Following a disastrous finish to a season that saw them revert back to the league doormat status they had been rightfully avoiding since 2004, the Portland Trail Blazers are facing a fork in the road. Choose wisely, and they may well be on their way to their second championship in franchise history. Choose poorly, and the team may find themselves in the same murky and title-less waters they have been trudging through for a great portion of 35 long years.
While the Blazers did recently (as of Monday evening) sign former Clippers GM Neil Olshey, we asked Mr. Olshey to take well-earned breather (applause) and for five members of the Oregon Sports News writing staff to play GM, with the hopes of guiding the team to greener pastures, and ideally, on to that elusive second championship.
1. The Blazers hold the #6 & #11 picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. Which two players should they target?
Casey Mabbott (CM) - The usual school of thought is to draft the best player available, regardless of need. Luckily for Portland, they have needs at every position save for PF, so this should be rather simple. They need to target a center and a guard or forward with their two first round picks, specifically Tyler Zeller and Bradley Beal. Many experts have Beal going to Sacramento or Cleveland, each of whom draft ahead of Portland. The Blazers need to hope for Beal, but be willing to accept the reality of Harrison Barnes, a very gifted scoring forward with an elite closing ability the team has lacked since the days of Clyde Drexler. Zeller, Barnes' UNC teammate, will likely be available at #11 and has the height and length to be a serviceable and competent sidekick to LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt.
Bryant Knox (BK) - Unfortunately for The Portland Trail Blazers, the only sure-things in the 2012 NBA draft are projected to be gone by the time they make their first selection. The team desperately needs to address the center and point guard positions this summer, but having made it clear that talent will be a priority over need in the draft, the Blazers must target the best available players with their two lottery picks. Andre Drummond at No. 6 and Damian Lillard at No. 11 might be the most talented prospects available; however, players such as Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III are all worth looking at despite the questions that surround them entering their NBA careers.
Allen Plummer (AP) - There are two glaring holes in Portland’s starting lineup! Someone to roam the middle, swatting the oppositions every effort to get the biscuit in the basket, snatching bricks off the back of the rim, sprinkled with the many thunderous dunks offered up by the final piece to the puzzle. And a floor general who pushes the tempo but also controls said tempo, threading the needle yielding effortless buckets among his teammates, draining the 3 or pull up J, unafraid to penetrate rising up over his defender for that poster dunk. My 6th pick would be either Kendall Marshall or Tyshawn Tyler and my 11th would be Fab Melo who’s a true seven footer with great athleticism a long body and upside galore.
Jason Hartzog (JH) - I would like to see Andre Drummond and Kendall Marshall. In a few recent mock drafts I have seen Drummond fall to us at 6. He is a guy that can team up with LaMarcus down low and be part of a building block for the future. Marshall is the only pure point guard in the draft. He can truly make everyone around him better. He has great court vision and I really think he is going to be something special.
Kyle Boggs (KB) - The Blazers need to upgrade at center and point guard. If they plan to do this through the draft, they need to target Jared Sullinger with the No. 6 pick and Kendall Marshall with the No. 11 pick. Sullinger is technically a power forward, but with Sullinger and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers can piecemeal a solid front court. Marshall is the purest point guard in the draft. He’s as close to a sure thing as there is.
2. This year's draft is widely considered to be the deepest in years. Is there a single player available that is worth packaging both picks to trade for a top-3 selection?
CM - Only if there were a point guard or center with “elite” written on their forehead, but sadly, such a player does not exist this year. Anthony Davis is a great prospect but is not big enough or tall enough to be a true center in this league, and the team already has a staple at PF in Aldridge. Kendall Marshall and Damian Lillard are the two best point guard prospects, yet neither is a complete player in the mold of Kyrie Irving, last year's top selection. Many fans would cry foul at my thinking Davis might be a tad overrated, however he has yet to face the talented big men in the NBA, and only time will tell if his one-year domination at the collegiate level, while never being matched against a player with similar size and skill-set, was in fact for real.
BK - Yes—Bradley Beal. The Blazers need depth, but not the way that the Charlotte Bobcats or Washington Wizards do. They already have a go-to, top-15 player in LaMarcus Aldridge, and they need to surround him with the greatest talent that they can moving forward. Beal is a great shooter who can play both sides of the floor and rebound exceptionally well for a shooting guard. He is a clutch shooter and has great range, which are two things the Blazers desperately lacked heading into the 2011-12 NBA season.
