The Portland Trail Blazers have won the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. For a brief moment, when the presenters skipped the Trail Blazers’ name at the fifth spot in the drawing, hope flared for French center Victor Wembanyama to change the fortunes of the franchise. Instead, Wembanyama will follow in the path of the legendary (and tank-bought) Tim Duncan, headed to the San Antonio Spurs to lead a decade of presumed dominance.
The distance between the first pick and every other selection in this draft is immense. In a speculative, “just in case” post reserved for the off chance that Wembanyama became a Blazer, I wrote this:
Winning the lottery is [a] miracle moment. Wembanyama cannot, and will not, answer all of Portland’s questions. He can, and will, make the answers less binding, less critical to their eventual success...
Twelve hours ago, the Blazers were knee deep in a miasmatic swamp with few, if any, options that didn’t sink them deeper. Having rocketed skywards, they can now get the lay of the land. From this new vista, all the choices look good.
Nobody can predict the future, but if Wembanyama’s promise and value hold, the Blazers won’t have to. They can simply make their own.
It’s hard to avoid some measure of disappointment, having to forsake that [admittedly undeserved] instant resurrection. Across the arc of the Sistine Chapel, Adam stretches out to grasp the hand of God, only to find the divine fingertips slipping beyond his, instead latching tightly to...Gregg?
Per that divine whim, the Blazers will not be lifted out of their current conundrum. They still have to forge a way forward that will no doubt be filled with compromise. Sacrifice the future in order to make a run with Damian Lillard now, or rebuild around young players using Lillard to prime the pump in trade? They can’t have both. They must choose.
That said, snagging the third overall pick isn’t shabby. In particular, it lends itself to Portland’s stated strategy of winning now. If the first pick would have made the question moot, the second would have intensified it. The line behind Scoot Henderson is neither as bright nor thick as the one between Wembanyama and everybody else, but it’s there. The Blazers might have been tempted to think twice about going young should they have received Pick #2.
If they do intend to move this year’s pick with a clear conscience, the third selection is as high as they could go while automatically justifying the strategy. It gives them the most purchasing power combined with the least remorse. That’s likely to make the early part of the summer easier.
Granted, the strategy may change. Portland could do worse than rebuilding with Shaedon Sharpe and either Henderson or Brandon Miller in tow. But that will now become a fallback position for them. They can begin to explore trades in earnest, asking which player potential partners would like to pluck from the masses.
The 2023 NBA Lottery did not provide a clear path forward for the Trail Blazers, but it did make whichever path they choose easier. Yes, it could have been better, but it also could have been far worse.
It’s time for Brandon Roy to step down from the stage and General Manager Joe Cronin to occupy the spotlight. Buckle up, Portland. It’ s sure to be an interesting summer.