TUALATIN, Ore. — The Trail Blazers just got younger. Now the question becomes: Did they get better?
Thursday’s NBA Draft was less about who Portland drafted and more about who they acquired.
Emphasizing the desire for a point guard for weeks now, the Blazers got their wish, picking up Raymond Felton from the Nuggets by way of a three-team trade.
Logically, adding a 26-year-old who averaged 15.5 points and 8.3 points for Denver and New York last year makes sense. But emotionally — at least for Blazers fans — giving up Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez to get him might be difficult to cope with initially.
All details included, the trade went down like this: Portland shipped Miller to Denver in exchange for Felton while moving Fernandez and the rights to Finland’s Petteri Koponen to Dallas. Dallas, via Portland, gave Denver the rights to Jordan Hamilton, whom the Mavericks selected with the 26th pick. Portland also acquired Qatar’s Tanguy Ngombo, whom Dallas chose with the 57th pick. The Blazers are currently in discussions to trade Ngombo’s rights.
“We’re very excited about our new additions,” said Blazers acting general manager Chad Buchanan, who addressed the media from the team’s practice facility, where he, Blazers coach Nate McMillan, team owner Paul Allen, and other Blazers executives conducted the draft. “We’ve always been big fans of Raymond. We view him as a prime-time player entering his prime. We like what he’s done with his progression and think he’s going to continue to improve.”
Miller, 35, was consistently productive in his season and a half in Portland, where he averaged 12.7 points and seven assists last year while climbing to No. 14 on the NBA’s all-time assists ledger. He also has a team option for $7.8 million on his contract, which Denver must pick up by June 29 to keep him from becoming a free agent.
Fernandez had a miserable shooting year for Portland, connecting on just 37 percent of his field goal attempts and 32.1 percent of his 3-point shots, numbers which dipped dramatically in the postseason. The Spaniard, however, did not seem overly disappointed with the trade, thanking Portland fans on Twitter before writing “So happy to be in the best team in the nba!!!dallas!!!”
The Blazers came into the draft owning the 21st and 51st picks, and while it was heavily speculated that they might give up one of the selections to move up the board or acquire a veteran, they hung onto both.
With the 21st pick, Portland drafted former Duke point guard Nolan Smith. With the 51st pick, Portland took former Ohio State shooting guard Jon Diebler.
The 6-foot-2 Smith was a shooting guard who shifted into the point guard role for the Blue Devils last year when Thursday’s No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving went down with an injury. Smith didn’t flinch, averaging 20.6 points and 5.1 assists per game while garnering consensus First-Team All-America honors.
But it was Smith’s consistent improvement over four years that most attracted Buchanan, who took the 22-year-old despite most mock drafts projecting him to go much lower.
The acquisition did raise a couple of eyebrows considering the Blazers now have four point guards and three shooting guards but are still thin in the front court, which Buchanan noted was a major point of concern during pre-draft workouts. After all, Portland did have the chance to draft Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried, who led Division I in rebounding last season and was selected by Denver with the next pick.
But Buchanan maintained that Smith was “the guy that was right for us,” and said that the team will address front-court issues before the season begins.
Diebler, meanwhile, averaged 12.6 points per game for the Buckeyes as a senior last year and shot 50.2 percent from 3-point distance. The accuracy from deep is particularly impressive considering more than three quarters of his field-goal attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc.
Buchanan said that he has gone over different scenarios with Diebler and his agent, and implied that having him play overseas may be an option.
McMillan said that adding a player in his prime to the roster was a major priority, and Portland seems to have done that with Felton. The only potential problem is that he has only one year remaining on his contract, although Buchanan noted that the same was true of Miller.
But Felton differs from Miller in his ability to shoot from outside. The North Carolina product hit 35.3 percent of his 3-pointers last year (45.9 percent in his 21 games in Denver), while Miller knocked down less than 11 percent of his 37 attempts from deep.
McMillan said that the addition of Felton and Smith will likely lead to a more up-tempo pace next season, which may include Nicolas Batum playing some shooting guard.
Blazers president Larry Miller addressed the media 45 minutes or so before Buchanan and McMillan. He expressed excitement and contentment over the draft and said that while the decision-making was collaborative, Buchanan ultimately made the final calls.
Miller was then asked why Allen wasn’t taking questions from the media. Miller said that Allen was headed to the east coast, but would talk to reporters “in the near future.”