Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery has tremendous implications for some of the teams involved. This draft class is shaping up to be one of the better classes in recent memory and how some of these franchises will fare in the near future will depend largely on where they fall after the ping pong balls stop.
For the first time since 2011, the Portland Trail Blazers have no interest in the NBA Draft Lottery. After finishing 54-28, the Blazers went to the playoffs and ousted the Houston Rockets in a thrilling six-game series that ended with the shot of the playoffs so far. So after adding C.J. McCollum last year and Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard in 2012, the Blazers will not have a lottery pick — or any pick for that matter.
The Blazers’ first-round pick is with the Charlotte Hornets and their second-round pick will be made by the Denver Nuggets. Before you start freaking out about no new infusion of young talent, remember that the Blazers will have six returning players that are 23 years old or younger. The young talent is here, now they just have to work on developing that talent.
Mo Williams (declined his player option) and Earl Watson will likely not be back, but they are the only free agents Portland has. Thirteen players will be returning from last year’s roster, which begs the question — how will they improve? It’s going to have to be from within, because they really don’t have much cap space going into next year either. They will have two roster spots available but really only have the mid-level exception ($5.305 million) and the bi-annual exception ($2.077 million) to offer.
For a general manager who has been wheelin’ and dealin’ the past two offseason, it might be a difficult proposition to hold tight and develop from within but that is how long-term success is created in this league. The Blazers have accrued the young talent necessary to sustain a long run of success but if those assets aren’t giving a return on their investment then they must be moved.
The three players that will need to develop the most are C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. Robinson is the only one of those three who performed well in spurts this past season and every time he played he provided an unmistakable energy that cannot be quantified in a box score. McCollum had big expectations coming into the year but a foot injury slowed any early progression he could have shown and he was never really able to crack the rotation. With the departure of Mo Williams, McCollum will likely take on the major bench scoring role and he should thrive in it given his past.
The wild card is really Meyers Leonard. Leonard has all of the size, length and athleticism franchises crave in a 7-footer but his seemingly endless mistakes once on the court planted him firmly on the end of the bench. If Leonard can come into camp next season ready to contribute the Blazers will be strong contenders to repeat their 2013-14 success. They still aren’t a championship-caliber team, but they are certainly headed in a desirable direction.
So, tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery and June’s NBA Draft won’t hold much anticipation or excitement for the Rip City faithful, but all the indicators are pointing in a positive direction and that in itself is certainly enough to look forward to.