Canzano: Trail Blazers must make their own luck in wake of NBA Draft Lottery
Trail Blazers hold No. 7 pick.
The NBA Draft Lottery result wasn’t kind to Portland on Tuesday night.
The math won.
The Blazers lost.
Portland entered the event knowing that it had the highest probability of landing the No. 7 overall pick. That’s exactly what happened. But I didn’t blame All-NBA guard Damian Lillard one bit when he looked at the camera after it was revealed and gave his best “I came here for this!?!?” glance.
The expression spoke for us all.
There have been some wonderful and inspiring sports moments in our state. We’ve watched a line of teams win important games. There was even an NBA-title parade held long ago in downtown Portland. Bill Walton rode his bicycle to the event. But the last year has been especially trying. I guess it’s why I woke up Tuesday and figured the franchise and its loyal fan base might be due for a break.
Instead, it got a burp.
Blazers’ fans have been through enough in the last 12 months. Lillard suffered a season-ending abdominal injury. The grumpy general manager was sacked. Then, fans watched the franchise trade away talent for pennies on the dollar.
Those 30-point losses amid a tank-a-thon weren’t easy to watch. Still, many in the fan base re-calibrated expectations and kept showing up. Fans waved off the blowout losses, hoping they were in the name of a greater good.
It would be easy to pile on today. But I’m going to stop right here. Because I remembered something as I was watching the rest of the NBA breeze past Portland once again on Tuesday night. I thought about Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics.
In the spring of 2007, the Celtics finished the season with the second-worst record in the NBA. They were looking at a draft that featured Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Sports radio shows in Boston buzzed about which player would be the better fit. In fact, Boston held a 20 percent chance of landing the top pick in 2007. All that was left was for the draft lottery to decide was whether it would be Oden or Durant.
Math lost that day.
Boston ended up with a gut punch and the No. 5 pick.
It was a worst-case scenario for the Celtics. Ainge, the team’s GM, didn’t weep or feel sorry for himself. Instead, he got about plotting a way out of the predicament.
Ainge traded the No. 5 pick and two players to the Sonics for Ray Allen. He then drafted Glenn “Big Baby” Davis in the second round, pick No. 35. In July, Ainge dumped the league on its head. He traded five players and two draft picks for 10-time All-Star forward Kevin Garnett.
Garnett combined with Allen and Paul Pierce resulted in a 66-win regular season for the Celtics. Boston plowed through the playoffs and earned a trip to the NBA Finals. Once there, the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games.
The draft lottery may have been a gut punch, but Ainge punched back. We’ll soon find out if the Blazers and GM Joe Cronin have good hands.
There’s bound to be a lot of discussion today about Portland’s terrible luck. But really, it wasn’t. The Blazers were more likely to end up with the seventh pick than any other in the draft. The probability held up. There will be no “honk once” or “honk twice” billboard campaigns like there were in the summer of 2007.
The Celtics coveted Oden.
And they loved Durant.
When the draft lottery didn’t break Boston’s way, the franchise regrouped and made its own luck. The Blazers need to remember that today. Getting the No. 1 pick is wonderful. But you know what’s better? Winning big without it.
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Too bad Danny Ainge isn't the Blazers' GM, eh? There are two things I feel pretty confident about headed into the draft:
1) There will be a player on the board when the Blazers are on the clock at #7 who will someday end up being a very good NBA player.
2) I have little faith that the Blazers will correctly identify who that player is.
The Blazers aren't winning through the free agent market. Look at the FA'S in 2023 it's not much better unless a few RFA this year take one year deals. Trading Dame is the only path to contending but how many serious destinations can there be? One I haven't seen anyone talk about is San Antonio. SA has three additional firsts between 2022-2025 plus all of their own. A couple young combo guards (Vassell and Primo) plus four picks (#9 and 25 in 2022, SA unprotected in 2024, and Chicago's 2025) would be a lot a bites at the apple for the next few years. We'd have a young core on the same timeline plus potential trades of Nurk on a SAT and Hart.