Is It Actually A Good Thing That The Blazers Moved Down In The NBA Draft Lottery?

By BEN McCARTY, OREGON SPORTS NEWS

The fates have once again conspired to suck all the excitement out of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Despite tying for the third-worst record in the NBA last season, the Trail Blazers saw everything go against them in the draft lottery. First, they lost a pair of tie-breaking coin flips for their draft picks, giving them the fourth-best odds in the lottery and the 14th overall pick (which they received from the Warriors). Then, they saw several teams leapfrog them in the lottery drawing, dropping all the way to seventh.

That left many Trail Blazers fans to simply throw their hands up at seemingly yet another sign that the franchise is cursed. While that’s an understandable reaction, too much remains to be determined to know if cosmic forces are again laughing at the Trail Blazers struggles, or if this development is a blessing in disguise.

This year’s draft is regarded as a historically weak one. While Frenchman Alex Sarr is viewed as the likely No. 1 overall pick, his selection is no sure thing, unlike his countryman Victor Wembanyama’s surefire No.1 status last year. After Sarr, anyone who tells you they know what will happen is lying, has a mock draft quota to fill, or both.

There is a pile of contenders to round out the top, with plenty of wing options – a position the Trail Blazers desperately need. While it would have been nice to be in control of the No. 1 pick, after that, it really doesn’t matter. Teams are just as likely to hit a home run on a pick or whiff completely anywhere after that. You can expect the Trail Blazers pre-draft workouts to be a busy affair. With so much unknown in the picks ahead of them, the team’s scouting department has their work cut out for them in the run-up to the draft as they will need to figure out multiple plans for who they will take when the clock starts on their pick. While having the seventh pick and the 14th pick means the pressure is off on trying to decide who to take, like when the team famously put up a billboard encouraging fans to honk once or twice for Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, they are going to have to do their homework on a bunch of players who may or may not be available when it’s their turn to pick.

If there was a draft to have the draft odds gods mess with you, it’s this year’s draft. The Trail Blazers may come out of the first round with potential franchise cornerstones. Or they may come out of it with long-term developmental projects. Or one of each. Or none of the above.

For a team with some holes to fill and not much financial room to do it, having lower picks is a great way to squeeze as much value out of the rookie contracts that they come. And if the team has just as likely odds to make a great pick or to screw it up, it’s great to have either option come with a lower price tag.

However, while winding up lower down the draft lottery has some pros in terms of a lower pressure selection, a lot of available options, and financial flexibility, it does begin to put the team into a timeline crunch. It is likely the team is now facing at least another year of tanking. Next year’s draft is likely headed by Cooper Flagg, a generational power forward prospect, so if falling to No. 7 this year means maybe grabbing the No. 1 pick next year, it may all be worth it. But another year of tanking means another year ticking off the contracts of some of the young players who are supposed to bring this rebuild out the other side.

After another year of losing, Scoot Henderson will be halfway through his rookie deal and only a year away from the team having to decide if they want to extend him. After next year, Deandre Ayton, Anfernee Simmons, Shaedon Sharpe, Robert Williams III, and Matisse Thybulle will have one year left on their contracts. After next season, coach Chauncey Billups will have reached the end of the guaranteed years of his contract, with only a team option year remaining. All that means that if the team tanks this coming season or doesn’t land a sure thing with a crapshoot draft pick, they have an extremely narrow window to make everything work. If the tanking next year doesn’t pay off and if the Trail Blazers don’t turn things around in the 2025-26 season, they could be looking at simply starting the whole rebuild over again, likely with a new coach, new front office, and a whole new crop of young players.

For a team still trying to figure out its post-Damian Lilliard identity, that’s the worst possible timeline and would lead to being banished to NBA obscurity for years to come. Will that happen, or will the Blazers laugh at this twist of fate when they find just the players to turn things around with their first-round picks?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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