AP - Bottom line: Anthony Davis would be the only player I’d consider trading these two lottery picks for. As mentioned above there’s plenty of talent in this draft with many diamonds in the ruff waiting for the opportunity to be polished under the bright lights of the Rose Garden.
JH - Maybe Anthony Davis. With this draft being so deep, I feel that the team would be giving up too much for any other guy (other than Davis) in the draft by trading their two picks for one.
KB - Trading both lottery picks to New Orleans for the No. 1 pick would be ideal for Portland. That would put Anthony Davis in black, white and red. However, that is a pipe dream. New Orleans already has the No. 10 pick in addition to the top pick, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to trade the rights to Davis for draft depth. For that, Portland fans can thank New Orleans (or David Stern for giving the Hornets the top pick) as we don’t have to worry about another No. 2 pick turning into a superstar while the sure-thing center becomes broken. Nobody else in this draft is as head-and-shoulders above the rest: No need to trade with Charlotte or Washington for the second or third pick.
3. What is the greatest position of need for Portland, and can they address it in the draft?
CM - While Jonny Flynn did show some chops late last year and the team could toy with the idea of seeing him through another season; their greatest need has to be at point guard, however it does not need to be addressed in the draft as Darren Williams, Steve Nash, Aaron Brooks, and Gorin Dragic are all slated to be free agents this summer. With a slew of talented forwards and guards, the Blazers need to simply draft the best players they can, and move on. If guys like Beal, Barnes, or even Jeremy Lamb fall to them, fantastic. If not, the best players from a deep pool will be more than alright. Whoever and whatever they get, there is no going back and at the very least, last season should be a distant memory.
BK - Following last year’s disappointing season, point guard has to be the biggest area of concern this summer. Kendall Marshall is the draft’s best pure facilitator, but would be a reach to draft with either of the team’s two lottery picks. Damian Lillard is a top-10 talent entering the NBA, but with questions about his score-first mentality and level of collegiate competition, free agency might be the way to go when it comes to finding the team’s floor general next season.
AP - POINT GUARD, POINT GUARD, and POINT GUARD: We need a playmaker, someone to run the show that is fearless, has great vision and patience mixed with rational decision-making. Again there is much to choose from in this year’s draft. Kendall Marshall averaged nearly 10 assists this past season before the injury and from my research, is the most complete PG. Tyshawn Tyler out of Kansas has great court awareness and a nose for the basket. Then there’s Damian Lillard out of Weber St, who in several mock drafts have the Blazers taking him. If you haven’t seen him don’t wait any longer, in a word ELECTRIC, reminds me of Kevin Johnson superb scorer, range from three rows behind the bench and dunk contest hops, with a nasty swagger when defending. Oh yeah there’s this kid 150 miles north of us Tony Wroten Jr, 6’5”, NBA body, who carried the Dawg’s most of last season!
JH - The point guard position is our biggest need. It was our worst position last year thanks to a ton of lackluster performances from Raymond Felton. As I have said earlier, I would like to see Kendall Marshall fall to us at 11. This is a pick that will help us in the future, not necessarily right now. The only quick fix at this position is through free agency. I know one guy I would love for them to bring in. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is Deron Williams.
KB - Point guard is the top priority. If J.J. Hickson sticks around, he and Aldridge can play at the same time and rotate between center and power forward duties. Portland must take North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall in the draft. As a pass-first point guard, he will do a great job of distributing to playmakers like Hickson, Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum – if he’s still here – and Elliot Williams – if he’s finally healthy for a full season. With that lineup, there isn’t a whole lot of pressure on the point guard to score, making an ideal match for Portland and Marshall.
4. Is there a veteran player the team should trade one or both picks for?
CM - It's unlikely that Portland could get the deal made, and even if they could, who is out there, that is available, that the team could use two picks for? Dwight Howard? Andrew Bynum? Rajon Rondo? Are any of these guys worth two high picks in a deep pool? Howard perhaps, but the overall inconsistent play of Bynum and Rondo would leave many fans furious. Perhaps the #11 to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez, but there is probably not a superstar talent worth trading the #6 for that the other team would accept, nor is that an offer Portland should extend.
