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2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Portland Trail Blazers
The 2023 NBA Draft is just around the corner. Now it's time to take a look at the options for the Portland Trail Blazers
Rucker: Now things are starting to get interesting…The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves as one of the teams that will be generating a beam of spotlight on the night of the 2023 NBA draft. As of now, Portland continues to dance on both sides of the fence when it comes to their future plans. Superstar point guard Damian Lillard is about to undergo another offseason of finding himself in the spotlight when it comes to questions regarding his future with the organization.
On one hand, Dame has been an absolute dream for the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s expressed loyalty throughout the years and has been one of the top point guards in the game throughout his entire career. Portland invested their trust in Lillard last offseason, giving him a two-year extension through the 2026-27 season.
But in a pleasant surprise, the Trail Blazers jumped up two spots on the night of the draft lottery, presenting a fascinating dilemma that soon will have to be answered. “Rip City” has some intriguing pieces on their roster. Anfernee Simons took a sizable leap forward last season after averaging 21.1 points per game while shooting 37.7% from three-point range. Last year’s seventh overall selection Shaedon Sharpe flashed throughout his rookie year and will be one of the top breakout candidates around the NBA for his upcoming sophomore season.
While the Blazers have a number of familiar faces, such as Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic, the team still looks to potentially be more than one big addition away from making some noise in the Western Conference. That means that the Blazers could have to sit and ponder the idea of looking to keep their pick and take the best player available, before regrouping to see what side of the fence their superstar might be standing on.
It’s a difficult scenario for the Trail Blazers. But it’s a problem that is fantastic to have. As of now, the team is likely to have two options. They can take whoever is on the board between Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson, or they can look to trade the pick in order to give their superstar one last push toward contention for the NBA playoffs.
My guess? I think that Portland will stay put and keep their selection. It’s a challenging one, especially given the type of superstar Lillard has been to the organization. But Portland also has the opportunity to draft a talent that will help transform the future of this franchise moving forward.
My question to you Metcalf…what are you doing? Do you entertain the idea of trading this pick for a potential All-Star? If Charlotte goes Brandon Miller at two, are you dreaming of convincing New Orleans to trade Brandon Ingram in some way? Or do you take whoever falls into your laps from Scoot and Miller and continue to build for the future?
Metcalf: While it may seem like the Trail Blazers are in a really tough position, I don’t think their situation could be playing out any better than this. Moving a franchise legend like Damian Lillard is impossible. If you aren’t on the same page and move him against his wishes, then you create a PR nightmare. If you hang on to him too long, you risk either years of underwhelming finishes or a shortsighted trade that could prove disastrous for the long-term success of the organization.
When it comes to the #3 pick, though, of course I’m entertaining the idea of trading this pick. What I’m not doing, though, is trading it just to trade it. Whatever offer comes in has to be overwhelming. I’ve selfishly pitched the idea of a Karl-Anthony Towns for #3 and Simons trade, which Blazers fans were not thrilled about. Towns is a hell of a player, but I don’t think I’d be willing to do that if I’m the Blazers. In the end, does that pairing get you anything more than an electric offense and the seventh seed?
Recent reports suggest that the Pelicans are incredibly interested in getting up to #2 or #3 if Henderson is there, and that is the trade that starts to really get interesting. Out of pure speculation, I’d imagine the Pelicans are thinking of Ingram as the centerpiece of that trade along with whatever picks are deemed necessary. Again, Ingram is an awesome player, but like Towns, is he really moving the needle enough to pass on what we view as a franchise-altering point guard? I don’t think he is.
And that brings us to the most fun question, which has only gotten juicier in recent weeks. Would the Pelicans be willing to trade Zion Williamson? A while back, Zion infamously conducted his rehab away from the team in Portland during the season. Probably nothing…or is it? If this gets put on Portland’s table, they’ll have to strongly consider it. Zion has had his health issues, but when he’s played he’s been dominant. A pairing of him and Dame feels excellent on paper, and it gives the Blazers another star to carry them into their next era whenever Lillard starts to tail off.
Other than Zion, though, all of the other names (not because of their individual talent) that have been bandied about leave me wanting. Bradley Beal doesn’t do much for me and neither does Paul George. A stunning coup for Joel Embiid feels improbable, the Lakers and Suns are looking to build title contenders, and any other superstar that gets mentioned feels like someone who is bored behind a keyboard simply thinking why not?
All of this is to say, I’m probably just keeping the pick if I’m the Blazers. With Henderson, the Blazers get another point guard with perennial All-NBA potential. The fit with Lillard will be tough on defense, but the versatility of both players should be fine on offense. If it all goes south and Lillard wants out, then the Blazers get a bevy of assets to build around Henderson and Sharpe. With Miller, he’s a seamless fit next to Sharpe’s athleticism and Lillard’s shooting. He defends, rebounds, passes, and shoots the crap out of the ball.
