NBA Draft Lottery: Portland Trail Blazers are Most Interesting Winners

NBA Draft Lottery: Portland Trail Blazers are Most Interesting Winners article feature image

Pictured: Damian Lillard. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night and will undoubtedly select French superstar prospect Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 overall pick.

That's the story Tuesday night, and it should be. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (ridiculously) called Wembanyama "the most highly anticipated player to ever enter the NBA … maybe the greatest prospect in the history of team sports." Suffice to say the Wembanyama hype is real.

The Spurs won the NBA lottery.

But the Portland Trail Blazers were the most interesting winner on Tuesday night.

The Blazers had hopes of moving up for Wembanyama and were one of the final four teams, but ultimately ended up with the No. 3 pick. It's still a positive outcome for Portland after another late-season tank as it sets the Blazers up to be one of the most interesting franchises, and a pivot point for the NBA Draft, free agency and trade season.

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The Blazers are trying, and failing, to straddle two very different timelines.

Damian Lillard is coming off a season as magnificent as any he's ever had. He was genuinely MVP-ballot worthy, but played only 58 games and was shut down late as the Blazers fell short of the play-in and turned their attention toward Tuesday's lottery.

However, Lillard turns 33 in July and is still owed $216 million over the next four years. Jusuf Nurkic is past his prime and a below-average starter. Jerami Grant was a nice addition, but is now a free agent. Those are Portland's key veterans, and they weren't even good enough to make a play-in push.

At the other end of the timeline are 23-year-old Anfernee Simons and exciting rookie Shaedon Sharpe, who is still just 19. Those two are Portland's future, but they're not good enough right now.

The pivot point stuck right in the middle of those two timelines?

The No. 3 draft pick.

Jonathan Givony's mock draft has Alabama wing Brandon Miller going second to the Hornets, which would leave tantalizing point guard prospect Scoot Henderson on the board for Portland.

It doesn't make a ton of sense for Portland to draft Henderson and keep Lillard. That's a nice succession plan in theory, but Lillard wants to win games, not mentor 19-year-old rookies.

This could set up Portland as the pivot point in this year's draft, or perhaps for a summer of player movement.

We've had years of Lillard trade rumors, and there was buzz all season about Lillard and Joel Embiid wanting to play together. Well, Embiid is the newly minted MVP, but just threw his entire team under the bus after another early playoff exit. He might be ready for something new.

If the Blazers want to continue to keep Lillard and build around him, the No. 3 pick becomes one of the best available assets in the trade market.

If James Harden leaves Philadelphia, could the 76ers decide to blow it up and send Embiid to Portland? An offer built around the No. 3 pick and one of Sharpe or Simons would make for an enticing reset in Philadelphia, alongside Tyrese Maxey. Meanwhile, Lillard and Embiid would immediately contend for a top-3 seed in the West.

Or, perhaps the No. 3 pick and Henderson are the perfect opportunity for Portland to officially pivot toward the future.

A core of Henderson, Simons, and Sharpe — all age 23 and below — is pretty exciting, and that's before adding whatever Portland gets for Lillard. Maybe that's to Philadelphia to pair him with Embiid, or perhaps a trade sends him to Miami or Los Angeles.

Lillard is an absolute star and adding him to the Lakers, Clippers, Heat or 76ers makes any of those teams legitimate title contenders. Adding Embiid or another top veteran to Portland could do the same.

The Spurs were the winner everyone will remember Tuesday night, but the Blazers might be the most interesting winner and the one we'll spend all summer talking about.

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Nick Sterling
Jul 14, 2024 UTC