In case you missed any of them, click here for an analysis of all players discussed below and more.
This draft leaves plenty of options open for the Blazers. It's the perfect storm of a relatively flat talent curve across the draft board plus the Blazers having needs everywhere and enough potential resources to move anywhere from the #1 overall pick to completely out of the draft. The course forward isn't a matter of right and wrong as much as priorities. Each option has advantages and disadvantages. It all boils down to what you value.
If they were willing to move LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers could probably vault to the head of this draft class and then some. We're going to assume they won't go that far. A more reasonable option would be moving Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum plus the 10th pick to advance in the draft order.
Advantages: You can find cheaper versions of each player in this draft, saving significant cap space for this summer's free agency run. Alternately you could cross-pollinate, get a young center, and use that cap space to replace Matthews or Batum with a free agent. Potential cap savings ranges from roughly $5-9 million, leaving the Blazers approximately $16-20 million in cap space this summer.
Disadvantages: Cap savings is intrinsic to this move because nobody in this draft is a guaranteed star and few players are even locks to start, at least early in their careers. You're losing a proven commodity in exchange for two speculative commodities (young player and cap space). If either fails, you've probably gone backwards. Also Matthews is probably too little to get this move done from the other team's standpoint and Batum is too much from the Blazers' standpoint unless Portland believes their next starting center is on the board.
Players Targeted: The two most likely are Victor Oladipo and Alex Len. It looks like the Blazers would have to rise pretty far to get either. If you're in that range anyway you could also speculate about Nerlens Noel at center, Otto Porter replacing Batum, or Ben McLemore replacing Matthews. The dream would be Matthews and #10 for Oladipo and cap savings but the internet would rise in revolt if the Blazers could pull that off.
Going the opposite direction also presents opportunities in this wide, flat draft pool. As with moving up, the key would be cap savings. In this case the Blazers would look to dump the contract of Joel Freeland, approximately $3 million a year over the next two seasons. This wouldn't give them the cap relief that dealing Matthews or Batum would but they could pocket $3+ million depending on how far down they went. If they don't like the options at #10, that extra money would give them a chance to make a huge offer to a single player or a decent offer to a couple players this summer while still taking home a draftee.
Advantages: The Blazers would lose much less value moving down this year than in most. Cap space.
Disadvantages: They wouldn't be able to choose from multiple draftees, getting help by position, for instance. Likely they'd be stuck with one or two options, perhaps not at positions of immediate need.
Players Targeted: The shining name here is Gorgui Dieng. If you like him at center, trading down makes sense. The Blazers can take advantage of his strengths and shrug off his weaknesses better than most teams could. See the section on acquiring a second pick below for more possible names.
Draft at #10
If you're more vanilla-oriented, the Blazers can simply use the 10th pick and sit out until the second round.
Advantages: It's simple and costs them nothing.
Disadvantages: The Blazers will not find bankable, immediate help at #10. It's too low to get the prime players in this draft (such as they are) but too high to bail out and select a guy who's likely to be a career back-up. The obvious middle ground is to draft for potential, but the Blazers don't need more potential. They need players.
Players Targeted: The options for bigs here are limited. If you want the guy who'll have the most immediate impact you go with Cody Zeller. If you want the best center four years down the road you might take a chance on Steven Adams. Everybody else will be gone or a serious reach. The story for smalls is a little better. C.J. McCollum, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Carter-Williams could all be available. KCP would fit right in but also duplicates many of the things Wesley Matthews does. McCollum would bring immediate bench scoring but probably won't become your starter if Damian Lillard's on the team. MCW is less ready-made than the other two but could become an interesting hybrid guard and would bring a new wrinkle to Portland's attack.
The Blazers could bail on this problematic process altogether by trading away their lottery pick. This could happen in a draft day exchange or by Portland selecting a player for another team then executing the trade in July when contracts and cap reset.
Advantages: The Blazers could get a proven player instead of gambling on young guys with weaknesses and varying levels of potential. You can't draft a player who's already started in this league but you can trade for one.
Disadvantages: Historically draft picks provide the best price-to-performance ratio in the league. The Blazers would be missing out on that opportunity. And then there's the collective groan from the Peanut Gallery when Pick #10 turns out to be the next Kenneth Faried.
Players Targeted: As discussed a few weeks ago, the players in the Cinderella Zone of filling a need, available for trade, and salary-cap-sensible are Marcin Gortat in Phoenix and JaVale McGee in Denver. The speculated Phoenix trade would be #10 and Freeland for Gortat. McGee would require the Blazers to give up Wesley Matthews as well. Either deal would give the Blazers a starting center and leave enough cap space behind to get a wing player in addition.
