Tomorrow’s draft could mean a fresh start
And just like that, we start again.
The 2011–12 NBA season is officially over. LeBron James made sure of that on Thursday, coming through with a rare triple-double and controlling the flow of the game that clinched his first finals victory. There will be a parade in Miami and a trophy presentation and a few more precious days of reprieve to allow the moment to really sink in. For the rest of us, that’s all just a headline now—and it’s an old one. The 2012–13 season starts in Portland tomorrow.
I’m talking about the NBA Draft, so naturally that means the Portland Trail Blazers just had a season that earned them a lottery pick. Yeah, ouch. Actually, they’ve got two—the luck of the draw gave them a choice at number 11 and another at number six coming from a transaction with the Brooklyn Nets. So, terrible season, hard to watch sometimes—but two lottery picks!
Situated near the front of the line in what is expected to be the deepest draft in several years, the Blazers could have picked a worse time to fall headlong into the rebuilding process. There are plenty of prospects coming off their year-long mandated internship in the college ranks, and as the franchise has made it clear that they are looking to build a nucleus with the team’s future in mind (and struggled in recent years to attract high profile free agents to sign in Portland) the draft gives the team the opportunity for a running start.
Simple, right? Sure, except that now the team has to go out and draft somebody, a process that is going to be more unsettling for the Blazer front office than they will ever admit. Without a doubt there’s some pressure on this one; the franchise doesn’t want to deliver another letdown and they can’t afford another bust. There’s even been some talk that they would be hesitant to draft University of Connecticut freshman center Andre Drummond, who could fall to number six, because of historically bad luck drafting centers.
Uncertainty. That, more than anything, is what the organization faces tomorrow at the draft. They have the chance to take a huge step (or two) forward in the rebuilding effort, bring in some NBA-ready talent to merge with team standouts LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum and start working toward the playoffs again, a year or two ahead of schedule. It’s a position the team hasn’t been in for quite some time.
Grinding through the past decade in Blazer history, with its mad flashes of success bookended by devastating stretches of overtime pay for the team’s medical staff, Portland was often able to do just enough to keep itself from improving. By that I mean that the team managed to scrape together some respectable results out of the often unfortunate situations they found themselves in during the Brandon Roy run. It was a testament to the team’s ability to endure and adapt, and it got them to the playoffs. Just as important, it kept them out of the lottery, leaving them to try and improvise their way into contention after each new injury, one free-agent pickup at a time, one more loose piece here or there to add to a mixed bag. The team has so far gotten the results to match.
Now, after coming off one of the more demoralizing stretches in the history of Portland basketball, the Blazers have a chance to do something that probably didn’t even seem like a possibility just a few months ago: start fresh. They’ve got cap space for the first time in years, a team with an all-star anchor and two lottery picks in the draft. You’d hardly be questioned for hedging your bets, but neither could anyone blame you for thinking that things might just be coming around for this team. It’s a brand new season, anyway.