"Seemed" being the operative word in that intro.
But let’s go back a bit. At February’s trade deadline, Blazers Interim General Manager Joe Cronin boldly traded CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to the Pelicans for their protected 2022 first round pick, Josh Hart, Didi Louzada, Tomas Satoransky and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
The protections on the Pelicans pick meant the Blazers would only get it if it landed between 5 and 14. Thought to be a reasonable prospect at the time.
But with New Orleans’ playoff berth, Cronin’s consolation is the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks’ 2025 top 4 protected first rounder, yielded by the Pelicans after sending Jrue Holiday to Wisconsin in 2020.
The Bucks currently have one of the best, if not the best, players in the league who is still shockingly 27, and thus, still firmly entrenched in his prime.
By 2025, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be 30, likely still in said prime and no doubt aiming to lead his team to contention yet again. However, it’s his supporting cast that might be the biggest factor in their success.
So far these playoffs, his co-starters have been been Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and our old friend Wesley Matthews Jr.
By April 2025, Middleton will be 33, Holiday, 34, Lopez, 37 and Matthews, 38. Pat Connaughton will be 32, Bobby Portis, 30 and Serge Ibaka, 35, with Grayson Allen the only current rotation player still under 30, just.
“But Adrian,” I hear you say, “Bucks General Manager John Horst will surely swing deals over the next three years to bring in young and capable talent to help Antetokounmpo.”
Of course he will, but, as discussed above, in order to secure the services of 2013 All Star Jrue Holiday, the Bucks had to part with some assets.
Those assets would have helped the team maintain success and its spot at the top of the NBA tree. Let’s just review what they gave up to the Pelicans (in what eventually became a four-team trade with the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder).
New Orleans secured Steven Adams, current Blazer Eric Bledsoe as well as unprotected Milwaukee first rounders in 2025 and 2027 and pick swap options in 2024 and 2026.
That means that after June's NBA draft, the Bucks might not have control over their own first round pick until 2028.
Also, and we should never wish injury on another human being, but who’s to say that any of the Bucks’ big names don’t sit for an extended period. Just look at what the Clippers had to go through this season.
One could argue a team complete with a fit Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, Robert Covington, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Terrance Mann and Nicolas Batum might have had a real shot at this year’s title.
I’ll temper this seemingly negative series of events with the fact that veteran players will be lining up to play with Antetokounmpo. The man is, as his nickname suggests, a physical freak and continues to improve despite already winning two MVP awards — and potentially a third this season.
Also, and perhaps more crucially, by the end of the 2023-24 season, only Antetokounmpo and Holiday will be contracted players. Granted they’ll collectively be making roughly $85 million but with the new TV deal on the horizon, who knows where the salary cap and luxury tax levels will be by then?
Middleton may be off the books as early as the 2023 summer but with a $40 million player option on the table for 2023-24, it’s unlikely he doesn’t pick that up.
And depending if Holiday’s production drops off over the next two years, Milwaukee may want to move the veteran point guard for whatever young players and assets they can land.
How might the Bucks pick be perceived by other franchises right now?
Obviously, the 2025 Bucks pick won’t be as valuable as this year’s Pelicans pick. Partly because Milwaukee has Antetokounmpo, but also, as discussed above, no one has any clear sense of where that pick lands. It will always have value, but there is a pretty dramatic sliding scale between picks 1 and 30. [Note: The pick will not convey to Portland if it falls in the 1-4 range.]
The Blazers are clearly trying to be movers and shakers this summer. Why? Because Damian Lillard is going to be 32 this year and it’s become crystal clear that the franchise is going to do its best to surround him with as much talent as possible.
If the Pelicans had missed the playoffs and not soared into the top 4 on lottery night, Portland would have laid claim to two lottery picks. Yes, the Pelicans pick would likely have been in the double digits, but it still would have been an exceedingly valuable commodity.
According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, Cronin had high hopes for the Pelicans pick, whether it was to be executed on draft night or dealt for Jerami Grant or another veteran talent we’ll never know. Now that the chips have fallen where they have, I’m not sure the Blazers will necessarily deal the Bucks pick this year, but I’ve no doubt they’ll try.
Their issue is that while the 2025 Bucks pick could very well be as high as the Pelicans pick could have been this season, it will be no way near the same value due to that uncertainty.
Consequently, Cronin may have to offer more that just the pick if he’s going to get the return he initially wanted. Whether that’s Portland’s own pick (ideally not), the Bucks pick, a young player(s) or one of the newly arrived second round picks, the Blazers have far less leverage.
Losing the Pelicans pick sucked, big time. Cronin boldly took a swing to try and turn this team’s fortunes around, quickly.
He’s now behind where he could have been because of the uncertainty attached to that Bucks pick and a generational player named Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But first round picks will always have value — the Bucks were able to secure Jrue Holiday with the Pelicans, knowing full well that the picks they got in return might not be particularly high.
The return this particular pick yields won’t be as good as what Pelicans pick would have been, but it still has value because, ultimately, anything can happen over the next 36 months.