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Portland Trail Blazers NBA Draft Primer, Part 1: Getting Into the Draft

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Could Mason Plumlee be traded?

Like every Blazer fan, this past season was one of the most surprising and enjoyable in recent memory. The team vastly outperformed expectations, advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs before finally being thwarted by the two-time (at the time) defending champion Golden State Warriors. It was the rare season where just about everything went right, and there was nary a complaint to be logged as a fan.

I say almost, because, for a rabid fan like myself who is often just as engaged in the offseason as I am the season itself, the unexpected run to the playoffs did come at price. That’s because due to the fine print on the 1st round draft pick sent to Denver in last year’s midseason trade for Arron Afflalo, the Blazers making the playoffs meant that the pick would be conveyed this season. And, with their 2nd round pick having already been sent out in the 2013 draft day deal that brought in backup guard Allen Crabbe, this means the Portland Trail Blazers enter the 2016 NBA Draft with nary a selection.

For a drafty junky like myself, this is devastating news.

But, have no fear fellow draftniks, there is still hope to be had yet. That’s because the Blazers are set to have a very active offseason and there are reasons to believe that it could all kick off with some draft day wheeling and dealing.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at a few of the more likely scenarios that could go down in the coming days and land the Blazers a pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. We’ll go from least likely to occur, to most, and discuss a bit of the pros, cons and general idea behind each move.

The Big Swing: CJ McCollum for a high lottery pick

I will start out by saying that I don’t condone this move, nor do I think it will realistically happen. Outside the top two picks, none of the prospects in this year’s draft are enticing enough to give up a sure-thing, in-the-pocket talent like McCollum. And, to cement matters, neither of the teams at #1 or #2 are going to be interested in swapping their picks for the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

However, if the Blazers are totally in love with one of the other players at the top of the draft, they could likely pick up just about any lotto pick starting at #3, and maybe another piece or two in the process. It’s not the most tantalizing options, as it would likely have to be a gross overpay to convince the Blazers to part with their young star… but, it is an option. A really bold (and borderline desperate) option.

Trade Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, or Ed Davis for a mid-to-late 1st round pick

If the Blazers are, as most assume, eyeing a big man in the draft and/or free agency, they will likely need to jettison one of their current bigs to clear the potential log jam in the front court. This type of move would also provide the Blazers with a few extra million in cap room to chase free agents. Considering the most recent cap projections have the Blazers a few million short of being able to offer a max contract to a 7-9 year vet, this type of move could be doubly enticing.

Plumlee and Davis are both serviceable rotation big men on cheap deals compared to their level of production and should have some value around the league. Vonleh is still just 20 years old and is the physical personification of a modern NBA power forward. It’s safe to assume that all three hold value around the league. That being said, none are likely to secure a pick in the first half of the first round, with Vonleh likely coming the closest due to his age and potential. 

If dumping salary becomes the main concern (because the Blazers are anticipating a big time free agent signing), Davis or Plumlee could potentially be dealt for a 2nd round pick or two, but, that type of move is more likely to be made after draft day and for a future pick, rather than prior to or during this year’s festivities.

Blazers trade Cleveland Cavaliers 2018 1st Round Pick for 2016 1st Round Pick

This is probably the simplest, and therefore the most likely, way for the Blazers to get into the 1st round this year. This trade could also work with any of the Blazers’ own picks, too, but the Cavs pick (acquired in the Anderson Varajao deal at this year’s trade deadline) makes sense for a couple of key reasons. 

For one, it would allow the Blazers to keep their own picks for the foreseeable future, meaning that they wouldn’t find themselves in this situation of having to sit the draft out again. That’s important for both draft and trade purposes.

For draft purposes, the reason is obvious: 1st round picks are valuable and, all things being equal, you want one every year. Every team can always use in influx of young, cheap talent. 

On the trade front, though, it’s arguably even more important. That’s because of an NBA rule that keeps teams from trading their 1st round pick in back to back seasons. That means that if the Blazers deal one of their own picks to get into this draft, it could potentially limit their options for dealing future picks going forward. For a team that is looking to acquire at least one more marquee talent to put next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, they will want all the trade flexibility they can get.

Secondly, with Cleveland competing for championships for the foreseeable future,this is likely to be a late 1st round pick when it eventually comes to fruition. While this keeps the value lower than most future 1st round picks, it does align nicely with five picks presumed to be available. Picks 23, 24, 26, 27, and 28 are all owned by teams with multiple 1st round picks in this year’s draft. In particular, Philadelphia at 24 and 26 (with three 1st rounders, including #1) and Boston at 23 (with EIGHT combined 1st and 2nd rounders) have an overabundance of picks this season and many feel will be looking to unload some of them. Ideally, they’d like to swap those for proven veteran commodities, but, if an appropriately enticing deal doesn’t appear, it makes sense for them to kick one or more of their late 1st round picks for comparable future picks to balance things out a bit.

Neil Olshey SPAMs the draft and gets a 2nd round pick

SPAM: Spend Paul Allen’s Money. It’s been a long-running joke inside (and outside) of the Blazers organization for years, and it speaks to the near constant willingness for billionaire owner Paul Allen to use his vast wealth to grease the wheels of trades and transactions that could help his favorite pet team improve their chances of competing for that elusive ring. 

This was a particularly effective strategy a few years back when targeting notoriously cheap teams who may not be so quick to sacrifice profitability for wins was a viable option and could even net a 1st rounder. Of course, with the rising salary cap and the expectations of similarly ballooning contracts in free agency, draft picks are more valuable than ever. And, in particular, to those aforementioned “cheap” teams. So, this type of move would more likely be done for a 2nd round pick that a team isn’t particularly interested in using. So, again, look to Boston with their five 2nd rounders or other teams with limited financial or roster flexibility.

Next: Part II – Who Might the Blazers Target?


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