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Can the Blazers Move Up in the Draft?

Go ahead and start humming the theme from The Jeffersons because today we're discussing the possibility of the Portland Trail Blazers moving on up in the 2013 NBA Draft.


Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have secured the #10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft we can begin looking at their possibilities. Today we'll tackle one that seems popular, moving up in the draft order.

We're going to stay relatively value-neutral on whether the Blazers should look to move up in the draft and for whom they'd be moving. Feel free to discuss those things in the comment section. We'll tackle those questions another day ourselves. But for purposes of this post we're going to assume the Blazers do want to move up for somebody. What might that move look like? Could they actually pull it off?

What the Trail Blazers Have to Offer

The most obvious asset the Blazers can offer in trade right now is their #10 pick. Since most folks in the know project this draft to be stocked with a dozen or so good, but not great, players Portland's low-lottery selection actually carries more value to teams looking to trade down than it would in a more exciting year. Things to know:

1. This does not apply to teams looking to trade into the draft. To them that #10 selection looks like a marginal player because they're comparing the draftee to their current guys. But teams above Portland in the order are forced into drafting a marginal player anyway. If they think they can get equal value a few spots lower the smart move is to parlay their pick into a player and an extra asset by trading down.

2. Let's not go crazy here. Holding the #4 selection is still significantly better than holding #10. It might be easier to talk those higher teams into a swap than it would be in most other years but you still have to make a good offer. They're not going to trade picks just to be nice or just because the draft has been termed "weak".

The striking thing about Portland's position right now is how few assets they can throw into a deal besides the draft pick.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard

If either one of these players is traded it'll be part of a larger scheme than just moving up a few spaces in a weak draft. Discussing them in this context is like buying a backhoe to plant a petunia.

Any Number of Bench Players

NBA rules prevent the Blazers from trading players whose contracts expire this summer so you can forget your J.J. Hickson and Luke Babbitt deals. However Portland still has the potential to trade Will Barton, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, Meyers Leonard, or Joel Freeland.

Collectively those players aren't worth much. Leonard is the only guy who might draw interest but trading away last year's lottery pick is a rare move in the NBA. This is doubly so if the player in question is a center and the team trading him away really needs a center. Unless you talk very fast the other team is going to interpret that offer as you giving up on him. That's going to make them as why they would want him.

Crazy things happen sometimes, but if the Blazers held a high lottery pick would you be happy if your GM traded it for a lower pick and one of these players? Probably not.

Second Round Picks

Copy and paste the paragraphs above. You could use a second-rounder as a throw-in but there's no way the 10th and 39th picks will move you up very far in the order.

Future First Round Picks

Complications from owing Charlotte a future first-rounder push such an offer far enough into the future to make it unlikely.

With all of these options essentially off the table, at least as far as primary inducements, the Blazers are left with three cards to play.

Wesley Matthews

Matthews is a young but experienced shooting guard making $6.9 million next season with one additional year at $7.2 million. His ceiling isn't impressive but he's solid and fills the shooter-defender role popular among NBA shooting guards these days. Unfortunately for the Blazers 3 of the top 10 projected draftees at this point read shooting guard. Potential trading partners would have to value Matthews' reliability more than the promise of a lottery pick rookie.

Nicolas Batum

Like Matthews, Batum shoots and defends. He also runs, passes, and sports a ceiling as-yet-unknown. For those reasons he'd be a more attractive trade piece than Wesley. His $11.3 million salary next season, running for two more after with raises, makes him much more of a commitment for the receiving team though.

Cap Space

Portland will have the ability to take back salary this summer, as they'll be under the cap come July. The Blazers couldn't execute an unbalanced trade before July 1st. They could agree to a future deal, taking on a bloated contract in July. Portland's trading partner would make a selection for the Blazers at the higher pick, the Blazers would return the favor at #10, and the teams would swap the contracted player and the draft rights once the calendar turns.

Obviously any contracts the Blazers take on in this manner would take away from their available cap space to sign free agents or execute other trades. In essence the Blazers would be valuing their new rookie more than they'd value the 10th selection and a free agent of the bloated contract's value. That's a high bar to clear for that rookie.

It's worth noting that the cap space deal works both ways. If the Blazers were to trade away Batum and #10 to move up (taking no players in return except the new draftee) they'd have $11 million more cap space in July. They wouldn't be trading two-for-one as much as trading Batum and #10 for their new rookie and the ability to sign one or more free agents with that extra cap space.


The following characteristics typify ideal trading partners for the Blazers:

  • In possession of a high enough pick for Portland to get a player they covet
  • Looking for a veteran shooting guard or small forward
  • Able to absorb $7-11 million in salary this summer OR...
  • Looking to dump a contract of a player the Blazers would find useful OR...
  • Willing to trade a player or players to match salaries with Matthews or Batum in a more traditional deal

Potential Trading Partners

#9 Minnesota Timberwolves, #8 Detroit Pistons, #7 Sacramento Kings

Trading up a couple spots is less a matter of difficulty and more a matter of utility. The 'Wolves would probably take Nicolas Batum and the Pistons Wesley Matthews but that wouldn't make sense for Portland to move up 1 or 2 spots. If the Blazers wanted to and if the Pistons and 'Wolves knew the Blazers wouldn't be selecting their target a second round pick or two would probably suffice. Would the Blazers be able to get the player they wanted at 8 or 9 though?

The Kings would probably say yes to any number of swaps including just taking an expensive player off of their hands. But again, would #7 do it for the Blazers?

#6 New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans fulfill several of the criteria the Blazers will be looking for. They're well under the cap next year and could well be looking for a small forward and a shooting guard. They'll need a shooting guard because their very-expensive ($14-15 million per year over the next three seasons) shooting guard, Eric Gordon, isn't helping them enough and they want out of the relationship.

