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NBA Teams That Can Take Huge Step in Draft

NBA Teams That Can Take Huge Step in Draft

NBA Teams That Can Take Huge Step in Draft
by T.O. Whenham

I'm sure I'm not the only one right now who thinks that the NBA Draft is a heck of a lot more interesting than the NBA Finals are going to be. The draft represents possibility and hope and excitement, while it's hard to see these finals as anything other than a foregone conclusion. The draft this year is especially important for a few teams. There are at least four teams in my mind that are just one player away from taking a big step forward. I'm not saying that any of these teams will win a championship if they get the payer they need, but they could improve significantly from where they are now - make the playoffs if they are a lottery team, or go deeper if they were in the playoffs this year. Here's my take:

Portland Trail Blazers - It may be more correct to say in the case of Portland that they are one player and some patience away from the next step. Winning the first overall pick in the lottery was an unexpected luxury that will help this team for years to come. Just think of what the team already has to offer - stellar rookies Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, surprisingly good youngster Sergio Rodriguez, Darius Miles returning from a year out of action and Zach Randolph really coming into his own. That's a pretty good nucleus. Add a third big man to complement Randolph and Aldridge and you could really have something special. It's almost too perfect, then, that the Blazers will have the opportunity to draft the most coveted big man since, at least, Yao Ming. Greg Oden is a freak, and he will give Trail Blazers fans reason to be extremely optimistic. That's something that hasn't been the case for a lot of years.

Sacramento Kings - Assuming the Kings make a good hire at head coach, I'm probably more optimistic about this team than most people. Sure, last season was absolutely awful, but there is still a core of solid players to build upon. Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin are a solid backcourt, especially if Bibby gets back to playing like he can. Brad Miller is another solid player who, like Bibby, needs to forget what happened last year and get back in form. Francisco Garcia was fantastic for the last month of the season, and is the kind of versatile young player that teams love. Ron Artest, for all his faults, is still a great talent. There are things there for the new coach to build on. The biggest problem for this team, obviously, is their total absence of anything resembling defense or rebounding. A player that can do those two things, even if he can't score particularly well, will have a big impact on this team, and will be given the opportunity to contribute immediately. The Kings pick at No. 10, and the player that will likely be available there that fits the bill almost perfectly is sophomore Julian Wright of Kansas. He's incredibly athletic, he is the definition of potential and he can be fit in at several spots on the court. He still needs to fill out a bit, but he could make Kings fans very happy.

Chicago Bulls - It didn't take a basketball genius to watch the Bulls in the playoffs this year and realize that this is a team that is going to make some noise. They're young, they're tough and they are talented. They don't have a particularly burning need. They just need more depth and talent. If the new player can score inside that wouldn't hurt, either. Most importantly, the new player needs to be able to fit in on this team, and play the unselfish style that is working well for the team. The rumors are that the team has their heart set on Joakim Noah with their No. 9 pick. Though some things about his attitude rub me a bit wrong sometimes, there is no questioning that he is a team player. He's also reasonably talented both with and without the ball, though his offense could use a bit of work. If Noah doesn't slip that far, then the team will have to give a long look to Yi Jianlian. The transition from China might be a bit rough, but the guy is huge and he is as comfortable pulling up to shoot as he is going to the hoop. He's certainly intriguing.

Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers have seemingly been almost ready to make a breakthrough for years. Call me a romantic, but I still believe that it could happen. There are good players on the squad, led by the very talented Elton Brand. They really don't need that much - they would have made the playoffs if it weren't for the late rush by the Warriors. If they can only turn a few losses into wins then there is no reason that they can't be a playoff team, and the Warriors showed what can happen once you qualify. As I see it, the way to get them those few wins most easily is to take the pressure off of Cuttino Mobley. He's a solid player, but he struggled at times down the stretch. He seems to struggle when he feels like he has to do it all himself. The best choice, to me, is Derrick Byars of Vanderbilt. He's a big, physical, mature shooting guard that improved dramatically last year. He can score at will when he's in the zone, but he's also far from a detriment defensively. The No. 14 spot is a bit higher than he is expected to go, but he can probably start to contribute right away, and with Brandon Rush out of the draft Byars has jumped up the ratings at his position.

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Re: NBA Teams That Can Take Huge Step in Draft

The Blazers appear willing to deal second-round choices and one or more players to get another top selection

Even though he already owns the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Kevin Pritchard is not satisfied.

The Oregonian has learned that the Trail Blazers general manager is plotting to land another first-round pick through a trade on or before the day of the draft (June 28).

That pick probably would be in the mid- to late first round, but sources say that Pritchard has been flirting with teams in the top 10 as well as listening to offers from other teams.

Pritchard on Wednesday would not discuss his intentions but acknowledged that his strategy every season is to accumulate as many first-round picks as he can.

"You figure out what you like, and you go get it," Pritchard said.

A potential target for the Blazers could be Florida State's Al Thornton, a 6-foot-8 forward expected to be a top-10 pick. Pritchard said the Blazers are trying to add Thornton to their workout schedule the week before the draft.

"I don't know if it will happen, but we are definitely trying," Pritchard said. "Why not get a free look at guys?"

The Blazers have tentative plans to work out first-round prospect Nick Young, a guard from USC, on June 25, and more secure plans to look at another first-round talent, Javaris Crittenton, a 6-5 guard from Georgia Tech, on June 26. There have been efforts to bring in more first-round prospects, but Pritchard said his inquiries continue to be met with a cold shoulder.

"With us having the No. 1 pick, it's very difficult to get guys in who feel like they aren't going to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick," Pritchard said.

The Blazers have four second-round picks, and Pritchard has hinted that he probably will trade at least one of the picks. It would take more than a second-round pick -- or picks -- however, to secure a first-round selection, meaning the Blazers would have to deal one of their current players.

In the meantime, the Blazers will begin their workout schedule on Friday when Michigan forward Brent Petway, Fresno State forward Dominic McGuire and Virginia guard Sean Singletary take part in a two-hour session at the team's practice facility in Tualatin. Ante Tomic, a 7-1 center from Croatia, was scheduled to work out, but he has pulled out of the draft.

"The biggest thing is, if we are working with these (second-round) picks, we are going to have to understand how the second round is going to play out," Pritchard said. "We have to have a targeted list of players and be very focused in identifying what we want."

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