The 2014 NBA Draft Lottery is set for Tuesday, May 20th and, for the first time since 2011, the Portland Trail Blazers will not be represented. This is bittersweet in a draft class so stacked. On one hand, the Trail Blazers are thriving enough to be excluded from the lottery, but on the other hand, they will not be receiving a top-tier rookie to mold in their image.
To make things better (and worse, again, depending on your perspective), Portland has to give up their first round pick to Charlotte anyway, so at least they aren’t losing out on a lottery pick by having one in the first place. Unfortunately, the Trail Blazers have no incoming picks right now whatsoever. This is due in large part to the moves General Manager Neil Olshey has made in his tenure.
Here is a list of Portland’s current draft pick debts along with explanations for why they are owed:
- 2014 first round pick – This one is owed to the Charlotte soon-to-be Hornets. In February of 2011, the Trail Blazers traded Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, Joel Przybilla, a 2011 first round pick (that later became Tobias Harris), and their 2014 first round pick to the Bobcats in exchange for Gerald Wallace.
- 2014 second round pick – This one is owed to the Denver Nuggets. In June of 2011, the Trail Blazers traded Jordan Hamilton, Andre Miller, and a 2014 second round pick to the Denver Nuggets, as well as Rudy Fernandez and the rights to Petteri Koponen to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Raymond Felton and the rights to Tanguy Ngombo.
- 2015 & 2016 second round pick – These ones are owed to the Chicago Bulls. On the day of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers traded a 2015 second round pick and a 2016 second round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Allen Crabbe. The Cavaliers owe both picks to the Bulls as part of the Andrew Bynum / Luol Deng trade.
- 2017 second round pick – This one is owed to the Houston Rockets. In July of 2013, the Trail Blazers traded the draft rights to Kostas Papanikolau, the draft rights to Mirko Todorovic, a 2017 second round pick, and an ambiguous future pick to the Rockets in exchange for Thomas Robinson.
- 2018 second round pick – This one is (kind of) owed to the Sacramento Kings. On the same day (July 10th) that the Trail Blazers acquired Thomas Robinson, they gave the Kings the right to swap 2018 second round picks, and traded Jeff Withey to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Robin Lopez and Terrel Harris.
So the Trail Blazers have painted themselves into a corner for the foreseeable future regarding the NBA draft. They will have first-rounders come their way in years to come, but their low-stakes bargaining chips (which are not to be undervalued) have been mostly spent. If the Trail Blazers want any part of the 2014 NBA draft, they will have to trade their way in.
This is doable, but at a price. If I’m playing GM, as I often do in my fleeting spare time, I’m examining the bench for trade fodder—not because the second-rounders we could get in return would be better than current players, but because they could be used to draft international players for overseas storage. This would open up room to sign free agents and make a deeper playoff run, effectively circumventing the guaranteed contracts of players that are primarily taking up space at the moment.
But that is a story to be extrapolated another time. As it stands, the Trail Blazers have zero horses in a competitive race. It is kind of like being the New York Knicks, but, you know, making smart moves instead of mortgaging the future on Bargnani “bargains.” Pay close attention to how the Trail Blazers maneuver during the offseason. Even a little piece of this year’s draft could have monumental implications for the team moving forward.