Rucker, we obviously love the draft and the idea of team building, but would the Blazers be foolish to keep this pick after Lillard is coming off a career season? Do they “owe” it to him to make a massive short-term move that could jeopardize long-term success? Could this just be the first step in them gently nudging him out the door and hitting the turbo button on the rebuild?
Rucker: See, here’s the thing Metcalf, and I do believe some people might view this as a bit of a shocker. I think Portland is suddenly in a “win-win” situation. We’ve often considered the 2023 NBA Draft to potentially have three potential superstars at the top. While there’s plenty of upside with Overtime Elite’s Amen Thompson and Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, I still believe there’s a bit of a drop-off after Henderson and Miller.
I’ll come out and say it. Portland should keep this pick. There’s not one move that will clearly take the team over the top. Adding one of Henderson or Miller could be another step forward in the right direction for years to come. Either Henderson receives the torch from Lillard to become the franchise point guard of the future or the Blazers get a sensational one-two punch on the wing between Miller and Sharpe to grow with.
Do the Blazers “owe” it to Damian Lillard to try to contend? Sure. Is it realistic? Probably not. Portland would have to receive a heck of a haul for the third overall pick, preferably bringing back a high-caliber piece, but they would then have to pivot and try to make another big splash in order to get into the conversation. While I think Anfernee Simons is a fascinating young talent, I don’t know if you can pivot after a theoretical trade for #3 and entice teams to take on Simons for another “big splash.”
Personally, the dream for Portland should be that Charlotte does go ahead and take Brandon Miller at number two. You would land a potential franchise-altering piece with Scoot Henderson that would quickly form one of the most dangerous athletic pairings in the league. Can you imagine Scoot turning on the afterburners in transition and throwing a lob to Shaedon Sharpe? Henderson’s ability in the pick and roll with Sharpe’s offensive upside is the stuff you dream about when it comes to team building.
Even if Charlotte does pivot and go Henderson at two, which seems to be generating some late momentum, Portland arguably lands a perfect fit in Brandon Miller. You’d have the potential to add a 6’9” rebounding machine with limitless NBA range and superstar upside. A trio of Lillard, Sharpe, and Miller sounds terrific. Even if adding a rookie isn’t the dream world for someone like Dame, you can still pivot to try to make some moves and build out the depth of this roster. What if we look up and Sharpe has the breakout second season while Miller is all of a sudden a rookie of the year candidate? I don’t think both of those worlds are unrealistic.
We’re not even mentioning the fact that Portland also has the 23rd overall pick as a kicker as well. That’s where I believe this could get interesting Metcalf. While there are a number of intriguing pieces that the Blazers could look to add as a “sweetener” in that range, there’s been reports that playoff contenders are eager to trade up into the 20-30 range in order to attack the depth of this class. Portland could look to add the best player available at #3 before potentially enticing a team to attach a veteran to a trade offer in order to get into the first round.
Is that the route you might think Portland could go in order to build some immediate depth and keep Lillard in-house? Does Portland look to add a “high-floor” piece to try to find an early contributor? Maybe someone like Iowa’s Kris Murray? Or do we think Portland will double down on the future and target a developmental piece in the mold of Rayan Rupert, James Nnaji, etc.?
Metcalf: The only way that trading #23 for a veteran interests me is if the Blazers do decide to trade #3 as well. If they move #3 for a win-now star and really try to maximize whatever is left of Lillard’s superstar window, then adding another rotation/starting veteran by using the 23rd pick makes a lot of sense.
The only other way that I look to move that pick is if a contender who is late in their championship window offers a future first rounder, say maybe in the 2026 NBA Draft, that could be used during a prolonged rebuild with other assets in a potential Lillard trade. Other than that, though, I wouldn’t be super eager to move it.
I think there’ll be a lot of talent at that spot that the Blazers could hit on. The idea of taking a higher floor guy makes sense in some aspects, but I’d rather take another home run swing. I don’t see a guy like Murray or Julian Strawther or Colby Jones hitting their stride at the right time for this team. I like all of those players a lot, but if you’re the Blazers and you’re really looking to rebuild, then take some swings.
Instead, I’d rather target guys like James Nnaji, Julian Phillips, and Max Lewis. All of those guys need some time to grow, but they have absurd upside along with a relatively realizable floor. By the time they theoretically start to turn the corner and produce at the necessary level, the Blazers should be entering the period where they really look to contend. With an offense led by Sharpe and Henderson/Miller, all three of these players would have a great shot at being the clear #3. Nnaji would be the rim-running defensive anchor. Phillips would be the lockdown perimeter defender with some offensive upside. Lewis would be the sharpshooting offensive outlet. Some of the older guys like Murray, Strawther, and Jones will be good players and likely better right away, but if the Blazers are tearing it down to the studs and starting over, I don’t see those guys mattering as much as they would on a more ready-made team.
Moving one of the best players in franchise history is never something that teams or fans want to happen. However, it feels like it’s time. The Blazers are set up really well in this draft to get a potential superstar at #3 and a really good starter down the road at #23. If they move Lillard and add more assets, their rebuild could be a lot quicker than we may expect.