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Trail Blazers scour average draft

Via trade or pick, team wants a player ready to contribute

The Trail Blazers hold the No. 21 pick in the first round of the June 23 NBA draft.

The question is, will they retain it?

Without question, Portland officials would prefer not to be selecting that late from what figures to be at best a mediocre draft stock.

As the Blazers have put together back-to-back successful regular seasons, their place in the draft order has fallen. The last two seasons, they've gotten virtually no immediate help from their draft picks, though second-round picks Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph had their productive moments.

Coaches always want proven players rather than young hopefuls, but Nate McMillan is particularly adamant with his desires as this year's draft approaches.

'Last year, we had three draft picks,' McMillan said. 'I'd like to see us add some guys in their prime to the roster.

'We have young; we have old. Let's see if we can get some guys in their prime.'

McMillan means via trade or the free-agent route. And Chad Buchanan, Portland's interim general manager, is in agreement for that as a goal.

'We are hoping to add to the team a player who can play right away, whether that's a player in the draft or through a trade,' he said. 'If we're not able to do that, then you take the best player you can get' in the draft.

Word throughout the league is that the Blazers would love to trade up in the draft to get into the lottery for a chance at a good young point guard such as Connecticut's Kemba Walker. Other point guards expected to be lottery picks are Duke's Kyrie Irving and Kentucky's Brandon Knight. Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette also could be one of the top 14 players chosen.

Buchanan paints this year's draft class as 'fairly average.'

'There are a couple of guys at the top that, down the road, can become very good players, but there are no superstars in this draft,' he said. 'The strength of this draft is the meat and the latter part of the first round.

'There are a lot of proven three- and four-year college guys from good programs ready to come in and fill a defined role.'

The Blazer brass would prefer to draft a player with three or four years college experience who is closer to being NBA-ready than a one-year college player who needs time to develop.

'At No. 21,' Buchanan admits, 'you're trying to find someone who can just contribute. Where we're drafting, there are some guys that will fill a need - frontcourt depth as well as backcourt. There are a lot of wings in that range, a few power forwards and a couple of potential backup point guards.'

Banking on a Euro

Historically, Portland has done a good job in the draft with foreign prospects such as Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez. This year's crop includes several lottery types, such as centers Enes Kanter of Turkey and Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas, both of Lithuania; and big forwards Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic and Davis Bertans of Latvia. Only the 6-10, 210-pound Bertans should be around when the Blazers pick at No. 21.

Another Euro - 6-10, 225-pound Nikola Mirotic from Montenegro - is slated to go early in the second round. Lucas Noguiera, an 18-year-old 7-footer from Brazil, is a future prospect on the Blazers' radar screen.

After Irving, Knight, Walker and Fredette, the only point guards expected to go in the first round are Kansas' Josh Selby and Butler's Shelvin Mack, both slotted late in the first round.

The Blazers' goal seems clear. They would prefer not to draft a player that will take awhile to develop into a rotation player.

'At the end of this month, we want to be able to look back and say we improved our team,' Buchanan said. 'If it's filling a need, that's great. That's what we'd like to try to do.

'But draft-wise, we're going to be aggressive in trying to get a player who is ready to help us, whether it's moving up from No. 21 or moving down and gaining an asset (through a trade). We're going to find a guy we feel fits us and is ready to help us.'