The Portland Trail Blazers own the No. 24 overall selection in the NBA Draft. Picking No. 24 isn’t ideal for Portland: it’s not in a range that will likely land an immediate-impact player, and it’s not valuable enough on its own to deal for a meaty haul. Trading the pick could help the team’s purpose of competing in the NBA Playoffs, as recently stated by President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. Here are three reasons that option would work well for Portland.
No. 24 Won’t Likely Land a Player of Need
The Blazers’ pre-draft workouts have shone a light on the kinds of players that will be available around pick 24. They’re not players the Blazers really need. The first workout brought (undersized) guards Aaron Holiday and Jalen Brunson; the second workout brought (undersized) guards Bruce Brown, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jacob Evans. Portland’s own undersized guards have prompted trade proposals, with their offense being not enough to cover their deficiencies.
While Portland has also worked out wings like Gary Trent Jr., Melvin Frazier, and Keita Bates-Diop, there’s a premium on that position that could boost late-first-round talent into the late-teens or early-20s. Fan-favorite Chandler Hutchison has possible promises from both the Chicago Bulls (No. 22) and Indiana Pacers (No. 23).
Some of the guards Portland has worked out are defense-first, like Brown and Evans, but Wade Baldwin IV is a cheaper alternative and lauded for his defense already. If they can’t get a player they need, one to help alongside Lillard and CJ McCollum, whom they seem committed to no matter what, why bring on more guaranteed salary?
In Search of Veterans
Portland could take a rookie at No. 24, stash them on the bench, and try to ration out playing time when available. But according to Neil Olshey, the Blazers are making playoff impact a focus:
“I think our pick will have value both ways whether we select and add another young player we think can eventually grow and contribute to the organization, or whether we use that piece as an asset to go acquire a veteran player with an established body of work that can step into a playoff team and contribute in April.”
While that might be just all talk after a disappointing finish in the 2018 playoffs, Olshey could set the tone for that mindset by opting for a veteran instead of another rookie to be forgotten about (Caleb Swanigan says hi!). Portland lacks the experienced, well-traveled veteran often featured on contending teams. 2015-16, the year of Chris Kaman, was the last time the Blazers hosted a player of that criteria. The last time the Blazers made noise, players like Kaman, Steve Blake, Dorell Wright, Earl Watson, and Mo Williams graced their roster.
This is undoubtedly Damian Lillard’s team, but the impact of a veteran can’t be undersold. Lillard is directly in his prime; this is the time to go all-in if there’s ever been one. (He’s coming off an All-NBA First Team selection for crying out loud). A veteran who has gone through multiple ups and downs could make an impact in April. The same cannot be said for a rookie just learning his place.
Using the No. 24 Pick as an Asset
No. 24 overall won’t get teams licking their chops for a potential deal. It’s outside of the lottery, where the franchise players often lay. With this draft class, teams could get a prospect they like in the second round instead of the late first. Trading the pick straight-up wouldn’t lead to a bounty, but pairing it could be the sweetener needed to make an otherwise-marginal deal go through.
Portland has contracts they should actively look to move: Evan Turner (two years, about $36.4 million left), Meyers Leonard (two years, about $21.8 million left), and, depending how you feel about his consistency issues, Maurice Harkless (two years, about $22.3 million left). Portland likely can’t deal any of these players straight-up, but the No. 24 pick could make teams ponder if paying for an extra contract is worth an extra first-round choice.
There’s also the outside chance of a major shakeup trade into which Portland could throw in their No. 24 pick for an immediate-impact, proven player. Check out this trade proposed by our own Dan Marang:
When you wish upon a star— Danny Marang (@DMarang) June 4, 2018
POR sends: McCollum (CLE), Leonard (MIL), 24th pk (MIL)
CLE sends: 8th pk (MIL), Smith (MIL), Korver (MIL)
MIL sends: Brogdon (POR), Middleton (POR), Henson (POR)
POR: Brogdon, Middleton, Henson
MIL: 8/24 picks, Smith, Leonard, Korver pic.twitter.com/cJvh1zdt6q
We all know the caveats with any ESPN Trade Machine proposal, especially multi-team deals, but if No. 24 will facilitate such a trade, wouldn’t it be worth setting Portland on a better course?
Draft picks are one of the most cost-efficient and valuable assets in the modern NBA. Giving them up is hard. But Portland’s supporting cast can’t be subpar if the franchise wants to contend during Lillard’s prime. Progress often requires making hard choices. If this is one of those time, the Blazers have to be open to it.
The NBA Draft comes Thursday, June 21. Check back next week for three reasons the Blazers should keep the pick.