Last season, Portland was in desperate need of a center. The franchise plagued for decades with poor luck with big men found itself in dire straights. Not only did the team's 13-game losing streak at the end of the season solidify that the roster was simply too thin to compete, but the team's franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge was clear in his demands:
Get me some help, or I'll want out.
With that, Neil Olshey went out and got his "veteran" center in the form of Robin Lopez from New Orleans. Even though Lopez had faced injury concerns of his own and hadn't yet played to the level of responsibility that would be required in Portland, he was the guy Portland was moving forward with.
Needless to say, it turned out well for the Trail Blazers.
What we can learn from the Robin Lopez story? As we talked about last week, risky players may be worth taking a run at this offseason. More importantly, though, we should all pay stronger attention to the way Lopez was acquired: Portland facilitated a three-team trade that landed Tyreke Evans in New Orleans from Sacramento. More on that in a bit.
Fast forward to this week, where Thursday's draft was one of the most hyped offseason events in recent memory. A series of mostly minor moves progressed through the night, and Portland remained on the sidelines.
Certain moves had to have piqued the interest of the Trail Blazers' front office:
1. Drafting (or lack thereof) to improve pursuit of a top free agent
2. Picks by teams that signaled the end of an era -- indicating a veteran on the trade block.
That first type of deal was executed by a couple of different organizations. The most covered in the media was Miami trading up to draft UConn's Shabazz Napier -- a player heavily coveted by LeBron James. The Knicks tried to do a similar deal in the second round, trading into the draft to select VCU's Cleanthony Early after a surprising drop (likely to appease Carmelo Anthony).
Chicago and Houston took a different approach to reach the same goal. They kept cap space open for runs at potential top free agents by trading a first-round pick (and the guaranteed contract to go with it ) and possibly implementing the "draft-and-stash" strategy, respectively.
Some players may be on their way out of their respective cities after this draft. One mentioned on Blazer's Edge last week was Thaddeus Young of Philadelphia. Philly is trying to get worse and stay as young (no pun intended) as possible in the short term, meaning Thad may be expendable. Some other names: Boston drafting Marcus Smart could mean the end of Rajon Rondo's reign in Bean Town, and Orlando acquiring draft pick Elfrid Payton may spell the end of Jameer Nelson's days as a member of the Magic.
Which brings us back to Lopez. Last summer -- a time that wasn't nearly as frantic as the league seems to be right now -- Portland had a goal: upgrade the center spot. Knowing that goal, the Blazers were able to aggressively insert themselves into a deal that could have been facilitated by anyone (New Orleans wasn't allowing Portland in the deal just so they could score Jeff Withey, or at least it doesn't seem that way...). We may see this theme again this summer.
Obviously Portland's circumstances last year were different. In 2013, the Blazers had the cap flexibility to absorb a medium-sized contract like Lopez, making the trade possible. They also had some spare picks to throw into deals to sweeten their offers.
While Portland may not have the same flexibility that they did a year ago, the number of potential deals this summer may compensate. Just from the brief list above, Miami, Houston, New York, Chicago, Orlando, Philadelphia and Boston may be looking for teams with assets (money or otherwise) to execute their plans. And that's without even mentioning Kevin Love.
The other thing that's on Portland's side right now is that they don't need a franchise center -- a position that's more of a luxury than anything in today's NBA. Instead, Portland's bench needs the most help. The Blazers were dead last in bench scoring the last two years running. Bench bolstering is a more reachable goal than snatching up the frontcourt player Portland desperately needed last year. They might even get a discount if the right player is available.
Portland lack of motion in the 2014 draft is compensated for by the intel gained on the intentions of their opponents. The Blazers have executed three-team trades in the recent past, a situation they may find themselves eyeing again during the hectic weeks to come.
Teams desperate to deal and Portland's trading aptitude may combine to land the Blazers the bench player they need to make a leap next season.