gavin Dawson I thought he might go to Sacramento in the late first round and I didn't like him for the Blazers.  Obviously I don't mind Mills at #55.

Aside from the value aspect, KP made it clear that Mills is stashable because he has a passport.  I don't expect Mills to break camp on the Blazers roster; indeed, at one point, Nate noted that the team was adding two rookies -- Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham -- and not three and said explicitly that Mills will take a backseat to Bayless at Summer League.  

One way to look at the Mills pick is that the Blazers simply drafted 2 of the top 10 or so "foreign guys" in the draft, adding to its stable of overseas talent.

The single best thing about not drafting a point guard and trading Sergio, though, is that the Blazers are now forced to make a move at the point guard position this offseason.  They cannot enter next season with only  Blake and Bayless as the point guards.  There's no foreseeable situation in which that happens.  In the end, today's draft serves as a clear indication that a point guard will be targeted via free agency or trade.  That is great news.

Negatives

Lack of Fireworks

Obviously it was disappointing to not see major draft-day fireworks.  There was a letdown in the building, not only among the media but among team staff as well. That might be partly natural because of the unreasonable buildup of expectations that go into an event like this, but it was still there.  

The confusion around the Claver pick fed into the negative feelings and, to his credit, Kevin Pritchard actively worked to hype Claver all the way up.  Am I totally thrilled with Claver?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  I need to do some real digging on him and I'm really kicking myself for not going back to look at last year's workouts list to see if any early entry candidates that ended up withdrawing had done solo workouts for the Blazers (like Claver did).  This would have been a great indication of what international prospects the team might be taking a look at this year.  

Overlooking Claver

Claver was the big time head scratcher when it happened and I was disappointed that he was not on my radar.

With a few hours to think about it, taking Claver is definitely a better long-term move than trading out of the first round entirely.  Grabbing him at #22 (and sacrificing a second round pick to do it) is surely debatable.  But virtually the same logic I used to explain why the Blazers might default to Omri Casspi if they picked at #24 can be used to defend the Claver pick at #22.

As Nate McMillan explained in his interview posted below, the team was not looking at Blair at 22.  Collison, another guy they liked, was off the board.  None of the point guards that I predicted might drop (Teague, Maynor) ended up making it to 22.  So there was a limited number of options.  

I had pegged Casspi in that spot because he had worked out well for the Blazers and they seemed to have interest.  I just didn't take that extra mental step to realize that Claver had done the exact same thing last year. Live and learn.

The positive takeaway for me here is how closely we pegged the Blazers' logic with that pick (barring a trade): in the end, a Eurostash was still preferable to totally trading out.  The team got its favorite Eurostash and none of us has the scouting background to seriously question the selection of Claver over Casspi. Only time will tell (and it could be awhile, multiple years, until Claver sees an NBA court).

Final Grade

I can't go higher than a B because it doesn't appear the Blazers added a true short-term difference-maker and they didn't make a move when a number of teams (Cleveland, Orlando, etc.) did.  Although I want to flip out about that lack of activity the subtle moves they made tonight signal a solid, flexible, aggressive approach to the free agency period.

At the end of the day, the Blazers had a total of 5 picks and they came away with 2 potential rotation guys (those two guys will probably battle for a single rotation spot) which is positive.  They got two stashes which is a long-term positive but a short-tern neutral.  

The best thing about this draft was moving Sergio to make way for Bayless and to free up cap space to target a veteran point guard.  When paying to trade away a player is your team's best move of the night, that disqualifies you from earning an A in my book.  

But given that the team enters the free agency period with flexibility intact and two nice, new prospects in Pendergraph and Cunningham, I think a B was earned.  If Claver develops like KP seems to think he will, maybe this becomes an A five years from now.

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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