After treating Rip City to a captivating playoff run that stretched all the way to the Western Conference finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA draft outlook forecasts to be a snoozefest.
The Blazers own just one pick in Thursday’s draft — the No. 25 overall selection of the first round — and the team seems focused on bolstering its roster for the here and now rather than the future. What’s more, beyond the top three projected picks — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett — the draft is considered weak, with one front office executive calling it the worst in years.
Add in the fact that the Blazers are projected to go into the luxury tax next season, diminishing their ability to add veteran talent in free agency by decreasing their financial tools, and it seems the last thing the team wants to do is add a rookie with a low ceiling. If anything, it seems to make the most sense for the Blazers to trade the No. 25 pick — or a package that includes the pick — for veteran help or cap relief.
President of basketball operations Neil Olshey has excelled in the draft during his time in Portland, adding franchise cornerstones Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, burgeoning big man Zach Collins and 20-year-old prospect Anfernee Simons, among others. But the combination of a lackluster draft, the Blazers’ win-now mindset and salary constraints suggests the team will try to dump its pick. Unless Olshey can package it with other players to land a difference-maker, it could be a quiet draft night.
Some things to know heading into Thursday’s draft:
When and where
The NBA draft will start at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and air nationally on ESPN. Twenty-two prospects and their families have been invited to the event.
Because their season lasted so long and they own just one pick, the Blazers had a hard time luring top-end talent to Portland for predraft workouts. The team hosted four workouts featuring 24 draft hopefuls — far fewer than normal — during the buildup to the draft. The bulk of these were fringe prospects hoping for a second-round selection or summer-league audition. But Olshey and his staff visited multiple group workouts hosted by player agents, stopping through Phoenix, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to evaluate players. They also took part in the NBA draft combine in Chicago, where the team’s psychologist interviewed draft prospects.
The Blazers enter the offseason with 10 players under contract for the 2019-20 season and five players heading toward free agency. The team will extend a qualifying offer to Jake Layman, making him a restricted free agent, which gives the Blazers the right to match any contract offer he receives in free agency. But four players — Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood, Seth Curry and Enes Kanter — will be unrestricted free agents.
Wouldn’t be 1st quiet draft night
If the Blazers trade out of the draft altogether, it would not be the first time they ended a draft without selecting a player. The Blazers did not draft players in 1998, 1999 or 2014.
Olshey’s draft history in Portland
2012: Olshey drafted Lillard with the No. 6 overall pick, Meyers Leonard at No. 11 overall and Will Barton with the 40th selection. Later, Olshey drafted Tyshawn Taylor at No. 41 overall but traded his rights to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations.
2013: Olshey drafted McCollum with the No. 10 pick, then pulled off a series of moves on a busy night. Olshey traded two future second-round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the draft rights to Allen Crabbe, the No. 31 overall pick, then drafted three players who never played for Portland: Jeff Withey (No. 39), Grant Jarrett (No. 40) and Marko Todorovic (45). The Blazers traded Jarrett’s draft rights to Oklahoma City for cash considerations, then moved Withey and Todorovic later in the summer in separate deals to New Orleans and Houston that landed center Robin Lopez and forward Thomas Robinson.
2014: The Blazers entered the draft without a selection because of trades made before Olshey’s arrival and stood pat on draft night.
2015: Olshey drafted Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the No. 23 overall pick, then traded his rights to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton, whom the Nets selected with the No. 41 overall pick.
2016: For the second time in three years, the Blazers entered the draft without a pick. But unlike 2014, Olshey made a move, trading $1.2 million and a future second-round pick to the Orlando Magic for the draft rights to Layman, who had been selected with the 47th pick.
2017: The Blazers traded the No. 15 and No. 20 overall selections of the first round to the Sacramento Kings for the draft rights to Collins, the No. 10 pick. The Blazers ended up sending the draft rights of Justin Jackson (15) and Harry Giles (20) to the Kings in the deal. Later, the Blazers drafted Caleb Swanigan with the No. 26 pick of the draft.
2018: The Blazers selected Simons with the No. 24 overall selection of the first round, then acquired the draft rights to Gary Trent Jr. in a deal with the Kings. The Blazers sent two future second-round picks to the Kings, who drafted Trent with the 37th pick.