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Trail Blazers Summer May Hinge on Single Lottery Event

Portland has options for improvement, but one of these things is not like the other.

Orlando Magic v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have five months during the 2022-23 off-season to sort an injury-riddled, hodgepodge of a lineup into a winning basketball team. They’re looking to build around franchise superstar Damian Lillard, but the “how” and “when” remain murky. As we approach the 2022 NBA Lottery Drawing tomorrow, a Blazer’s Edge reader wants to know where the best odds lie for improvement.


What do you think the biggest change will be for us this summer? I keep anticipating big changes but you don’t sound very hopeful and your keep or yeet series had mostly keeps. Don’t you think we need change? Is it going to be a big trade or are we just relying on free agents and that draft pick?


The draft pick is definitely the hub. It’s the biggest single potential mover for the franchise. This will escalate if they get a lucky promotion into the Top 4. An upper-echelon pick is the only “get rich quick” scheme in Portland’s arsenal. Failing that, they’re going to have to deconstruct and reconstruct the old-fashioned way.

The pick is key because it’s the only forward move—besides using a mid-level exception in free agency—that comes without opportunity cost. Portland wouldn’t have to give up anything to vault to the top of the lottery. An asset in hand would get more valuable without them lifting a finger. They could acquire a potential franchise-changing player just by speaking his name in the draft.

This is definitely not true with their other options for improvement.

As we’ve detailed before, if the Blazers do not make unexpected moves. they have will no cap space to sign free agents in July. They’ll be using the same exceptions that other capped-up teams employ, giving them no inherent advantage over their competitors.

The Blazers can generate cap room, but in order to do so, they’d need to renounce—or fail to pursue—key players. Jusuf Nurkic is an unrestricted free agent. Anfernee Simons will enter restricted free agency. Josh Hart has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. Portland would need to release one or more of them in order to make a serious run at free agents outside their fold.

The free agency pool isn’t that deep this year. Portland’s position isn’t strong. Their chances of luring a game-changing free agent are tiny. And how much would the game really change if they had to give up potential starters in order to acquire their new player?

The Blazers can also make trades, obviously. The lottery pick would be the most obvious lever. They could also offer Hart, Nassir Little, or other incumbent players. Trade exceptions provide wiggle room if they can find a partner who wants to dump salary. But even the most prized targets—Detroit’s Jerami Grant, for instance—don’t push the team into contention automatically. And again, there’s the cost. Is the lottery pick worth more, long term, than a starting forward to try and resurrect the Lillard Era?

If the pick doesn’t go big, the Blazers will need to use some combination of incremental moves to achieve the same goal. That’s much harder than just drafting the next superstar. An album with three modest hits does not get the same attention as one with a chart-topping rocket.

Portland can create a veneer of improvement via multiple avenues. Lillard playing more than 70 games would be enough to raise them above last season’s 27-win mark, even without other returning starters and extra players acquired over the summer. But if you want improvement at the core, sustainable gains that will change the fortunes of the franchise and not just its appearance, the pick is the big—perhaps the only—hope. Keep your fingers crossed, Niall. Maybe tomorrow night the tenor of the discussion will change.

We’ll have full coverage of the draft lottery drawing tomorrow. Now, then, and after, feel free to send your own questions to!