How Portland Trail Blazers can build a contender without trading 3rd overall draft pick

Jaylen Brown, Matisse Thybulle, Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Jaylen Brown, Matisse Thybulle, Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
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Can the Portland Trail Blazers keep the third pick in the 2023 NBA Draft and swing a trade to become a contender?

The Portland Trail Blazers and general manager Joe Cronin began to see a path when the lottery balls gave them the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft; one that diverges into two separate directions. The road on the left gives them a massive chip to use in a trade to upgrade their current roster around Damian Lillard. The right offers a potential franchise cornerstone with which they could build in the post-Dame era.

At the turn of January 2022, Portland seemed like a lost franchise. The moves they made in the summer of 2021 failed desperately. By New Year’s Day the following season, the Trail Blazers sat at just 13-22, fresh off a stretch where they lost 14 of 17 games. With Lillard opting for season-ending surgery shortly after, the tank was on.

For their efforts, they moved back a slot in the 2022 NBA Draft lottery, landing just the seventh pick in a supposedly three-player draft. The Blazers entertained the idea of trading their selection in order to bring in veteran support for Lillard in the following season, but instead, chose to keep the pick and spent it on Shaedon Sharpe — a redshirt freshman out of the University of Kentucky.

That same summer, though, they were able to land Jerami Grant on a bargain deal, due to his pre-existing relationship with Dame. With Anfernee Simons’s ascension into a borderline All-Star and Grant on board, it seemed the Blazers were ready to make a return to the playoffs. And yet, a few days before the 2023 NBA trade deadline, Portland had failed to separate themselves from the Play-In crowd at just 26-28 through early February.

How landing the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft changed the Portland Trail Blazers’ fortunes

The trade deadline offered hope, potentially a new infusion of talent to motivate the team for a strong finish to the last third of the season. But the day before the deadline, the Trail Blazers announced that they had traded Josh Hart to the New York Knicks in return for Cam Reddish and their 2023 first-round pick — a clear indication that Portland had no intention to make a serious push for contention. Fans had no choice but to feel like the Blazers had gone nowhere, as the team made further moves to ensure their return back to the lottery.

But landing the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft changed everything. Suddenly, the Blazers have a war chest containing a young star in Anfernee Simons, a heavily intriguing prospect in Shaedon Sharpe, and a selection that would guarantee a team one of Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, or Amen Thompson.

With that lottery draw, Portland instantly became a potential destination for any star-caliber player seeking greener pastures, with the ammunition to make a fair deal for their services. The only question seemed to be: which player are they going to trade the third pick for?

But with the Trail Blazers brass seemingly falling in love with Scoot Henderson and having draft guru Mike Schmitz on their payroll, there’s another question being begged: could they make a trade that would turn them into true contenders and keep the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft?