Big wins don’t bring in big draft potential

Potential top draft picks stay away from Blazers workouts

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

Published:

 

Everything has looked almost normal for the Portland Trail Blazers during the days leading up to the 2010 NBA Draft.

Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has been present at every workout, while scouts Michael Born and Chad Buchanan have mentally and statistically graded each prospect who has taken the court.

But while Pritchard has maintained his cool focus and Portland’s scouts have applied their basketball magic, one thing has definitely changed: The light shining around the former collegiate standouts who are now NBA hopefuls working out for the Blazers has not been nearly as bright this year.

The lack of star power is not a coincidence.

What: 2010 NBA Draft

When: 4 p.m., Thursday

Where: Madison Square Garden in New York

TV: ESPN, cable Ch. 35

Blazers: Portland holds the No. 22 overall selection in the first round and the No. 44 overall pick in the second round.

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The primary reason is the Blazers’ draft positioning. Courtesy of a 50-win season and a second consecutive playoff appearance, Portland holds the No. 22 overall pick in the first round.

Thus, the chances that big-name prospects such as former Kentucky point guard John Wall or former Ohio State shooting guard Evan Turner would work out for the Blazers were slim to none from the start.

Gone are the days when a once-lottery bound Portland franchise could lure in Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and Adam Morrison — all lottery picks in the 2006 draft — during a single workout, as the team did that year.

And if the Blazers do suddenly find themselves in a position to steal a premier pick in this year’s draft, Portland will be ready.

Born, the Blazers’ director of NBA scouting, estimated that the organization watched Wall play for the Wildcats at least 30 times during the past year. Meanwhile, Pritchard said strong relationships between Portland’s scouts and key NBA agents have created an open, professional network based off familiarity and trust.

“The key is that we’ve seen these kids,” Pritchard said. “And we better have done a good job on our background work. I think that would be the most important critical factor. Just because, if you can’t get them to talk to them and see them in your gym, you better know them.”

But several NBA agents with ties to the Blazers said there are deeper currents underlining the fact Portland will have worked out mostly second-tier players by the time the draft clock starts ticking away Thursday night in New York.

A key issue is the fact that, despite battling an abundance of injuries throughout the 2008-09 season, the Blazers are still loaded. Proven veterans such as Andre Miller and Marcus Camby now flesh out a talented roster that has left Portland with little of the fatty excess that composes the bulk of some NBA lineups.

To Portland coach Nate McMillan, the multitude of player options can resemble a choose-your-own-adventure novel when the Blazers are healthy.

But to an agent attempting to find a new home for a ‘tweener who will likely fall somewhere between Portland’s first- and second-round selections? The loaded Blazers can become a loaded question.

“When you look at Portland’s roster, if you’re a wing player, they’ve got four or five wings. If you’re a big guy, they’ve got three centers,” said agent Bill Duffy, who represents Blazers center Joel Przybilla. “You have to be a student analyzing the composition of the roster, before you allow your guy to go in there. Because a lot of times teams say, ‘We’re going to draft the best player.’ Well, for us, that best player might be the third guy on your depth chart when he gets to your team.”

Agents Duffy, Bob Myers (Brandon Roy) and Andy Miller (Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez) all praised a Portland organization that is widely regarded as one of the best in the league when it comes to evaluating talent and meeting players’ needs.

But all three agents also agreed that there is another issue at stake concerning the Blazers’ inability this year to work out highly valued prospects in person.

To see an expected lottery pick in pre-draft action, Portland either had to watch the player in college or catch them at one of the few NBA super camps held during the month leading up to the draft.

“This is one of the major underbelly themes of the process this year,” Andy Miller said. “I think there were less days to wrangle workouts than ever before. … Five years ago, I think there was a lot more maneuvering in terms of position and who you were working out.”

He added: “I don’t know if there will come a time that workouts don’t play a role at all. But I do think they’re playing less of a role, and putting the emphasis more on the teams that do their due diligence.”

And while lowered expectations for pre-draft combines such as the once-prestigious Portsmouth Invitational Tournament has also played a role, so has the fact that agents are increasingly attempting to use as much leverage as possible before their client is selected.

After a player is drafted, his rights — and many would say his immediate future — belong to a team. But by selectively choosing which organizations a prospect works out for, agents believe their clients’ chances to succeed in their new profession can significantly improve.

“I think the only power that is afforded the agent is allowing or not allowing a player to go in and work out for two hours with certain organizations,” Myers said. “But the control is a little bit of an illusion, because these teams have seen these players numerous times. Especially at the very high end with the lottery picks, which is where a lot of this goes on.”

Despite the leverage war, all three agents said they would not hesitate to send a client to Portland if the team requested a work out. Pritchard’s success in recent drafts and a positive, player friendly culture are viewed as key assets, while issues such as roster depth often have a way of eventually working themselves out.

“At the end of the day, (workouts) will always have some impact,” Miller said. “It’s no different than dating. You’ve got to put your eyes, your hands and your ears out there, and get a feel for someone. Because this is a hands-on business.”

Notes

Former University of Portland guard Nik Raivio is scheduled to work out today with the Blazers.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Raivio averaged 14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists during three seasons with the Pilots.

Raivio is from Vancouver and played high school ball at Mountain View.

He will be joined by Armon Johnson (G, Nevada); Mac Koshwal (F, DePaul); Chris Kramer (G, Purdue) and Art Parakhouski (C, Radford).