Portland’s complicated offseason is officially underway, as President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey is now tasked with finding a way to improve a roster that barely squeaked into the Western Conference Playoffs. Given the Trail Blazers’ limited financial flexibility, Olshey will be hard-pressed to find a way to drastically improve his squad without sacrificing one of his more coveted assets.
With those circumstances in mind, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer dissected how the Blazers could add talent this summer. By using Golden State as an example, O’Connor outlines the options that Portland will have with its three selections in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Think about how the Warriors’ championship core was assembled. Their backcourt came first. Stephen Curry was drafted in 2009 and Klay Thompson was drafted in 2011. The Blazers already have their backcourt, with Lillard drafted in 2012, and McCollum in 2013. The Warriors needed help, just like the Blazers do. Portland general manager Neil Olshey will have three swings this year (with the 15th, 20th, and 26th selections), much like the Warriors did in 2012 — the year they drafted Harrison Barnes (seventh), Festus Ezeli (30th), and Draymond Green (35th).
After praising Olshey’s draft record, O’Connor explains what type of players the Blazers should target on draft night.
Olshey should swing for fences with at least two of the selections: Indiana forward OG Anunoby, French center Jonathan Jeanne, and Purdue power forward Caleb Swanigan come to mind. For safer players, North Carolina wing Justin Jackson, Gonzaga center Zach Collins, and Kentucky center Bam Adebayo seem like fits. It’s not ideal to go into the season with three rookies, especially when you’re trying to make the playoffs, but with Lillard and McCollum locked up through 2021, Portland can afford the player-development time.
O’Connor finishes his segment on Portland’s draft possibilities by reminding everyone of the difficulties that Olshey faces when it comes to roster composition, but he does provide an uplifting look at what the future would hold for Portland if they land an exceptional prospect.
The problem with using all three picks is practical. The Blazers already have 15 players under contract for next season. They can solve that issue by waiving all three of their players with nonguaranteed deals: injured center Festus Ezeli, Orioles pitching prospect Pat Connaughton, and undrafted wing Tim Quarterman. There’s also some logic to packaging one of the picks with Meyers Leonard to dump his salary, but that wouldn’t even get them under the cap. They need one of their picks to be a home run, so they should try to maximize their swings at the plate. If one of those picks ends up being a future Jae Crowder or DeMarre Carroll, they would be ecstatic. If one of them turns into a Jimmy Butler or Draymond Green, Portland will be thinking Finals.
O’Connor concludes his article by taking a look at Portland’s backcourt, and gives his unapologetic opinion of what the future might hold for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Even if Portland has some draft luck and lands a stud, and even if Nurkic sustains his success from this season, this backcourt still might be too flawed on defense to go on deep playoff runs. It’s hard enough to hide one player on defense, never mind two — especially when those players need to defend the most explosive scoring positions in the NBA.
By using the Warriors as an example once again, O’Connor points to a trade featuring one of Portland’s guards as an avenue for the Blazers to make the leap to the NBA’s elite.
Let’s go back to the Warriors for a minute. They not only drafted well, but they made forward-thinking trades. In 2013, they cleared cap space and dealt two first-round picks in a sign-and-trade for Andre Iguodala. Maybe someday Evan Turner can be Portland’s Iguodala. In 2012, Golden State dealt Monta Ellis, at the time its second-best player, for Andrew Bogut. McCollum and Lillard are both far better than Ellis was, but breaking up the tiny backcourt of Ellis and Stephen Curry ended up being the key to Golden State’s future title runs. Klay Thompson is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, never mind a premier shooter. Neither McCollum nor Lillard has that upside.
Portland enters the offseason with one of the highest payrolls in the league, but they can gain some flexibility by parting ways with players who have non-guranteed or partially-guaranteed contracts. The Blazers will also have a sizable arsenal of draft considerations at their disposal to grease the wheels of potential trades.