Gordon's no superstar. He dominates the ball, doesn't shoot threes well, his defense is suspect. But the guy can score...and score...and score. If the Blazers think he's the kick in the pants this lineup needs, getting him while moving up could be quite attractive.

Nevertheless this feels like a miss for several reasons. The Pelicans could get multiple offers for Gordon. Since they're already way under the cap next year salary relief won't be the most pressing issue for them. They'll want talent. Likely they'll think that the Blazers should be swapping a higher pick with them in order to get Gordon. Even if they've soured on him, the talent disparity is too high. Plus they're young and not close to contending so they could afford to grow with a rookie shooting guard instead of filling the gap with Matthews.

Portland has to consider Gordon's injuries, compatibility, and even discounting Wesley Matthews' contract $14 million of salary is nothing to sneeze at.

The option to trade Matthews and the #10 for New Orleans' #6 straight up is still there. Robin Lopez might be another attractive piece, particularly if the Pelicans think they can get a big at 10. But will #6 get the Blazers the player they need?

#5 Phoenix Suns

The Suns also have salary cap space, holes at the wing positions, and a tempting veteran to offer Portland: center Marcin Gortat.

Gortat is a much nicer fit with a much nicer price than Gordon. The 5th pick might also get the Blazers a coveted player. The problem here is making it work from the Suns end.

Phoenix is under no pressure to fire sale Gortat. No matter how much they love or hate him, he's a quality starting center. He's not expensive. They can take their time and field offers. Even if they think they can get a replacement big at #10 trading down for (presumably) less talent and trading a decent center for a decent shooting guard with no cap relief involved makes little sense.

Nicolas Batum might be the silver bullet to this deal but then the Suns are going backwards in cap space and the Blazers now have a huge hole at small forward. Unless Portland loves Otto Porter (which I don't think will be the case) they're either targeting Victor Oladipo and creating a shooting guard logjam or they're looking at spending a high pick on a big who's going to play behind Gortat. That's not an impossible conundrum from Portland's end but they'd need a strong free agent small forward to balance the roster.

If the Suns really loved Batum, if the Blazers were willing to part with him, if the Blazers loved a guy available at #5, and if the Blazers could also follow up with that key forward signing this might work. That's a lot of "ifs".

#4 Charlotte Horncats

This pick hits the sweet spot for Portland. They're high enough to have their (reasonable) pick of players but low enough they're not paying luxury prices to move up. Charlotte has cap space to absorb a player, a bad salary to dump, and they'll need a shooting guard. (Small forward is all sewn up.)

There are three ways this deal works. The first would be a straight two-for-one value move on Charlotte's part. They get Wesley Matthews and #10. Since they desperately need big guys, that might look like a good move for them if they only see two great bigs in the draft and they go in the top three. A mid-level big and a starting shooting guard is better than reaching for a mid-level big. The other possibility is Charlotte going the free-agent route and dumping Tyrus Thomas' $8.6 million contract (with another year left at $ of the more ridiculous contracts in the league right now) to clear cap space. The hybrid, with Thomas and the #4 coming Portland's way and Matthews plus #10 going out, is also possible. That would preserve some of Portland's remaining cap room. Thomas would eat a huge chunk of Portland's space without Matthews leaving.

The questions here: Does Portland value a guy in the 4th spot highly enough? It would almost have to be Oladipo, replacing the outgoing Matthews. Is that enough of a step up for the Blazers, especially if they have to eat Thomas' contract as well? Second, does Charlotte want a big in the draft or would they settle for a shooting guard? If they don't mind drafting a wing Oladipo would make more sense for them than Matthews from a ceiling and cost standpoint.

I'm guessing if the Blazers really, really wanted to they could convince Charlotte to deal. I'm just not sure the payoff here is worth it.

#3 Washington Wizards

The Wizards are a mess. The Wizards need a small forward. The Wizards are at the cap line next year. The Wizards have two true bigs in Nene and Emeka Okafor. They're tying up $27 million in cap space--half their allotment--between those two and cannot afford to keep doing that. Their likely pick at #3 would be another big. It sure seems like something has to give here.

The main reason to trade from Washington's point of view would be redistributing salary rather than creating more space. Even if you take the most expensive contract they could offer Portland--Okafor's $14.5 million, they're still only gaining $3 in cap room in a deal for Batum. Nevertheless you could argue that spending $14 million on Batum and the #10 draft pick would be better than spending $14 million on Okafor with Nene and Trevor Booker already in uniform. The drawback for the Wizards is that they're taking on long-term contracts where Okafor expires after next season.

If they're willing to wait one more summer they'll have plenty of cap space and the ability to revamp their roster, building around John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Nene. Under those conditions executing the #3 pick this year may make more sense.

Again the question for Portland is, would Okafor for Batum be worth moving up? They'd get a center. They'd get their man at #3. They'd have some salary cap space left. They'd have more if they could convince the Wizards to take Joel Freeland as well. Again they'd be searching among free agents or further trades to fill the hole at small forward.

#2 Orlando Magic and #1 Cleveland Cavaliers

Making a deal with either of these teams seems improbable. Orlando's needs can be filled more easily and cheaply by executing the pick than by trading with Portland. I don't see Cleveland giving up their selection, at least not to go down that far. In both cases a move would cost the Blazers more than they'd be willing to pay for a rookie who's not proven to help them win now. It could be a great rebuilding move, but the Blazers already rebuilt and are looking to move upwards.

Do you think it would be advisable, or even practical, for Portland to try and move up in this draft? Go ahead and discuss these moves and the million alternate scenarios below.

--Dave (