clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Could the Portland Trail Blazers Move Up Into Lottery Position?

We explore the possibility of the Blazers moving into the mid-to-late lottery via Charlotte, Sacramento, Orlando, Detroit, or...the Knicks.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hi Dave,

I just saw a tweet from Chad Ford that said, "Expect the Magic, Kings, Pistons, and Hornets to seriously consider trading their picks. All four want to accelerate rebuild." This is in addition to the rumors that the Knicks are also seriously considering trading their pick. My guess is that to accelerate these rebuilds, these teams will want a proven veteran. My question to you is do you think Portland could move up in the draft by trading Batum and their 23rd pick for one of these teams' picks, and if so, which players would they take back in the trade as well as target with their new, higher draft pick?"

Thank you,


First we need to know three things about each prospective trade partner: where do they sit in the draft order, what's their cap status, and do they need a small forward?

The Orlando Magic hold the 5th pick in this year's draft. Officially they're on the books for $39 million in July but that could rise to $53.5 million if they retain all their players at the lowest possible salaries. Restricted free agents Tobias Harris and Kyle O'Quinn could make that number inflate even more.

The 22-year-old Harris has bounced between power forward and small forward during his four-year career but put up admirable numbers at the 3 for Orlando last season: 17 ppg on 47% shooting, 36% from the arc. He played for new Magic head coach Scott Skiles during his rookie season in Milwaukee but averaged only 11 minutes per game that year. If he's a bigger part of Skiles' plan this time around, the Magic may already be set at small forward.

The Sacramento Kings draft 6th. They owe between $53-60 million to the cap gods but Derrick Williams, another restricted free agent, will eat up a large chunk of change. They have Rudy Gay at small forward, sewn up for another 2-3 years at $12-14 million per.

The Detroit Pistons are holding onto the 8th pick. Their guaranteed cap range runs from $29 million to $43 million but Reggie Jackson is a restricted free agent and Greg Monroe is unrestricted and does not appear in that total. The Pistons might have cap room to play with even if both return but Monroe's salary will determine the difference between abundant and modest space. Unlike Orlando and Sacramento, the Pistons don't have an incumbent small forward. Veterans Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince manned the position last year. Neither has a guaranteed contract come July.

The Charlotte Hornets draft right after Detroit in 9th. Their cap obligation ranges from $46 million to $71 million. They have no serious restricted free agents but Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson have player options for $13 million and $6 million respectively. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has underwhelmed on offense since being drafted 2nd overall in 2012 but he's a good defender and it's a little soon for the Hornets to be giving up on or inhibiting a pick that high.

Why are these things important?

Position matters because the value of picks as you rise through the draft order doesn't increase in linear fashion, but exponentially. Trading from #29 to #22 is not as costly as trading from #15 to #8 even though both picks are separated by 7 spaces. The closer to the first overall position, the steeper the cost curve becomes. With any of your proposed trading partners the Blazers would be trying to relocate from the early-to-mid-20's to mid-to-late-lottery position. They're not moving to a whole 'nother planet, but it's at least another continent. The price offered has to match the fare.

Keep in mind, too, that trading partners will not only be judging Batum's value versus the player they could draft with their pick, but Batum's value versus the value of all the other offers they could potentially field. Batum and #23 not only has to be better than an incoming rookie, but better than anything other teams offer.

Salary Cap is important because it determines whether Portland's trading partner could absorb Batum's contract while sending out a pick alone or whether they'd have to send back other players along with the pick to make salaries match.

All 4 of the teams mentioned have the potential to create a Batum-sized hole on their ledger. But the premise of the trade is the desire of these 4 teams to get better with veteran help. This assumes they will be keeping key players already on their rosters. (One questions how much better Detroit will be if they acquire Batum but lose Monroe, for instance.) That means the listed salary cap estimates will drift towards the high side.

More than likely each potential partner would send back players earning some or all of Batum's $12 million salary to make a trade work. Unless those players are cap bricks (Channing Frye might qualify for Orlando but the list is small) the other team would be trading a lottery pick and more value besides for the privilege of fielding Batum and drafting 23rd.

Incumbent small forwards determine the need for Batum in the first place, obviously.

Batum's deal runs out next season...another consideration for any team looking to trade a lottery pick for him. They'd need to know their investment wasn't flying out the window in 12 months.

Returning to the teams in question, I think we're safe in assuming that Rudy Gay's contract in Sacramento will prevent the Kings from double-loading the small forward position. They're not paying Gay that much, but adding Batum would mean pouring $24-25 million per year into a single slot, carrying 2 starters who probably couldn't play at the same time. The Kings would need a separate deal to move Gay in order to make room for for Batum. But now you're trading Gay and a lottery pick for Batum and...who? That second guy had better be pretty good.

The Hornets will hope that Kidd-Gilchrist evolves into a different version of Batum, perhaps more reasonably priced. They probably don't need Batum badly enough to make this kind of trade.

The Magic's need depends on their assessment of Harris, but best guess says they'll consider him and the #5 overall pick far too much to pay for Batum.

That leaves Detroit. The Pistons have the position open and appear to be in the most advantageous cap position to make this kind of deal. Even if free agents drive them close to the cap threshold, Jodie Meeks or Anthony Tolliver might be sent back to Portland to compensate.

So then... IF the Pistons retain Greg Monroe and Reggie Jackson, IF Stan Van Gundy respects Batum's defense enough to overlook his slumping offense, IF they figure he'll be a nice secondary ball-handler beside Jackson, IF you allow for another player coming or going from each roster (the Blazers needing to absorb salary and the Pistons maybe wanting more value besides Batum), and IF the Pistons are reasonably sure Batum will stay beyond next summer, then the Detroit deal isn't too far-fetched. Absent other changes, Sacramento, Orlando, and Charlotte seem more like pipe dreams.

You mentioned the New York Knicks as well. They hold the 4th overall pick, their cap runs from $32 to $41 million, and Carmelo Anthony holds down their small forward position.  Normally you'd think the 4th overall pick would be far more valuable to a 17-win team than a slumping veteran French small forward. Normally you'd think Anthony's presence would eliminate the need for Batum in any case. But...

1. New York has played Anthony at power forward before. And...

2. Knicks be crazy.

So you never know.

New York won't have the patience to rebuild through the draft. If Phil Jackson and company decide to abandon the logic of, say, a Professor McGonagall and go with the misty tea-reading of a Professor Trelawney the Blazers can always try to project Batum and maybe CJ McCollum or Arron Afflalo into their crystal ball. Who knows? Might work.

As for the rest of your question about who the Blazers might pick--generally and specifically--in this year's draft, keep watching the site over the next couple weeks. We'll explore all the options we can find and a few more besides.

In the meantime keep those questions coming to and/or our Podcast Voice Mail at 234-738-3394.

Thanks for the question, Cameron!

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge