(Long Post) Blazers' Strategic Options for Draft

There are a bunch of options on the table for the Blazers this draft season.

There’s a pretty decent consensus among the mocks and NBA guys that there are 7 pretty good bets for the top 6 picks (well, after Davis’ lock to be #1, more like 6 bets for 5): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF/PF), Thomas Robinson (SF/PF), Bradley Beal (SG), Andre Drummond (C), Harrison Barnes (SF) and Damian Lillard (PG). Many also agree that there’s a solid tier after that of guys like Jared Sullinger (PF), Kendall Marshall (PG), Dion Waiters (SG/PG), Terrence Ross (SG), Perry Jones III (PF/SF), John Henson (C) and Tyler Zeller (C), in addition to whichever Workout Warrior zooms up the board over the next month. So here’s one bozo’s analysis.

First, the facts.
1. Portland has the #6 and #11 pick in the first round, and the #40 and #41 overall in the second round.
Depending on how bad they are next year, they may not have a pick (1st to CHA – top 12 protected—and 2nd to DEN—top 40 protected)

2. POR will likely be ~$12M under the salary cap on July 1, after renouncing all of their free agents aside from Batum and Hickson, having Crawford decline his player option and Williams pick up his and including the cap holds for Claver ($1.045M), Freeland ($850k) and the #6 ($2.55M) and #11 picks ($1.77M). ** If Hickson is renounced, that bumps it up to almost $17M in cap space.
**Thanks to Storyteller for the numbers. Check out his site at

3. If all those FA’s are renounced, the Blazers have the following roster going into the draft:
PG: Nolan Smith
SG: Wesley Matthews, Elliot Williams
SF: Nicolas Batum (RFA), Luke Babbitt, Shawne Williams’ Contract
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Kurt “the Ageless One” Thomas

and rights to Victor Claver (SF) and Joel Freeland (PF) from overseas.

Assumptions and SWAGs
One is that there’s an offer of Wes Matthews and the #6 pick for Joakim Noah or to CLE for Varejao and #24. This seems like good value, but it’ll hinder (by a bit) our cap space and remove the shot of getting a young, high-quality, low-priced stud at #6. Another is that both Wes and Batum are on the Training Camp roster. In that case SG/SF is a Position of Luxury since we currently have Kurt Thomas and Nolan Smith as our starting C/PG. The last is that it is a possibility to open up the #11 pick to trade to BOS for 21/22.

Draft Analysis
This year, if a PG is taken with the 6th pick (Lillard or Marshall), then you’re stuck either drafting BPA at an already-filled-by-Wes Matthews-and-Nic Batum SG/SF position (Ross, Rivers, Waiters, PJ3, Miller, Lamb) or reaching a lot for one of the few bigs left (unless you like taking Zeller here, which I’m not sure is the right answer).
If you take a big with the 6th pick (Drummond, Henson, Robinson) then you’re running the risk that Marshall and Lillard are both gone at 11. And while Drummond/Ross or Robinson/Terrence Jones wouldn’t be the most horrible draft outcome, you’re still looking at Nolan Smith and whoever you want to spend 12-17M on as your PG and you may or may not be playing LMA out of position at C. I’m not sure that’s the right answer, either.

There are at least five options, then:
1. Just take BPA of the Top 7 available at #6. If all the bigs are gone, take Lillard. If Lillard’s gone, take whoever drops of Robinson/Drummond/ Beal/MKG. Stay away from Barnes (remember, Position of Luxury).

(Why Beal and not Barnes, you may ask, since we’re talking Position of Luxury? Well, it’s not the best outcome, but most smart NBA people think that Beal’s got at least one True NBA Skill in his long-range shot. Barnes could end up being Marvin Williams.)

Then, take BPA at 11 (regardless of position). Unless you chose Beal at 6, there should be a glut of SG-types available at 11 and you can choose the one you like best. If you DID take Beal at 6, then you are stuck either reaching for a big at 11 or adding to the glut at SG/SF.
Verdict: Not the best, but probably the “safest” and least open to criticism from national media.

2. Trade the #6 and Matthews to CHI for Noah, or to CLE for Varejao and #24. Use the #11 on the best available SG/SF (Ross, Rivers, PJ3?)
This one makes more sense if CHI or CLE would do it. With LMA, you don’t necessarily have the option of waiting out his prime for a team of young’uns to catch up to his All-NBA level. Loading up with new PGs, C’s and SG’s/6th Men and waiting for 2016 to roll around probably isn’t on his to-do list. Pairing him with a high-motor garbageman (with enough skills to keep a D honest) keeps him fresher and more able to focus on the offensive end and transition. This gives you a really solid frontcourt of Batum/LMA/Noah (or Sideshow Bob) with a pure shooter at the 2—the only thing left is to find a PG. Anyone know a high-level free agent PG who wants to win now?

One issue with this plan is that, unless you can persuade CHI to take one of our young bench guys or Williams’ contact back, you’re losing about $2M in cap space. That obviously hinders the team’s ability to sign a player to a max-ish deal.
Verdict: Pretty sweet, if you can get your PG.

