Who better to represent the Trail Blazers at the 2021-22 NBA Draft Lottery than star player, Damian Lillard. He sat there behind the podium and the large pinwheel logo and listened as deputy commissioner Mark Tatum named off the top ten teams in the draft in reverse. After ten, nine, and eight, the Blazers 9.5% chance at the first pick and 37% chance at a top four pick were still alive. Then came the seventh pick, the envelope please. Tatum announced it was the Trail Blazers and Lillard didn’t even need to speak. His facial reaction and body language said everything. There was no hiding his displeasure. He leaned his head back and forward, closed his eyes and gave an exasperated, hysterical chuckle to himself, covered his face, and ran his fingers through his beard. Other representatives around him noticed his disappointment and couldn’t help but to share an audible laugh.
It was the epitome of Portland’s luck over the years. Injuries, the inability to bring in big named free agents, daft mishaps, etc. Lillard who has been in a Blazers jersey for a decade, maybe finally thought something good was going to come. The Blazers traded away three of their starters and opted to develop their youngsters (coughtankcough), after it was determined Lillard would not return for the season. This was supposed to be the payoff. The Blazers front office and Lillard are now left shaking their heads. What is next? How does this change a plan that has been seemingly crumbling over the past month.
To review, lets go backwards for a moment. Joe Cronin had been named Interim GM back in December. He traded away CJ Mccollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington along with a slew of other role players. Cronin will tell you it gives Portland cap space flexibility in free agency. It doesn’t, not really. Its like David Copperfield making the statue of liberty disappear. It’s illusion. The could have salary cap space up to almost $52 million, but they won’t. They have cap holds, including for their trade exceptions, not to mention they will be resigning Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic. They could renounce them and their exceptions so they could sign someone like James Harden, Bradley Beal, or Zach LaVine. But, those guys aren’t leaving their teams most likely, and especially not to come to Portland.
The NBA draft is June 23rd.The Blazers have the 7th pick. They would have had the Pelicans pick had they not made the post season. It would have been nice to have seen the Blazers get back the Lakers pick in the New Orleans deal. Then at least they would be sitting with the 7th and 8th picks. As it is, the Blazers got fleeced on the Pelicans trade for McCollum and sit with just 1 pick in the first round after a year in tank mode. They do have two second round picks, #36 (Their own) and #57 (from Memphis via Utah). With a top three pick, the Blazers could have netted Banchero, Smith, or Holmgren, or had more flexibility trading down. As it is, they could still trade down giving the 7th to San Antonio for the 9th and 25th. Then they would have a pick to use and one to trade for a veteran like Jerami Grant. They could trade both for Veterans. They could trade the 7th and a player to Atlanta for John Collins and the 16th. So, there are still options in the draft. Probably, their best path to upgrading this offseason.
The Blazers will be unable to trade future 1sts for the immediate future as they are tied up, possibly till 2028 with Chicago as part of the trade that briefly brought Larry Nance Jr to the Blazers. The Blazers will continue to owe the Bulls the 1st round pick till the Blazers make the post season and it conveys or until 2028 if the Blazers somehow miss the next six playoffs when it will switch to a 2nd round pick. The Blazers could make another deal with Chicago that changes that, but until then the Blazer can’t trade future 1sts.
The Blazers have the contract of Eric Bledsoe which is only partially guaranteed. He would only get $3.9 million of a $19.3 million contract if he is waived within four days of the moratorium. Meaning the Blazers could trade for a player worth up to $19.3 million and then the other team could waive Bledsoe for a salary dump. The Blazers could and will look to use the contract to net a veteran player. They also have the $19 million contract of Joe Ingles they could use in a side and trade because they own his bird rights.
Portland has a $20.8 million trade exception from the Pelicans that expires February 8th, a $6.5 million exception that expires February 4th, and a $3.2 million exception from Utah that expires February 9th. The Blazers would have to wait till after team salary is over the cap to use the trade exceptions.
The Blazers also have a non – taxpayer mid level exception of $10.3 million and a $4 million bi annual exception.
The Blazers have some flexibility, just not as much as Joe Cronin would like to think. The Blazers will likely trade the 7th pick and move down for multiple firsts. They will likely trade a pick and Bledose for a veteran, then use the other pick to take a chance on a rookie. They will then likely keep Ingles, use a trade exception to bring in another vet, sign guys like Dunn and Eubanks to minimums, use the tple and bi annual, sign a second rounder to a 2 way, and then re-sign Nurkic and Simons. Mix that with a reinvigorated Lillard, Hart, Little, Winslow and co and hopefully, this is the recipe for a competitive Trail Blazers for the 2022-23 NBA season.