While Brandon Roy sat and watched his former franchise leap from the fifth-best odds in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery to grab the No. 3 pick, new Houston Head Coach Ime Udoka watched the Rockets – one of three teams with the best chance to land the first pick – fall to No. 4. They were two franchise ships passing through the nigh then, but as it turns out, Houston’s fall and subsequent offseason plans may have a significant impact on the Portland Trail Blazers draft approach.
The conversation around Rip City has become what that pick represents: is it a chance to help Damian Lillard push for a championship, or does it represent the first step in an official rebuild?
The conversation in Houston, however, is far less black and white. A Rockets franchise that’s been in rebuild mode for what it apparently considers far too long wants to use its assets – draft and cap space both – to start competing in the Western Conference next season.
To that end, Houston is reportedly interested in trading up in this year’s draft, presumably for what would be one of the 2023 class’s top three prospects. That idea should sound good to Blazers’ General Manager Joe Cronin.
Rockets’ desire to move up would add to Blazers draft options
Houston has gobs of cap space this offseason along with a young, talented core that hasn’t learned how to win in the NBA. Adding another young player and/or James Harden to that recipe don’t seem like wise decisions, but if that’s the direction the Rockets want to go in, it should appeal to the Trail Blazers.
The NBA’s “worst-kept secret,” apparently, is Portland’s desire to move the No. 3 pick for veteran help in a win-now move. It’s a valuable selection in this year’s draft, to be sure; but there’s value to be had after the top three, as well.
If Cronin wants to simply swap picks with Houston, owners of selections 4 and 20, the Blazers could slide back just one spot and pick up another pick – whether that’s No. 20 this year or a future first.
If Portland still wants to trade that pick, it becomes slightly less valuable, as teams won’t have the chance to select G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson or Alabama forward Brandon Miller, widely considered to constitute the second-tier of prospects in this class behind Victor Wembanyama.
But every NBA team has its own board, and there are other prospects heading toward the draft with a ton of hype – Overtime Elite twins Amen and Ausar Thompson and Villanova wing Cam Whitmore, for instance.
The Blazers could still package the No. 4 pick rather than No. 3, along with player assets or the additional draft capital they’d receive from Houston, to potentially acquire a second star. Or, if Portland decides to stand pat and simply draft a player, it doesn’t need to be Henderson, Miller, or bust.
Rather than a package of No. 3 and Anfernee Simons, for example, Cronin could offer No. 4 and Simons, plus either an additional first-round pick this year or a future first from the Rockets while still retaining his team’s other first-round selection at No. 23.
Swapping picks with Houston and dropping just one spot shouldn’t change much about the Blazers’ offseason approach. They’d still own a high lottery pick and could execute the same strategy, only with a pick just one spot lower – but with an added asset in their arsenal.