"We had several guys we were focusing on, and we got those players. We're very pleased with our draft." That, from Kevin Pritchard, following a busy NBA Draft on Thursday.
Portland fans, who've become accustomed to seeing their team select players with household names, were probably left scratching their heads after the Blazers selected at 22 in the first round. Only those who follow international ball, and studied mock drafts prior to Thursday probably immediately recognized the name Victor Claver, when his name was called by commissioner David Stern.
So, while many frantically ran a search on Claver's name on draft web sites, Pritchard's staff was quietly celebrating the fact that they had the man they wanted. They had to move up to the 22nd spot, in hopes of landing him, and it proved to be enough.
Claver was in Portland, and went through a pre-draft workout, but that was more than a year ago, before he withdrew his name from the 2008 draft. The Blazer scouts loved what they saw then, and stayed right on his tail during last season, when he grew and matured. He'll likely have another year or two gel into an NBA player before he's asked to actually sign with the Blazers.
It's very possible Claver will be paired with Rudy Fernandez on the Spanish National Team this summer for the European Championships. He was the final cut on the Olympic Team last summer, but according to some, should make the squad this time around. He doesn't turn 21 until the end of August.
The nice thing about this pick is the Blazers can afford to wait on Claver, who is 6-10, and over 230 pounds. He's athletic, can shoot with range, and reportedly has tremendous potential. So, while not a move that comes with the media splash we've come to expect, the Blazer scouts feel they've plucked another gem out of the European talent pool. And, they've got a pretty good track record on the prospects they've acquired.
So, while that move was focused on the future, another move was made, with another Spanish player, that could pay dividends in the near future. The Blazers traded Sergio Rodriguez, along with the 38th pick in the draft, to the Sacramento Kings, for the 31st pick. They used that to select Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph.
Pendergraph, who impressed scouts in his workout in Portland on June 17th, was selected at 31, and could have a more immediate impact. As fans who followed the Pac-10 know, Pendergraph is a very physical 6-9, 240, who will provide toughness to Portland's front line. He fared very well in his workout against Tyler Hansbrough, and like Hansbrough, went to school for four years. That simply means he's more NBA-ready than most, and we'll get a look at him during the Vegas Summer League.
Another player who was involved in that same workout for the Blazers was Dante Cunningham, who starred at Villanova. He also played four years of college basketball, and comes in at 6-8, 235. He was second team All-Big-East his senior year, and was named the conference's Most Improved Player. Cunningham led Villanova in scoring and rebounding during his senior season.
With their final pick of the draft, number 55, the Trail Blazers drafted an Australian point guard, Patty Mills, who played his college ball at St.Mary's. Mills, who led Team Australia with 14 points per game in last summer's Olympics, played just two years at St.Mary's. Mills was projected in some mock drafts to go much higher, and the Blazers were thrilled that he slipped back to 55. He's also expected to take part in the summer league for the Blazers.
So, in short, the Blazers gained a roster spot by moving Sergio to the Kings, can take his money off the books, and with Claver not expected to come to the NBA for a couple of years, gain another roster spot. This indicates the team is set to be a major player in the free agent signing period which begins July 8th. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on July 1st, and then upon learning where the NBA salary cap will be set, can begin signing players on the 8th.
Even though this team was built through the draft, the Blazers are now in the position to make adjustments to the roster, store away talent for the future, and attack free agents. The day didn't perhaps have the flash of recent drafts, but it still goes down as a win in the eyes of the Portland executive team. Now, we can turn the page and get set for the next step, which is only a couple of weeks away.