Blazers may not feel much of an NBA draft
The Trail Blazers have the flame on low burner for Thursday's NBA draft — and that's not likely to change.
To start with, it's considered the weakest draft in several years. Then there's the fact that Portland owns only the 25th pick in the first round, and no second-round selection, and adding youth is not high on general manager Neil Olshey's priority list to add for the 2019-20 season.
The Blazers will be developing their rookie guards from last season — Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., both 20 — as potential back-ups to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
With veteran Meyers Leonard and 21-year-old Zach Collins on hand to man the middle and rehabbing Jusuf Nurkic set to return at some point not too deep into the season, Portland seems unlikely to add another center to the roster.
Four players on the Blazers' roster this past season are unrestricted free agents — center Enes Kanter, power forward Al-Farouq Aminu, swing man Rodney Hood and guard Seth Curry. And, forward Jake Layman is a restricted free agent.
The Blazers would like to keep Layman, who showed promise in his third NBA season last year, starting 33 games and averaging 7.6 points in 18.7 minutes per contest. Assuming Layman, 25, doesn't get a lucrative offer elsewhere, he could be back.
Curry, who turns 29 in August, signed to a one-year, $2.8 million free-agent contract a year ago. He probably played his way into a much bigger and better deal with another team and seems unlikely to return to Portland.
Kanter, 27, was outstanding in relief of — and standing in as a starter for — Nurkic after coming to Portland in February. Kanter said many times how much he enjoyed Portland and the Blazers' organization, but he was paid $18.6 million by New York last season. He won't make nearly as much in the first year of his next contract, but he'll almost surely qualify for a pact the Blazers can't afford. Also, he'll want to be a starter, and that won't happen in Portland as long as Nurkic is around.
Aminu, 28, has been Portland's starting power forward for good parts of the last four seasons. But he struggled mightily in the playoffs, and if he returns, it almost surely will be as a reserve. It is believed he wants starter's money, so he, too, seems likely to be with another team next season.
The Blazers would like to retain Hood, who had some big moments in the second half of the regular season after arriving in Portland in February, then was sensational in the Western Conference semifinals against Denver. The 6-8 southpaw, 26, will have plenty of suitors. If the Blazers can dip beneath the luxury tax threshold this summer (about $132 million), they could offer Hood a four-year deal worth about $50 million at the non-tax payers' mid-level exception, starting at $9.2 million.
One way Portland could get below the tax threshold is through the "stretch" provision, which allows a club to waive a player, divide a player's remaining salary and spread it over upcoming years.
For instance, veteran swing man Evan Turner is in the final year of a deal that calls for him to make $18.6 million next season. If the Blazers choose to waive him, his salary can be paid for twice the amount of years left on the contract, plus one. The Blazers could stretch the contract and pay Turner $6.2 million next season, $6.2 million in 2020-21 and $6.2 million in $2021-22, thus trimming $12.4 million from their payroll for 2019-20.
If the Blazers opt to stand pat with their returning roster and are over the tax threshold, they can offer Hood a four-year tax player's contract starting at $5.7 million and totalling about $27 million — probably not enough to prevent Hood from signing elsewhere.
Portland has three veterans with expiring contracts — Turner, Leonard and Moe Harkless. But those don't become of value until Dec. 15, the date when free-agent signees become tradeable, and continue as potential assets until the February trade deadline.
A half-billion dollars of salary cap room is available around the NBA this summer. A good number of teams have made ample room, so there will be plenty of signings, and it will be a sellers' market for agents. Free agency will be inconsequential for the Blazers, who will be far above the salary cap ($109 million) and right at the luxury tax if they stand pat and sign a first-round pick.
The latter isn't guaranteed to happen, incidentally. The Blazers could choose to send their first-rounder to another team as part of a draft-day deal. And though they've traded away their second-round choice (the Los Angeles Clippers now own it), they might buy another one, for a maximum of $3 million to $4 million, if they like a player in a certain draft spot.
Portland brought in two-dozen players in four separate predraft group workouts, the emphasis being on point guards and wings. Among them are Louis King, the 6-9, 200-pound freshman small forward from Oregon, and Stephen Thompson Jr., the 6-4, 195-pound senior shooting guard out of Oregon State. King is expected to go in the second round. Thompson is not projected to be drafted.
