The Portland Trail Blazers hold the 7th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Even though the Blazers are conducting draft workouts, most of the buzz around their off-season plans surrounds them moving the pick, not using it to acquire a potential star rookie. That stance is not without controversy, as today’s edition of the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag shows.
You and other “media experts” are all fired up certain that we’re going to trade the pick for somebody but what about getting a good young player instead? For years we’ve seen that first round picks are the most valuable thing around and you yourself has said that having good players on a cheap deal is smart. So why now when we finally have a chance to do just that again and maybe repeat a Dame or CJ draft are you so sure that trading is the thing to do? Why did your view change? Don’t you think you’re being inconsistent?
The basic value of a lottery pick and/or players on rookie-scale contracts hasn’t changed. Those are still among the most valuable assets in the NBA. They still come in second to superstars, but not much else tops them.
We’re really talking about two kinds, or applications, of value here. There’s value of the pick if used and value of the pick if traded. Those are not always the same.
Here’s a dumb example. Having run into celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay, I find that his reputation for meanness is overblown. After a bit of witty banter, Chef Ramsay finds me so charming that he makes me a good, old-fashioned Shepherd’s Pie, which I now hold in my hands.
I can do one of two things with that pie. I can eat it, in which case its value is delicious taste, unique experience, and filling my stomach from now until the next time I get hungry. Or I can put that sucker on Ebay, listed as an authentic, Chef Ramsay special, and see what people will pay for it.
My current circumstances will influence my decision heavily. If I have am starving and have not eaten in a week, or if I have plenty of money in the bank and am a big Gordon Ramsay fan, eating the pie myself may prove the more valuable experience. On the other hand, giving up a single dinner to receive $2,000 from a potential buyer might entice me more, especially if I’m of fairly normal means.
It’s the same way with Portland’s draft pick. Its worth depends on their circumstances, what they need. Like the Shepherd’s Pie, it’s always going to be good in some way. But what way will it be best? Or, put another way, how can its value be maximized.
Let’s look at where the Blazers are. They seem committed to rebuilding around Damian Lillard, who is 32. Making, and excelling in, the playoffs will be their mark of success. They’ve built in enough flexibility that they don’t have to worry too much about spending money. They also need to improve quickly.
A rookie draftee can help with these priorities, but he won’t be a complete fit. If Portland had the #1 overall pick, this would be a different discussion. Then you’d expect a star who could contribute after minimal acclimation. The seventh pick will be more of a project. There’s no rock-solid guarantee they’ll become a starter, let alone a star. Even if they’re great, i’s probably going to take 2-3 years to figure out how far they can go.
Simply put, Portland is not positioned to take best advantage of the value that the seventh pick brings if utilized.
Other teams will be in better position. There’s a strong possibility that they’d value the pick more. They might also have high-level veterans that they’re not taking full advantage of, players who fit Portland’s timeline and aims.
The Toronto Raptors are a great example. OG Anunoby is a third wheel behind Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. Toronto could use a good, young player to bolster an already-solid lineup and they have time to let them develop.
That’s just one case, by the way. We could delve into others. Either way, the point remains the same.
We could certainly critique Portland’s approach. It’s not necessarily a great look when you’re holding an otherwise-valuable asset and can’t make use of it even though you’re not winning. But given the spot the Blazers have landed, it’s pretty clear that the value to them in trade is greater than the value in executing it themselves. Using the pick themselves would mean that all other good options had fallen through. Getting another young, inexpensive, talented player would be good news, but the context around that move certainly would not.
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