Blazers ready to tweak roster on draft day
There are more unknowns than knowns as the Trail Blazers swing into the final days until Thursday's NBA draft.
Portland owns three first-round picks — No. 15, 20 and 26, making it the club's most important draft since at least 2013, when general manager Neil Olshey chose CJ McCollum with the No. 10 pick, then traded a pair of second-round picks to Cleveland for the draft rights to Allen Crabbe.
It seems unlikely the Blazers would keep all three selections, for a couple of reasons.
Portland sent out the second-youngest roster in the NBA (behind Philadelphia) last season. Three more young players is not what the doctor — Olshey — wants to order.
In addition, the Blazers will go into next season with the league's highest payroll, at least as it currently stands — at about $130 million.
Owner Paul Allen will pay out four player salaries in eight figures — Damian Lillard ($26.15 million), McCollum ($23.96 million), Crabbe ($18.5 million) and Evan Turner ($17.13 million). Behind them are four players in the high seven figures — Meyers Leonard ($9.9 million), Moe Harkless ($9.66 million), Al-Farouq Aminu ($7.32 million) and Ed Davis ($6.35 million).
Olshey is in the market for immediate help, particularly at the forward position. He also may be looking to move some salary by sending a player with a high salary (such as Crabbe, Turner or Leonard) to a team that has room to take it under the salary cap, without sending as much salary back. Olshey could include a draft pick or two in such a deal.
The projected salary cap for the 2017-18 season is about $101 million, with the luxury tax estimated at $121 million. As many as 20 teams are expected to have significant room beneath the cap.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the NBA's youngest teams, with plenty of cap room and in need of veteran talent. Thy have been taking and making calls about a potential trade of the second selection, which they own.
There are other teams drafting ahead of the Blazers who might be willing to deal a pick for a lower pick and a package that would include players.
If the Blazers could get up that high in the draft, it would change everything in terms of immediate help. Even if not, they don't need three first-round picks.
"Given the amount of money they have been doling out, (the Blazers) are probably going to be trading those picks, or draft-and-stashing somebody to put overseas," ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said last week in a conference call.
What Fraschilla means is the Blazers could select an international player and allow him to play there for another year or two without signing him and adding to their current payroll.
Portland has had nearly 30 prospects in for predraft workouts in recent weeks — nearly half of them guards and wings.
Among the players who worked out in Portland and are expected to go in the teens are 6-11 freshman Justin Patton from Creighton, 6-9 sophomore John Collins from Wake Forest, 6-10 freshman TJ Leaf from UCLA, 6-10 freshman Harry Giles from Duke and Terrance Ferguson.
All are centers and power forwards except Ferguson, 19, a Dallas native who played professionally last season in Australia. A 6-7, 185-pound swing man who initially committed to play collegiately at Alabama and then Arizona, averaged 4.8 points and shot .313 from 3-point range in 30 games in Australia, making about $1 million.
North Carolina's Justin Jackson, a 6-8 small forward, and Oregon's 6-9 Jordan Bell were slated to be on hand for Monday's final workout.
If Portland keeps its No. 26 pick, it could be in the draft range of two international big men — 7-foot, 250-pound Isaiah Hartenstein of Germany and 7-1, 220-pound Anzjes Pascniks of Latvia.
Paschniks, who has been moving up some draft boards, made a predraft visit to Portland; Hartenstein did not.
Hartenstein, the son of former University of Oregon power forward Flo Hartenstein, was born in Eugene and lived there with his mother — Theresa, a Sheldon High graduate — and sister until he was 10. At that point, they moved to Germany to join his father, who was playing professionally there. Last season, the junior Hartenstein, a left-hander, played for Zalgiris in Lithuania's top division.
The 19-year-old Hartenstein participated in the Nike Hoop Summit on April 7 at Moda Center. According to The Register-Guard's Steve Mims, most of Hartenstein's family lives in Portland, and he has visited often during summers.
"Hartenstein is the exact type of kid you could take in the 20s (of the draft), with his size, age and athleticism, who could continue to develop across the water and then come back when he's 21 or 22," Fraschilla said. "You might see the Blazers take at least one draft-and-stash guy, if not more than one, because of their roster makeup right now.
"On the other hand, what you do if you're Neil, you get into this draft and just hope a guy you really like … falls to you when your turn comes up. If it's No. 15, you hope a guy targeted as a top-10 pick slides to you."
This year's draft is deep with point guards, who are projected to go with five of the first 10 picks. From Nos. 10 to 20, several big men are expected to be tabbed, including 7-foot Zach Collins from Gonzaga, 7-foot Lauri Markhanen from Arizona and Jarrett Allen from Texas.
Only Olshey and his inner circle really know what will happen on the Portland end — and they don't know for sure what might occur in the final days leading up to the draft.