As the Blazers look to build a playoff team for next season, they need to take stock of their assets. No one is a bigger question mark than Kostas Papanikolaou. The Blazers acquired the draft rights to this year’s Euorleague Rising Star from the New York Knicks in the trade that eradicated Raymond Felton from Portland last year. While a skilled player by Euroleague standards, a smooth translation to NBA basketball is not guaranteed.
Most likely, the Blazers will elect to leave him overseas this season anyway. They are still determining the role Victor Claver will have with the future of the team, and will probably avoid bringing in another European small forward until they know what that is. In fact, as Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum continue to develop into three-point specialists, their need for another long-range trigger man dwindles.
The most intriguing option for Portland would be to trade his draft rights to another team, as New York did to them. While Kostas deserves better than NBA hot potato, his newfound acclaim could give the Blazers the edge they need in rounding out a trade package.
Rebuilding teams that may be willing to take a risk to get a high-upside three point shooter include the Phoenix Suns, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Orlando Magic, the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Cleveland Cavaliers – All of whom finished in the bottom 8 for 3P% last season. Interestingly enough, four of those five teams have a top 5 draft pick in this year’s NBA draft. Papanikolaou could be an enticing addition to a bundle that would allow Portland to move up (if they decide to do so).
Of course, if they want a proven player for their prospect, the Blazers can always shop him in potential deals for NBA veterans. Many teams are in need of youth; especially at a low price. Kostas Papanikolaou fits that bill.
The biggest question Portland must ask themselves is, “What can he become?” The Blazers don’t want to send away a player that could be their next big break. Presently, Papanikolaou is not what they need, but situations change every year, as do players. It all boils down to whether or not he will meet his potential as an NBA player. Trading his draft rights has no real consequences for the current roster (as KP has never played with the team), but anything Portland does now will drastically affect their future.
Personally, I’m inclined to see what we can get for him if we put him on the table. European players can be a dream come true (Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki) or your worst nightmare (Darko Milicic, Andris Biedrins). You never really know how their abilities will translate to NBA level basketball, so there is always a risk. The Blazers could use more of a guarantee as they form the foundations of their future.