The Portland Trail Blazers are less than a week away from using the No. 24 overall pick in the NBA draft -- either as a selection or in a trade. Last week, I looked at three reasons the Blazers should trade the pick, citing the team’s focus on the playoffs and need of veterans. Now it’s time to look at why the Blazers should keep the pick.
A team in need of cheap talent
Portland’s salary cap situation has been deconstructed time and time again following the summer of 2016, but it keeps coming around to bite Portland in key scenarios, whether they come in NBA Free Agency, at the trade deadline, or in debates about using the massive TPEs they have.
The Blazers already have $110 million committed to eight players alone, and that’s without new deals for Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, or Shabazz Napier. If one of those four walks, they’re leaving behind a role in the rotation that needs to be filled. Portland is already flirting with luxury tax territory as well, and depending on how much Paul Allen wants to spend to keep the team together, a rookie on a late-first-round pay scale would be a cost-efficient replacement under team control for up to four years.
The selection also works as a failsafe in case restricted free agents like Connaughton and Napier receive offers Portland deems too high to match. They’ll have a ready-made replacement already in the wings.
Trusting in Neil Olshey as a talent-evaluator
Neil Olshey was at the helm when Portland got into its salary mess in 2016, and it’s safe to assume the team wouldn’t need to look for cheap replacements of role players, or debate about retaining same, if the extensions given out that summer were more cap-friendly. But Olshey has a good eye for draft talent, and betting on him to make a solid selection at No. 24 isn’t a bad route to go.
Olshey hit on two huge selections from small-time schools: Damian Lillard from Weber State (No. 6 overall) and CJ McCollum from Lehigh (No. 10 overall). He’s also prospered with later picks. He got the Blazers Will Barton (No. 40 overall) and Allen Crabbe (via trade, No. 31 overall). As General Manager of the Clippers he plucked Al-Farouq Aminu out of an unspectacular 2010 draft class.
Players in Portland’s vicinity this year include Jacob Evans, Gary Trent Jr., Dzanan Musa, Chandler Hutchison, and Donte DiVicenzo, among others. Picking at 24 means some targets will likely be off the board, but Olshey and his scouting team will do homework to figure out who’s going to be valuable at 24.
Insurance in case the team gets blown up
The 2017-18 team isn’t likely to be parted out before the season, the story could change within the next year. CJ McCollum trade talk hasn’t died down, and the team’s playoff success during the Lillard-McCollum era isn’t worth bragging about.
Focusing on the playoffs has been a message relayed over and over by Olshey since the season ended; what happens if the 2019 Playoffs are just another flame out? If Lillard grows unhappy, does the team hit the reset button? A 2018 rookie would provide hope for the future alongside Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan if the Blazers are forced to Trust the Process in a post-Lillard apocalyptic world.
There you have it: three reasons for keeping the pick, and three reasons for trading the pick. What do you think is Portland’s best route? Let us know in the comments.
The NBA Draft is Thursday, June 21.