3. Trade LMA and Matthews for the highest pick(s) you can get. (Thermonuclear rebuild option)
Let me start by saying that I don’t think there’s any way PA does this. However, if you’re so inclined, you can jump-start a rebuild much the same way SEA/OKC did in 2007. LMA might look good to DC or CHA (especially if Nate McMillan gets picked up there) as a no-risk use of their pick for a much-needed and good-fitting post player, while POR picks up a younger, cheaper frontcourt player like MKG (my personal favorite) or Robinson or Drummond. Then you can use 6 and 11 and whatever Wes brings you to get a PG (Lillard?) and the BPAs, take your lumps this season, get a lotto pick in 2013 (it’s protected for just that scenario) and go into the 2013-14 season with 4 or 5 starting lotto picks and bucketloads of cap space.
Verdict: Interesting hypothetical, lots of "hmmm" parts, but no way it happens on PA's watch.

4. Check out the value of the #11 (and see if you can pick up Boston’s 21 and 22 picks). This allows BOS to jump up to, say, get Rivers to replace Ray Allen. Some say that you don’t trade out of the lotto for late picks, and that the Blazers won’t get equal value for that. I submit the following:
Year #11 Choice #21 and #22 Choice
2011: Klay Thompson or Faried and (overreach) Smith
2010: Cole Aldrich, or James Anderson/Craig Brackins
2009: Terrence Williams, or Darren Collison/Victor Claver
2008: Jerryd Bayless, or Ryan Anderson/Courtney Lee
2007: Acie Law, or Daequan Cook/Jared Dudley
2006: JJ Redick, or Rajon Rondo/Marcus Williams
2005: Fran Vasquez, or Nate Robinson/Jarrett Jack

Depending on who we take at 6 (either Lillard or a big), there will be the aforementioned reach for a big at 11 or a glut of SG/SF’s. Dropping down to 21 and 22 gets you roughly the same value of player (unless you think Ross or someone else is a tier above) and you get two chances, allowing you to take one safe pick and one dice roll, or two contributors. Someone of the Wroten/Leonard/T.Jones/Harkless/Moultrie/White group is going to drop. If there were unlimited $3M cash trades this year (allowing Uncle Paul to buy up first-rounders like candy) then I wouldn’t even be putting this out there. But restricted to only one, in a deep draft like this? I don't think you can pull the KP Plan off this draft.
Verdict: If we’re standing pat on trades, I like the value here. Then again, I’m a risk-taker. I'd like to grab a big here and go with something like Wroten/White or Wroten/Fournier or Moultrie/Big Slipper at 21/22.

5. Trade the #6 for a lower lotto pick and a 2013-2016 first round pick
Right now, the team is hamstrung a bit with its trade of the 2013 first-rounder to CHA (part of the 2011 Wallace trade). It’s top-12 protected, which sounds like a good plan. However, it also means that there isn’t a concrete scenario for when it will actually be able to be used by CHA, which means that the Stepien Rule is in effect for the team and none of its first-round picks are able to be traded. I mean, let's say for giggles that BKN would accept our two lotto picks (after we use them in the draft, of course) and our 2015 for and signed-and-traded Deron Williams. We don't know that we'll be good enough in 2012-13 to have to give up our pick, which would move us giving it up to 2014. But then we can't trade 2014 AND 2015 b/c they're back to back. And the protection goes out almost as far as you can trade picks for, so ditto for 2016, 2017 and 2018. So that's one piece of ammo we can't trade away. Unless we get a future first from someone trying to move up. Then the team can trade that anytime it wants to.
(more explanation here)
Verdict: This is a move if we don’t like what’s left at #6, but someone in the 8-14 range wants to jump up a Tier. If we had a GM, I’d say that this is a “chess” move, not “checkers”.

Final Call
Obviously, the hiring (?) of a new General Manager and Head Coach may change the team’s direction. The entire spectrum of strategies from a 2007 SEA/OKC-style rebuild to a “go for it NOW!” run at high-priced veterans and free agents are on the table. But my gut feel is that Paul Allen doesn’t have the stomach for another tear-down and rebuild. My gut feel is that staking your hopes to getting a max-level free agent (without significant trades and luck) is a strategy that the Blazers have been burned by in years past. I also feel that whomever among the Bower/Olshey/Morway candidates rumored to be in the final GM running is someone smart enough to think about chess moves rather than reactionary quick fixes. Therefore, (if CHI or CLE plays along) I think that they’d think the best move would be to trade one of the picks (and/or someone not named LMA) for an established player and taking BPA with the other pick, while hoping for a solid PG in free agency. I hope I’m wrong, though, and we either start a massive rebuild or play it straight in the draft and get lucky in the free agency period. Mediocre late lotto picks every year are the death knell for a franchise.

My personal favorite players for us in this draft are MKG (if we can at all go up to get him) or Robinson at 6, Ross at 11, Wroten, Fournier, Moultrie and/or White if we can get something at 21/22, Kim English and either Kyle O'Quinn or Jae Crowder at 40/41. I don't have a good vibe about Waiters, Sullinger, Barnes (unless he fell to 11), PJ3, or Henson. Drummond's risky. Could be awesome, could be a bust, and I don't have a clue which. I don't have the same aversion to college bigs that some do, but I don't think I'd take Zeller or Leonard before 20.

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