A half-dozen of the prospects figure to go late first/early second round, and three are freshmen: 6-6 Keldon Johnson of Kentucky, 6-5 Kevin Porter Jr. from Southern Cal and 6-4 Luguentz Dort of Arizona State.
Portland also brought in 6-8 sophomore KZ Okpala of Stanford and a pair of seniors, 6-7 Dylan Windler of Belmont and 6-6 Admiral Schofield of Tennessee.
The 240-pound Schofield is built like a linebacker, so it's not surprising that his brother, O'Brien Schofield, played seven seasons at that position in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.
Admiral — his father, Anthony, is a retired senior chief in the U.S. Navy — averaged 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a senior at Tennessee this season, shooting .474 from the field and .418 from 3-point range. After his Sunday workout at the Blazers' practice facility, he said it was his eighth and final predraft workout.
"What a great place to end it — Portland," said Schofield, 22, loquacious and engaging. "Never been here. It's beautiful. The mountains, the trees — I haven't seen so many pine trees ever in my life. It's pretty cool seeing the scenery. The air is really fresh. The tap water's amazing. It's great."
Schofield showed a vast knowledge of the Portland personnel, rattling off the name of player after player on the roster. He became a fan of the Blazers when they drafted Lillard out of Weber State in 2012. Schofield said he can relate to Lillard as an underdog.
"I had one offer (Wisconsin-Green Bay) until the last tournament of my AAU career (in high school)," Schofield said. "I thought basketball was over for me. I never thought that I would have a chance to be here. A guy like (Lillard), who has worked his way to where he is, gives me faith and a goal to work for, that anything's possible. I have the work ethic. I just need the opportunity."
Schofield is impressed that the Blazers drafted Lillard and McCollum after four years of college.
"I like them taking chances on guys a lot of (teams) didn't think highly of, or four-year guys," Schofield said. "Me being a four-year guy — that gives me confidence. It gives me faith that there's an organization that sees talent and guys who can play basketball instead of age and potential.
"Just being a part of a playoff team would be great. To get that experience, but to also be around a great group of guys like they have in this organization, would be even better."
Schofield offered thanks to NBA swing men P.J. Tucker and Jae Crowder, players who "paved the way for guys like me to be in the league -- undersized, can play multiple positions, strong, physical, can knock down shots. My skill set is a lot different offensively than those guys, but defensively, that would be my role — coming in and being a junkyard dog.
"And offensively, being able to shoot the ball really helps in this league," he said. "You have to be able to shoot the ball, score from midrange, be able to finish at the rim. I have those attributes. I have a lot of tools on my belt, I just have to fine-tune them. With this organization, I know I could with their track record of developing."
Schofield thinks he made a good impression on the Blazer brass and coaching staff during his workout, but understands that's a brief glimpse.
"Hopefully (they liked) what I showed defensively, with my physicality, rebounding and making the right decisions on offense," he said. "They've seen a lot of film on me over four years. It's hard to base a decision off of an hour workout. They've done their research. They know how I play. They know what I'm good and not good at.
"This was more to see what you can do up close, see you in their facility, around their people, how you react. I think I'm one of their guys. I don't know if I'm their guy — hopefully. It would be a dream come true."
There aren't a lot of certainties in Thursday's draft. The top three picks seem all but locks — Duke forward Zion Williamson to New Orleans, Murray State guard Ja Morant to Memphis and Duke guard RJ Barrett to New York. After that, it's a crapshoot, and 7-2 Bol Bol — who played his freshman season at Oregon — is in the middle of it.
Sports Illustrated writes that the son of the late Manute Bol has "the widest range of any prospect. He could go in the late lottery, or he could slide to the back of the first round."
Another website calls Bol the "most polarizing draft prospect." Bol, who turns 20 in November, has a wingspan of 7-7 and a standing reach of 9-7, but weighs only 210 pounds. There are concerns about his durability, his motor and his approach to the game.
But Bol showed plenty during his brief college test drive, averaging 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in nine games with the Ducks, shooting an outstanding .443 from 3-point range before his season-ending broken foot. Bol has a quick first step and runs well, with good hands and a soft touch around the basket. He'd be hard to pass on for a team outside the lottery.
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