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How Might the Portland Trail Blazers Move Into the Draft?

2016 NBA Draft picks are dangling. Can the Blazers grab one?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NBA Draft commences tomorrow evening. Today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag question asks what the Portland Trail Blazers can be expected to do during the annual talent bazaar.

Dave,

Other Blazersedge authors have talked about the draft, but you are staying eerily quiet.   Do you have inside information you can't share or something?  My question is this.  What do you think of this draft and do you think we'll do anything in it?  C'mon, Paul Allen and Neal Olshey have to buy at least one pick right?

Marty

I've stayed "eerily quiet" about the draft mostly because the Blazers don't have a draft pick. If things stay the same, Thursday will pass with that same eerie silence. I don't expect that they'll stay the same. We're all waiting to see whether the Blazers can wiggle into the draft and if so, how high they'll get.

I think the Neil Olshey and company should buy their way in if possible because this is clearly Olshey's strong suit. He's had more success through the draft than in any other venue and it's not close. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton...if Olshey and his scouting staff pick a guy, that guy's worth looking at.

I expect the Blazers will be able to buy second round picks if they so desire. Several teams hold multiple selections this year. Nobody is taking 7 rookie draft picks into Summer League, let alone projecting them to make the team. Portland should have no trouble finding partners willing to divest themselves of lower picks. A million here, an exchange of future second-rounders there, and the Blazers will have a new prospect.

Keep in mind NBA teams are limited to $3.4 million in cash trades per season. The Blazers have already sent out cash as part of two deals: the Brendan Haywood-Mike Miller exchange with Cleveland last July and the Brian Roberts exchange with Miami in February. Those amounts aren't reported but they're likely to be small. Portland should have room to outright purchase at least a couple picks if they desire.

Rumors are swirling about teams with extra picks being willing to trade first-rounders. Tossing money at the problem may not do it. As we explained last month, rookie-scale contracts will take on extra value in this new era of ballooning salaries. Even modest veterans are going to start making eight-figure paychecks this summer. Rookie first-rounders will still be stuck in their $1 million (30th pick) to $5 million (1st overall pick) range. Teams might be willing to move draft picks, but trading them for cash considerations alone would be foolish. They'd gain $3 million today but they'd spend 3-5 times that over the next few years just filling the salary slot with another player.

If Portland wants to move into the first round, it'll probably cost them a player and/or future first-round picks in return. They do have Cleveland's 2018 first rounder to dangle. This could be attractive to teams overstocked with picks this year. Failing that, they'll be looking at moving one of their current players.

If the Blazers had a first-round pick of their own, opportunities to move up would be plentiful. The first two picks in this draft are assured. After that, prospects are dicey. We could see leaps forward in the draft order at relatively modest cost, as GM's will figure the player they could get at 22 won't be that much worse than the one they'd get at 13. But snagging a 13th pick outright may take more juice than the Blazers have. Draft picks are draft picks, even when you have a ton of them. Boston is supposedly willing to move the 3rd selection for Jimmy Butler. They're not going to do the same for Ed Davis.

Here's the complete list of players the Blazers could potentially offer in trade: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton, Luis Montero, Cliff Alexander.

Nine players seems like a veritable arsenal of trade material, but the practical list is far smaller than the theoretical one. Lillard isn't going anywhere. Connaughton, Montero, and Alexander aren't enough to draw first-round attention on their own. McCollum would certainly bring a pick, but the Blazers wouldn't get enough utility out of that selection to make the deal worth it. CJ is the player they'd hope that rookie eventually turned into. Why make a deal of that sort when they already have the end product? That leaves Aminu, Plumlee, Davis, and Vonleh as trade bait.

I assume a couple teams out there would value the experience and skill set Aminu, Plumlee, and Davis bring. They probably wouldn't command a high lottery selection but the Blazers could get into the first round with one of them. Would a mid-first-rounder solve the problems trading one of these three players would bring, plus add extra value down the road? That's a pretty big ask.

Portland's free agency plans could come into play here. If they had a bead on Dwight Howard, they wouldn't need both Davis and Plumlee. In that case, a move for the right first-rounder might make sense. Still, it's hard to see the Blazers trading away either for a roll of the dice. Olshey and company would have to really like that rookie (or really need the cap space for Howard come July) to move a key part of the current roster for them.

Vonleh is a more interesting case. The Blazers traded Nicolas Batum for him and Gerald Henderson last year. Vonleh had a few moments during the season but didn't really impress. Even so, Portland may be able to find another team who thinks Vonleh is a better prospect than the 20-xth pick would be, give or take. If the front office isn't high on him, that would be a deal to watch.

Naturally any of the above players plus Cleveland's future pick makes the deal sweeter.

Unless something goes hinky, it'll be hard for the Blazers to make a major splash in this year's draft. Nor would this be the year to risk doing so. The draft class is too shaky and Portland's need for immediate help too profound. I don't expect to see the Blazers pursuing blockbuster deals with a high draft pick as the centerpiece. I do think they'll be nosing around. They have the capacity to do something. I'd be surprised if they didn't snag at least one prospect from the evening. The only questions are who and at what cost.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge