The 2014 NBA Draft is fast approaching and the internet is buzzing with rumors. The Cavaliers want to trade down from number one for a slipping Joel Embiid, the 76ers want to trade up from number three for a guaranteed Andrew Wiggins, and the Celtics are trying to package number six for Kevin Love. Big things are happening behind almost every curtain—potentially even Portland’s. Right now, the Trail Blazers have no draft picks, but that could very well change within the week.
The Trail Blazers have three potential roster spots available for the coming season: the one Mo Williams will leave if he does not re-sign, the one Earl Watson will leave, and the one Will Barton will leave if Portland does not pick up his team option. They also have next to nothing in the way of cap space. Barring an inexpensive veteran or two signed on exceptions, the Trail Blazers’ cannot add much without giving up more in return. Their best chance to simultaneously clear cap space and add talent is to trade into the draft, but that is easier said than done.
There are three main teams that are actively shopping their picks for non-specific players right now. Those teams are the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, and Sacramento Kings. Most others are either clinging tightly to their piece of the pie or targeting one player in particular. Here are the assets and needs of Portland’s “Big 3” potential trade partners:
Philadelphia’s draft picks: 3, 10, 32, 39, 47, 52, 54
The 76ers want to move up in the draft, but if they are unable to do so, they are looking to add a veteran. Outside of Portland’s starting five, the only tradable Trail Blazer with more than two seasons of NBA experience is Dorell Wright. I doubt very much that the 76ers would be willing to bundle draft picks for a player that they made no effort to re-sign in free agency less than one year ago.
Phoenix’s draft picks: 14, 18, 27, 50
The Suns are already bursting with young talent, so much so that they are looking to unload a high-ish pick in this year’s draft for a future first-rounder. The Trail Blazers could accommodate, but it would not be advantageous for them without making other moves. Receiving a pick without sending a current player would mean filling a valuable roster spot with a middling non-veteran and losing out on young talent in the future. Trading with Phoenix would likely involve a third party at this point.
Sacramento’s draft picks: 8
The Kings want a quality veteran, likely at a forward position. If Rudy Gay opts out of his contract, they are looking at starting Travis Outlaw and Reggie Evans (yikes). I would entertain an offer for Nicolas Batum, but the Kings would have to sweeten the pot with an available player that I am not convinced exists on their current roster. This brings us back to the 3-team drawing board, but any pulled trigger would involve prioritizing cap relief over pre-existing chemistry. Sometimes that is a necessary risk to progress.
The overarching problem is that the Trail Blazers possess no assets that are in high demand. They cannot leverage a deal without trading a player that they are likely better off keeping. By that token, trading into the draft presents a massive challenge to General Manager Neil Olshey if he finds himself up to it. The obvious partnering candidates are all but disinterested in the Trail Blazers’ young talent because they already have young talent of their own in spades.
So there are three paths that Portland can take in the coming week:
- Hunt for a more covert trade partner that will accept less, but give less in return.
- Trade a starter to clear payroll and roll the dice on a young star(?) in the draft.
- Avoid the draft and bank on growth over stagnation with the players they have.
Since the Trail Blazers are in ‘win now’ mode, options one and three seem the most likely. However; chatter (not to be credited or discredited) would indicate that Olshey has been a busy bee in recent weeks. Perhaps there is a deal in the works that has not been addressed here. I would not put it past the Trail Blazers’ front office to create something out of nothing, so do not be surprised if this “quiet offseason” is more interesting than anticipated. Personally, I think the Trail Blazers will manage a low-key, but important, draft day trade.