The Portland Trail Blazers have looked a lot more like a team gunning for the highest draft pick than one shooting for the NBA title thus far in the 2021-2022 season. With Damian Lillard scheduled for surgery — an abdominal operation that is expected to keep him sidelined for at least 6-8 weeks — this trend isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Fans have already started to shift their hopes for this season, with most crossing their fingers for a top-3 pick now instead of a homecourt advantage playoff seeding.
As tantalizing as the idea of pairing Damian Lillard with a blue-chip prospect is, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. More likely than not, the selection will be traded away this offseason in return for more established, immediate help for Dame.
With Lillard’s timeline and Portland’s dearth of options to drastically improve the roster, their upcoming lottery pick presents Interim General Manager Joe Cronin his best chip to land a major trade.
The Portland Trail Blazers will most likely trade away their 2022 NBA Draft pick
First-round picks in the NBA are like cigarettes in prison — a highly valued commodity that acts as currency. Since the Blazers’ 2022 first-round pick has been traded away to the Chicago Bulls with lottery protections, Portland is unable to trade away any of their future picks until one of their selections conveys to the Bulls.
This protection has hamstrung the Trail Blazers’ ability to navigate the trade market. Former Atlanta Hawks young wing Cam Reddish was just traded to the New York Knicks in return for a future first. Portland certainly could have used a 3-and-D wing of his stature, with room to improve, but were unable to get involved in the bidding war due to the protections on their 2022 pick.
Theoretically, Cronin could call the Chicago Bulls and renegotiate the protections on the pick, freeing up the Trail Blazers to move their future selections. With Portland quickly descending in the standings and climbing in the lottery odds, though, it makes more sense for the Blazers to stay put and see where the pick lands.
Outside of the top-3 draft prospects, a consensus group consisting of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, and Auburn’s Jabari Smith, the Blazers — and Damian Lillard more specifically — will have no use for any of the other prospects. None of the projected 2023 rookies will likely be of enough immediate help to move the needle for Portland and will carry more value for the team as a trade asset.
Even if the Blazers land in the top-3 of the 2022 NBA Draft, there’s certainly logic in moving the selection still.
All three of Holmgren, Banchero, and Smith have superstar potential, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll be on the level of a second option on a championship contender during Lillard’s prime.
Instead, the Blazers could move that top-3 draft pick for a star on a rebuilding team. Someone like Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, or even Zion Williamson could be available for a top-3 selection come draft time.
While it’s not guaranteed that the Blazers will trade their 2022 first-round pick, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it if the team is truly all in on Damian Lillard.