Analyzing the Blazer Draft; Kevin Pritchard, Genius?

Going into the draft the conventional wisdom was the Blazers needed a Small Forward and, more importantly, a Point Guard. They were targeting DJ Augustin and/or Russell Westbrook first and Joe Alexander. It was assumed the pick-up of the 27th pick was to help trade for one of those players. The need at Small Forward was accentuated when James Jones elected not to exercise his option.

Having watched GM Kevin Pritchard the last couple of years, few Blazer fans doubted he would get one of his guys. He always does. It was my personal hope he was targeting Westbrook as I am not a huge fan of under size point guards, though I must admit the excellent size Portland has at the other positions might mitigate those factors.

With the three targeted players gone and Jerryd Bayless off the board at 11 it looked like the master plan had fallen through...until the local affiliate, 95.5 The Game, broke the story that Bayless had been drafted for Portland. ESPN was 35 minutes behind on the story so there was some doubt but finally it was officially announced.

Portland traded Brandon Rush, Josh "McBob" McRoberts, and Jarret Jack for Bayless and Ike Diogu.

Part 2 of the plan had to do with Euro players the Blazers coveted, specifically Nicolas Batum. After he was taken off the board they picked up Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey...only to trade them for Batum.

In short, the Blazers reduced their bloated roster (Batum will most likely remain in France) by trading 2 current players (Jack and McRoberts) for essentially 1 is an open question whether Diogu will remain on the roster...while preparing for the future even while improving in the present.

This was a brilliant draft. For the present they have upgraded their roster. In Bayless they have a potentially top 10 point guard. Portland revealed they actually had him rated as the 4th best player in the draft this year, somewhat higher than most teams. With Blake and Sergio Rodriguez still on the roster he will have time to develop, a move only accentuated when you consider that Brandon Roy essentially runs the point during crunch time. Bayless will get some playing time but will not be pressed to give produce too much too soon.

By unloading Jack the Blazers accomplish 2 more items on their agenda. There is a feeling in the organization that Rodriguez might be the point guard of the future. Jack was officially a point guard though in practice he played more like an under size shooting guard. By clearing him out the Blazers both clear up the logjam of combo guards that Jack represented and also clear up more playing time for Rodriguez. The move essentially turns this in to a make or break year for him.

That leaves the small forward position. Martell Webster was the starter last year and showed flashes. Early on it looked like he would be a 13 - 15 point scorer who provided great outside shooting. However, he struggled for large patches of the year and ended up under 11. It is important to remember, however, that Webster is still very young and is still improving.

There are strong indications, however, that Travis Outlaw is penciled in to start. That will leave Webster to come off the bench but both players will get plenty of minutes. It will leave the Blazers a bit more athletic and a bit less plagued with trying to find minutes for all the players they have on their roster. That is only helped by this draft.

Oddly, the draft ended up tightening up the roster. The Blazers are now stacked at least 2 deep at every position with players who will get meaningful minutes and have room to pull some maneuvers such as letting Bayless get time in the D-League. They have flexibility and options at every position and, perhaps best of all, the roster will tighten up even a bit more next season.

The contract of Diogu is up after this season. The contract of Raef LaFrentz expires after this season. With Jones opting out his contract is off the books. In other words, Portland will have room to maneuver.

Let's present a ridiculous scenario. Please note, I have not even a 1% belief this will ever happen bu it is the type of thing that is fun to fantasize about. The Blazers will have a huge amount of cap space in 2010. They will have a starting line-up including Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy with a talented supporting cast surrounding them including Webster for shooting and Outlaw for all-around play. Let's say some star player is looking for a new contract and is more interested in winning a championship or 5 than getting max money. He notices Portland can give him as much money as anyone but his own LeBron James fills in at small forward. Championships would rain from the skies in bunches with that line-up. They would be young, talented, and dominant.

Yeah, I know, there is no chance he would come to a small market on the opposite coast with no night life. But that is the sort of thing that Blazer fans can dream about after this draft. We have a young, talented team that is positioned for a run at greatness and a dynasty. And with money to spare, 2010 looks like the year the Blazers will target players who might actually come and be the difference.

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