Acquire Extra Picks
The 2013 draft is a buyer's market. First round picks should be available if the Blazers are willing to trade for them. The question is what they'd trade in return. Cash is always an option, but keep in mind that the CBA limits each team to just over $3 million paid out and just over $3 million received in trades per season (not per deal).
When you start thinking about trading players for picks, the Blazers are hard up. Anything Matthews and north is too much for a mid-first-rounder. Meyers Leonard might do it but now you're trading last year's lottery pick for this year's mid-level pick. Anyone south of Leonard probably won't draw a pick. Combo deals are possible, but you have to ask how much cap space you're giving up in order to gain that extra asset. Also keep in mind that each extra first round draft pick will eat up $1-2 million in available cap space in July.
Advantages: Talent, cheap!
Disadvantages: Taking even more swings in a weak draft does not necessarily make you stronger. Chances are you'll just end up with more weak draft picks. And you still have to pay them.
Players Targeted: The mid-round bigs are either huge risks or known quantities that are all but potential-free. Smaller players are a different story. Tim Hardaway Jr., Jamaal Franklin, Isaiah Canaan, and Shane Larkin would all make nice targets. Don't underestimate the benefit of selecting an international player and stashing him overseas. The international crop has been thin the last few years but a few players are poking their heads above ground in 2013. Dennis Schroeder and Giannis Adekotunbo would be big names here.
Make Hay in the Second Round
The Blazers own the 39th, 40th, and 45th picks in the draft, all three in the upper half of the second round. Along with international players, the second round offers value this year. The Blazers would get even more value if they could package two of those lower picks to move up to the top of the second round. Second round selections mandate no guaranteed contracts and don't affect the salary cap until signed.
Advantages: Try before you buy. Reasonable talent available at this level this year.
Disadvantages: There's talent here somewhere but finding it is hard.
Players Targeted: Mike Muscala and Glen Rice Jr. are the most promising names. Anybody slipping from the first round would be a nice value pick as well, obviously.
A Word about Value
Though it appeals to experts and aficionados, relative value is not automatically the best criteria by which to judge overall success. You may go to the store and see a full-priced steak sitting next to a box of Wheat Thins, 75% off. Crackers are tasty. In this example they're also the better value of the two by far. But if you need a main course, the crackers won't serve no matter how big of a value they are. The value picks in this draft are international players and second-rounders. Both look better than average in comparison to the masses. But that doesn't mean the Euros and second-round guys will be the best overall players in the draft. At this point the Blazers need good players, period. The draft process doesn't exist for its own sake. It's meant to help the team. Judge value accordingly.
Folks have been asking since the beginning what my preferences are. As I've explored and assessed, I've come to the inescapable conclusion that there are no perfect solutions here. Nobody the Blazers draft at 10 will solve all their problems. That player doesn't exist in this draft. The #10 pick might not solve any of their problems conclusively. But no free agent or player they could trade for under reasonable, foreseen conditions will solve all their problems either. There's no flawless way forward.
Nevertheless, forward we must go. And of the options listed above, my first instinct would be to move up if I could snag Oladipo or Len. I might lose a little from my core in the short term but I'd be getting a starter-candidate out of the draft and, just as importantly, cap space to bolster my core with free agents. I don't think it's actually possible, but these are the first phone calls I'd make.
Failing that, I'm in favor of trading out for a proven center even if it costs the draft pick. Near equal would be the possibility of trading down with Freeland's contract if I could get Dieng and trust his health. Dieng isn't my starting center immediately but he can learn on the job and perhaps become a two-headed, offense-defense combo with Meyers Leonard.
Executing the pick as-is would be my fall-back position. McCollum is an intriguing possibility. I wouldn't mind Steven Adams under normal circumstances but he's a huge roll of the dice given Portland's immediate needs. The others don't appeal as much but I wouldn't be sad to get MCW or KCP. I'm not as enamored of Zeller.
I am in favor of trading up to the top of the second round but I wouldn't be in favor of acquiring another first-round pick unless I was also dumping salary in the process. Every million will count this summer and even the modest cost of a couple million bucks is too high of a risk unless I really, really believe in the guy I'm getting. I don't see that many people worth believing in this draft class. I'd rather chase a better grade of veteran with that money and take my chances in the second round. If I were pushed to take an extra pick, Hardaway or Franklin would be my mid-round targets of choice. If the Blazers could find wing scoring off the bench in the draft, the financial pressure eases for the remainder of the summer.
My second round targets are as listed, Muscala and Rice.
What say you? Which of these options seem most appealing, or would you take a different route altogether? Weigh in below.
Stick with us all through Draft Day tomorrow! We'll begin with a special draft-related Mailbag, open a discussion thread early in the morning, keep you updated all day with the latest rumors, cover trades as they happen, stick with you through every selection, and provide you the most complete analysis you'll find anywhere afterwards. What will the Blazers do? We'll find out together.