Feb 4, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) during the game against the Baylor Bears at the Ferrell Center. The Jayhawks defeated the Bears 69-52. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Draft: Trail Blazers Cannot Afford to Stall


The 2014 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26th at the Barclay Center. Mark your calendars, because that is the day the league will undergo the most drastic talent realignment since at least the 2003 NBA Draft, which included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Barring trade, the Portland Trail Blazers do not have a single piece of the 2014 pie, but they will be affected nonetheless; albeit adversely.

Most draft classes follow a loose talent formula. There are about 3-5 players that will make an All-Star team in their NBA career, 1-2 within them that will make one while on their rookie contract, and one clear-cut franchise player. The 2014 draft class is unique in that it has potential for up to eight all-stars— three potential franchise players among them (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Jabari Parker). The talent pool is so deep that maybe three of 2013’s draftees would even crack the top-10 if drafted this June.

 

 

Here is where things get scary for Portland. Only four other teams are completely pick-less: Brooklyn, Golden State, New Orleans, and New York. Everyone else holds a valuable commodity or two with which to upgrade through trade or internal development. To avoid generalities about sweeping improvement, let’s look at the Northwest division as a specific microcosm to illustrate what kind of changes we will see around the league. As of this moment, the Northwest division is ranked accordingly:

 

Oklahoma City Thunder
59-23
Currently in conference finals
Portland Trail Blazers
54-28
Lost in conference semifinals
Minnesota Timberwolves
40-42
Did not make playoffs
Denver Nuggets
36-46
Did not make playoffs
Utah Jazz
25-57
Did not make playoffs

 

Now consider the 2014 draft picks that each team possesses:

 

Oklahoma City Thunder
21, 29
Portland Trail Blazers
Minnesota Timberwolves
13, 40, 44, 53
Denver Nuggets
11, 41, 56
Utah Jazz
5, 23, 35

 

Each team without a red & white pinwheel is about to take a trip to the NBA candy store. Here is a brief rundown of how things are likely to go down:

Oklahoma City Thunder – With no major contracts running out this year, they remain a top-2 team in the Western Conference. They use their second-rounders on European stowaways so they can better afford to re-sign or replace Thabo Sefolosha. Maybe they attempt to trade up if their clever scouts have an eye on another Reggie Jackson type of player. Otherwise they pick up a couple D-League tweeners and avoid fixing something that isn’t broken regardless.

Portland Trail Blazers – With no sensible assets they would be willing to part with for a first round pick, the Trail Blazers try to move some bench litter for a few second-rounders. They are unlikely to pull off anything major since they cannot offer anything that is in demand. Their best bet is to squeeze into a three-team trade, otherwise the draft will be quiet and uneventful for them. They then look to improve internally and via free agency with realistically limited success.

Mar 23, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) talks to the referee in the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Target Center. Phoenix wins 127-120. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota TimberwolvesKevin Love is gone. They will trade him before the draft for a top-10 pick and a package of young talent. Likely suitors include the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and the most recently announced Sacramento Kings. This means Minnesota is re-entering rebuild mode and will not be a major threat. At least not right away. Think of them like the 2012 Orlando Magic trading Dwight Howard, but with further to climb. Their picks will be spent in scattershot fashion in hopes of finding a young foundation for the future.

Denver Nuggets – With a soon-to-be healthy Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, and Nate Robinson (player option pending) the Nuggets will bounce back hard and fast from their disappointing season. Now they will have a high-level rookie at their disposal (probably Gary Harris or Dario Saric at 11). They have potential to make the most drastic turnaround of any non-trading team. If their cards fall favorably, they are looking at a playoff berth as early as next season.

Utah Jazz – After strategically acquiring the expiring albatross contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson prior to this past season, the Jazz will have enough cap space to purchase any free agent in the league—as long as they are willing to play in Utah. The fifth pick could not only become a valuable player, it could help convince free agents that the Jazz have potential once the selection has been made. Combined with Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward (if the Jazz are smart enough to extend a qualifying offer), Utah could become very good very quickly.

Now let’s revisit the rankings from the 2013-2014 season:

 

Oklahoma City Thunder
59-23
Currently in conference finals
Portland Trail Blazers
54-28
Lost in conference semifinals
Minnesota Timberwolves
40-42
Did not make playoffs
Denver Nuggets
36-46
Did not make playoffs
Utah Jazz
25-57
Did not make playoffs

 

I could see the Nuggets and, to a lesser extent, the Jazz jumping up to be 40+ win teams if they are intelligent and lucky; taking a few wins from the Trail Blazers as they go. Suddenly, the Northwest Division is not so spread out. This sort of ‘static top, dynamic bottom’ effect is getting ready to take hold league-wide. It is fantastic news for fans of competition, but on the bitter side of bittersweet for teams that are hoping to retain elite position in their conference, let alone division. The Trail Blazers could theoretically be just as good next season as they were this season, but find themselves battling for a playoff seed if their record takes even the slightest hit.

This is why it is important for Portland, and other teams that are outsiders in this year’s draft, to improve in any way possible during the offseason. Many are expecting a quiet summer in Portland; I am expecting just the opposite… on a small scale. The Trail Blazers may not have the most wiggle room, but the front office understands the need to escape stagnation now more than ever. I trust General Manager Neil Olshey to do his best, but I am reserving judgment on whether or not his best will be good enough.

The NBA landscape is changing. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, Dario Saric, James Young—start learning these players now, as many of them will be household names in the coming years. Unfortunately, none of them will be Trail Blazers in 2014-2015 unless something unexpected happens. If Portland cannot acquire them, then Portland must protect themselves from them. The Trail Blazers’ newfound prowess is on shakier ground than one might think.

 

 

Tags: 2014 Nba Draft Andrew Wiggins Free Agency Jabari Parker Joel Embiid Kevin Love Portland Trail Blazers

  • Draftdog

    David, I was surprised to see you had written this article. No offense, but you have done better and usually do. The first four picks are going to the Eastern conference, so all the immediate impact players will be gone by the time the Western conference even starts their motors. Let’s face it for first year, big impact players you have Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker and they both will be gone by the 3rd pick. There are many other good players, which in the future will impact the NBA, but not next year and not on a team that threatens Portland’s playoff seeding.

    Two things can happen that should have far greater impact on the Blazers
    than the rookie class, no matter how hyped it might be. One, Stotts
    relents and installs a defensive system that is both effective and fits
    the players on the roster. 16th defensively is not a recipe for playoff success. The second thing to consider is the internal improvement alone will far exceed even a strong rookie class sprinkled throughout the NBA. I believe Barton will emerge as a impact player off the bench, with T-Rob not far behind. I even have hopes for Meyers. With the physical tools this kid has at his disposal, it would be a shame if he never recovers from the disappointment of last year. Let’s not forget our highly imaginative GM. Mr. Olshey may not be able to bring us a team cornerstone this year, but he can certainly add a couple of quality players that could crack the rotation.

    The biggest threat to Portland’s win loss record is that they caught everyone by surprise last year and come out of the gate smoking. Lillard is one cool customer. He goes from 0 to 110 between warm ups and tip off, and the Blazers were an offensive terror. However, take the last half of the season, after the league got a good look at this offensive juggernaut and you will have a better idea of what the Blazer record will look like this coming year without improvement. Mr. Stotts, Mr. Olshey you are up.