Going into the draft tomorrow, the Portland Trail Blazers need two things: hostages and veterans. Last week it was reported by multiple media outlets (here, here,and here) that Finnish guard Petteri Koponen feels like the Portland Trail Blazers have held him hostage. Koponen, a large point guard who has shown flashes of promise at the Las Vegas Summer League and in Europe (while playing mostly at the 2), asserted he just wants to live his boyhood dream of playing in the NBA, just like every Russian boy dreams of his future father-in-law beating him with eucalyptus leaves.
Acting GM Chad Buchanan denied the hostage implications, stating the Blazers are still waiting for the right time to bring him over and that it is not their policy to just give a talent like him away to another team. However, unnamed sources said they could hear Buchanan mutter under his breathe during his statement, “Come on…who do you think we are, the Charlotte Bobcats? You want talent? Give us something in return.”
While Buchanan won’t openly admits Koponen is a Blazers hostage, underneath, he knows keeping players hostage is exactly what the team wants and needs to do to reach the next level. Portland has spent the last six seasons rebuilding into a perennial first round playoff team. In order for the Blazers to become actual contenders, like the Blazers of the early 90s, they need to stay healthy, play a solid nine man rotation with reliable non-ancient veterans in all five spots, and build continuity.
Buchanan knows the only draft picks we need are ones we can use as leverage in trades later. We don’t need young talent to develop anymore. We don’t need that young kid with potential. We need a young PG who has proven he can lead a team (read not Steve Nash). We need bruisers to come off the bench who know how to spell LA. We need a center who isn’t turning 87 this year (we love you Camby!). And if we can become a stronger contender by holding a few foreign (or young American) players hostage, like the US has stripped human rights away from prisoners in Gitmo to keep “America Strong,” we need to take more hostages. (Note: My wife, a human rights lawyer, will probably strip me of all my rights for speaking of Guantanamo Bay in any positive light.)
The true chess match during draft night will likely come between Buchanan and owner Paul Allen, a man who approaches the NBA draft like a drunken fantasy football draft at the Brass Horse with his 11 nerdiest friends. He loves him some draft. Give him the option of landing CP3 for ten years for three years of first and second round picks, he says, “No! I bought this team because I love the draft!” Paul Allen is probably in the camp of finding that next great PG through the draft. Why get Tony Parker when you can find the next Tony Parker? We are getting eerily close to David Kahn’s draft strategy (a native Portlander): draft a PG with every pick until you get the right one, or every wrong one. White Chocolate, Mills, Williams, Johnson, the “Hostage”…at what point do we say, “I’ll take a proven guard?”
I hope Buchanan wins that chess match with Allen because the Blazers need those last few pieces to build a core that can mold into an unstoppable force. Our karma has to change eventually. Health will come, but potential often remains just that—potential. Take more hostages and store them around the world like Claver, Koponen, and Freeland. No offense to Kemba, Faried, or Bertans. They are great ball players. They could come in handy one day. But today, we need vets.