BK - If Rajon Rondo is miraculously still on the trade block, the Blazers need to do whatever it takes to appease a rebuilding Boston Celtics team this summer. Assuming, though, that his postseason brilliance has finally earned him a spot in Beantown long-term, the Indiana Pacers’ Darren Collison could be a reasonable target. Point guard is a clear area of concern in Portland, and following the emergence of George Hill this past season, the team could use their picks to bring in a player who’s been on their radar for quite some time now.
AP - I probably sound like a broken record since I’ve mentioned him in every Round Table to date; D-Will is the one free agent to be that would fit not only the team but city as well, having shown consistency throughout his career, Williams is a true pass first PG who can also take over in the late stages of a game, on the court has displayed superior decision making, has NBA range with a sneaky quickness that will have the crowd cheering while the opposing team hangs their collective heads as D-Will rises up for the flush when given the open lane to the basket. Not only is the record broken, but it must be insane too because no one else is preaching of his worthiness as a viable asset to the Rose City!
JH - I have heard two scenarios the past couple of days. One being Wesley Matthews and the 11th pick for Monte Ellis and the other one was both picks for Rajon Rondo. I can’t speak on what truth there is to either of these as far as possibilities, but let’s consider we have the chance to do either… I do not think Portland would do the Ellis for Matthews deal. I say this because they would like to get better defensively. Matthews is one of our better defenders and Ellis doesn’t play defense. I would do the second one in a heartbeat. Rondo is a very special player that you don’t come around very often. If offered, Neil Olshey and company will have to pull the trigger.
KB - If Portland could orchestrate a sign-and-trade with Indiana for Roy Hibbert, I’d say ship both picks to the Pacers. Hibbert was an All-Star this year and is still on the upswing. Aldridge and Hibbert would become the best big man tandem in the NBA. And the thing is, Hibbert still has a lot of room for improvement. He’s the tallest center in the game and doesn’t yet realize how easily he can take over a game on either end. With Hibbert on the roster, Portland could target a point guard like Aaron Brooks or Goran Dragic – with Hibbert serving as added incentive – in free agency.
5. Does having two high picks affect the Nicholas Batum situation?
CM - Yes and no. If they can get a versatile wing player, they may not need Batum, but may still bring him back if the market is not ridiculous. However, if they draft a point guard and a center, such as Marshall and Zeller, or Lillard and Andre Drummond, they will have a big hole to fill at small forward, and will need help at shooting guard as well, and Batum can help with either. As there is not a free agent forward at or near his level, the team should look in to keeping him regardless of how the draft-day scenarios play out, so as long as the price is right.
BK - The only way the draft should affect Nicolas Batum’s impending free agency is if the Blazers opt to draft two small forwards with their two lottery picks. Talent will be the focus, so if the team ends up with a rookie tandem of Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones III (or Terrence Jones), Batum could become expendable if his price tag proves to be too high this summer.
AP - The census is that Nic Batum doesn’t warrant 10 million a season as the starting small forward for the next 4 to 7 seasons, which makes me think we don’t need him, and if he’s reading too I’ll bet the ranch that thought has registered in the minds of Nic and all around him. So the answer is NO, two high picks don’t affect him. Furthermore if the front office is to address the overwhelming needs of this franchise with the draft, the three spot can be solved with next year’s pick!
JH - No. After watching the press conference with the Blazers new GM, Neil Olshey, I have gathered that they are still going to do what they can to get a deal done. The organization still sees Batum as a cornerstone to this team. Drafting a small forward at this position would give us something to fall back on, but even if that were to happen I don’t believe it changes the team’s thought process going forward.
KB - Nicolas Batum’s impending free agency and having two lottery picks is like having a designated driver and free shuttle service from the party. You want the DD because you know the person. You’re familiar with them and know what to expect from that person’s driving. That person knows you too – knows when you should head home from the party. The shuttle, on the other hand, is a safe insurance policy. If the DD decides to leave and go elsewhere, you can still be saved by the shuttle. In the Blazers case, they’d prefer to stick with Batum. He’s a solid performer and he’s loaded with potential. We all see that and he knows deep down inside that Portland loves him for it. But if he’s lured by the high-dollar figures elsewhere, the Blazers can pick up another small forward in this deep draft and still get home safely.