2014 NBA Draft: Trail Blazers’ Most Likely Trade Targets


The 2014 NBA Draft will take place at 4:00 p.m. PDT today and for seemingly the hundredth time, I am opening this article with a reminder that the Portland Trail Blazers possess zero picks. If you have been following the Trail Blazers in recent weeks, there is a good chance you already knew that, but in case you are just now preparing for the draft, it is best to rip that bandaid off now. Unless they make a draft day trade, the Trail Blazers are going to be spectators this afternoon.

But they don’t have to be. There is always a trade to be made, and while I will let Portland General Manager Neil Olshey decide whether or not it is a worthy endeavor, let’s take a moment to examine the logistics of probability.

First off, the Trail Blazers need to find a trade partner that is willing to take on salary. The reason for this is pretty simple: they have no picks to barter (excluding future first-rounders which they should not trade) so they will have to trade a current player. No team that is trying to clear space will agree to take on another contract without shipping out a contract of their own. In theory, the Trail Blazers could trade a player for a player/pick bundle, but that is more of a lateral move than anything else—potentially even harmful considering their scarcity of available roster slots for free agent signings.

Portland was in the opposite position last season, which is why their miracle moves worked out. The Houston Rockets were clearing space to pursue Dwight Howard, so the Trail Blazers gave them future picks for Thomas Robinson. This allowed the Rockets to send off a $3.5M contract while taking on no additional costs. Now, if the Trail Blazers want picks, they need a team that can absorb the likes of Victor Claver or Will Barton and, more importantly, wants to. It is a tough position to be in with no obvious leverage.

Jan 9, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) defends Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the fourth quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This eliminates several teams from the potential trade pool. Any team that is pursuing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony is out of the question because they won’t absorb a contract in exchange for a pick without sending a more expensive contract back as part of a bundle. Again, such a bundle is unlikely to help Portland, so they would not want that anyway. These teams include the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New York Knicks.

Teams that are not necessarily in pursuit of a superstar in free agency, but are above cap, are also unlikely to strike a deal with the Trail Blazers. These teams include the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Love trade pending), and Memphis Grizzlies (Zach Randolph extension pending).

Right there we have eliminated half the league, though, to be fair, the Warriors and Nets have no draft picks to begin with (Knicks acquired their two from the Dallas Mavericks yesterday). So here are the teams that remain listed with their assets in the 2014 NBA Draft:

  • Atlanta Hawks: 15, 43
  • Boston Celtics: 6, 17
  • Charlotte Hornets: 9, 24, 45
  • Dallas Mavericks: N/A
  • Detroit Pistons: 38
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 7
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 2, 31, 36, 48
  • New Orleans: N/A
  • Orlando Magic: 4, 12
  • Philadelphia 76ers: 3, 10, 32, 39, 47, 52, 54
  • Phoenix Suns: 14, 18, 27, 50
  • San Antonio Spurs: 30, 58, 60
  • Toronto Raptors: 20, 37, 59
  • Utah Jazz: 5, 23, 35
  • Washington Wizards: 46

Let’s narrow the scope a little further. The Trail Blazers are unlikely to trade any member of their starting five, so let’s exclude high payout options (picks 1-10). They also won’t trade their young guys for the bottom of the barrel, so let’s exclude the second round (picks 31-60). These cutoffs are fairly arbitrary, but they will help us hone in on the type of deal Portland could/would feasibly land. I will come back to the second round in a moment. Here are the teams we are left with given those mid-late first round parameters (11-30):

  • Atlanta Hawks: 15
  • Boston Celtics: 17
  • Charlotte Hornets: 24
  • Orlando Magic: 12
  • Phoenix Suns: 14, 18, 27
  • San Antonio Spurs: 30
  • Toronto Raptors: 20
  • Utah Jazz: 23

Sep 30, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe (23) poses for a photo during media day at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Now here is where we will start getting nitpicky. The Spurs are out because nobody revels in the last pick of the first round. It is the worst selection that cannot be waived. A team is better off targeting the 31st pick because second-rounders are not granted guaranteed contracts. This is why Portland traded with Cleveland to get Allen Crabbe last year. By that token, let’s throw the Bucks back into the mix. 76ers too, because drafting 32nd isn’t so bad.

Now let’s quickly reorder the remaining team by how many picks they have in the draft. Teams with several first-rounders will likely be more willing to part with one because they may not want their roster full of rookies that they cannot waive. Such is the case for the Suns, for instance. Even if a team has a cluster of second-rounders too, they might be willing to part with someone in the Trail Blazers preferred range for the right price. Teams with fewer picks may be less willing to relinquish their piece of the pie.

  • Philadelphia 76ers: (x7) picks
  • Phoenix Suns: (x4) picks
  • Milwaukee Bucks: (x4) picks
  • Charlotte Hornets: (x3) picks
  • Toronto Raptors: (x3) picks
  • Utah Jazz: (x3) picks
  • Atlanta Hawks: (x2) picks
  • Boston Celtics: (x2) picks
  • Orlando Magic: (x2) picks

Now for the final piece of the puzzle, let’s address need—specifically, youth, because that is about the only upside Portland can offer with their bench players. The 76ers have no use for more young talent; they want a veteran. They are out. The same can be said for the Celtics, Jazz, and Magic, so let’s eliminate them too. Phoenix falls in a similar camp, but they desire a future first-rounder instead of a vet. We’ll keep them around because that 18 spot might be worth it.

So here is what the Trail Blazers are looking at out of the teams remaining, organized by number of draft picks and most likely to accept an offer:

  • Phoenix Suns: 14, 18, 27
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 31
  • Charlotte Hornets: 24
  • Toronto Raptors: 20
  • Atlanta Hawks: 15

These are the teams and picks that the Trail Blazers are most likely to target this afternoon. That is not to say that anything else is off the table, but that these are their best chances if Portland elects to make a trade. Outside of the starting five, the Trail Blazers can offer packages including C.J. McCollum, Barton, Crabbe, Dorell Wright, Claver, Robinson, Joel Freeland, and Meyers Leonard, though they will probably cling tightly to McCollum and Robinson.

The problem remains that while these teams are not explicitly opposed to youth, none of them truly need it. This is a big part of why the Trail Blazers are anticipated to keep to themselves today. I still think there is a decent chance that Olshey finagles a trade, but it does not look like anyone is a particularly great fit. Regardless, the draft should be exciting for Trail Blazers fans—if only from a “will they, won’t they” perspective.

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