With A Trade And A Little Luck, The Portland Trail Blazers Find Hope For The Future

By BEN McCARTY, OREGON SPORTS NEWS

“What is it they’ve sent us?”  “Hope.”

-Princess Leia, Rogue One

Hope is a dangerous thing, especially for fans of the Portland Trail Blazers.

When the team has the track record that it does in drafting potentially franchise-altering big man only to see it blow up in its face in a hail of arthritic bones and shredded cartilage, just seeing the letter “C” next to a Portland draft pick can trigger PTSD in Blazers fans.

Sam Bowie? Greg Oden?

I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from here.

So, when the Blazers draft board left the team staring at two highly touted centers with the No. 7 pick in Thursday night’s draft, Portland fans could be forgiven for letting a collective shiver run down their spines.

The Blazers had been linked with Purdue’s Zach Edey throughout the run-up to the draft. But that was because few thought UConn center Donovan Clingan would still be available when Portland picked at No. 7. And yet when it came time for the Blazers to pick, both were still on the board. The choice? A 7’2 shot-blocking defensive wiz who needs more offensive development in Clingan or a 7’4 lumbering physical specimen who gets beaten on defense but plays hard-nosed on offense in Edey. The Blazers decided to go with Clingan and will now spend the offseason praying to the basketball gods that his knees, feet, and ankles stay intact before opening day.

Assuming he doesn’t get hit by a meteor, develop a crippling degenerative illness, or get carried off by an angry murder of crows, Clingan joins a roster suddenly crowded with centers. The team already has Deandre Ayton, the centerpiece of the Lillard deal last year, and Robert Williams III, who missed the bulk of last season with an injury. It would be shocking if all three were on the roster come opening day. It’s likely that the team will shop Williams hard in the coming months unless the front office has entirely soured on Ayton.

The Blazers were a mess defensively last season, and Clingan figures to help immediately in that regard. The question will be whether Clingan’s offensive contributions outweigh those that Edey could have made on the offensive end. Their paths will be linked for several seasons, as Edey came off the board two picks later when the Memphis Grizzlies grabbed him after failing to trade up to get Clingan. The Blazers and Grizzlies have young, developing rosters, and now both have big men who will be foundations for those rosters. It may not have quite the weight of taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan or Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. However, with the Blazers still trying to navigate their way out of the post-Damian Lillard wilderness, they have to hope they are finally on the right side of history in drafting a franchise center.

“A boat’s a boat, but the mystery box could be anything. It could even be a boat!”

-Peter Griffin, Family Guy

Even if he is a raw talent offensively, the Blazers got help earlier in the day when General Manager Joe Cronin traded the No. 14 pick and guard Malcolm Brogdon, as well as a 2029 first-round pick and two second-round picks to the Washington Wizards in exchange for 23-year-old wing Deni Avdija, who set career highs in points scored, three-point percentage and field goal percentage in a breakout season last year in Washington.

Avdija is almost certainly better today than anyone the Blazers could have gotten with the 14th pick, and while Brogdon had no place on a young Portland roster, the trade value for the former Sixth Man of the Year was clearly not what the Blazers hoped it would be.

Still, acquiring a young player on a solid contract who just finished a career year is worth the roll of the dice for a pair of middling first-round picks. Future first-round picks are like mystery boxes, especially picks that are the second most favorable between Portland’s own pick, Milwaukee’s, and Boston’s that year. A first-round pick five years from now is a mystery box. It could be a lottery pick, or it could be at the bottom of the first round. That’s a future problem. When given a choice between a mystery box and a young player who can help the Blazers over the next five years in a position of need, the player wins over the mystery box every time.

With Avdija and Clingan added to the team, the Blazers have a solid core to work with. They now have their wing player of the present and future and center of the future to add to a lineup with Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, and Jerami Grant. While there will undoubtedly be some growing pains, that is a roster that should develop into a decent team. It may not be NBA title contender worthy in that form, but no team transitioning through a rebuild goes from zero to championship overnight. There are still plenty of bumps in the road as the young team finds its identity and decides if Chauncey Billups is the right person to take it to the next level. Regardless of wins and losses next season, the Blazers have hope for a bright future, and in the right hands, hope can be a dangerous thing.

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