Building a team through the draft is a lost art in the NBA.
While the NFL treats its entire draft like an actual regular season game, the NBA's version is mostly done after the first 20 picks—well before every team has has a chance to make at least one selection.
Someone forgot to give that memo to Kevin Pritchard, the embattled General Manager of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Even before taking over as the Blazers' GM following the 2006-07 season, the man affectionately known as just "KP" in Portland used the draft as the primary—and sometimes only—instrument in building his team. As an assistant GM, Pritchard engineered draft day trades to acquire all sorts of draft picks, allowing the Blazers to find their franchise cornerstones, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, in the same draft.
After taking over as the General Manager, Pritchard used draft day transactions to bring in Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicolas Batum—all key rotation players for what has become the core for one of the youngest teams in the NBA. Using mostly homegrown talent courtesy of Pritchard last season, the Blazers went 54-28, were co-champions of the Northwest Division, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
All of which makes the recent reports coming out of Portland regarding Pritchard's unstable future with the team all the more baffling.
In Cleveland, there have been talks to promote Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry to President of Basketball Operations. That position does not exist within the Cavs organization right now, and it would be created specifically to promote Ferry and move assistant GM Chris Grant to the team's full-time General Manager.
If that is the case, the Cavs already have one foot through the right door by promoting Ferry. But the second foot would be taking a long, hard look at Pritchard—if he becomes available like many believe—for the General Manager position instead of Grant.
Ferry and Grant have worked tirelessly in building a championship caliber team around LeBron James, especially through the trade market. The Cavaliers front office has made four blockbuster trades over the last 25 months, trades that eliminated the likes of Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Damon Jones, and Sasha Pavlovic for Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, and Antawn Jamison.
The one knock on Ferry and Grant is their inability to add young talent around James, a crippling downfall considering the fact that the Cavaliers' franchise cornerstone is only 25-years old. Instead of surrounding him with a young nucleus that can grow with him and play together for the duration of their careers, the Cavs have added veterans who probably won't be around when James hits the prime of his career.
Maneuvering the draft to find young talent is Pritchard's specialty, and he has played the draft like a fiddle. The Blazers have been fortunate (depending on how you look at it) to have had high draft picks for several years, something that enabled them to add lottery picks.
But Pritchard was the one masterminding trades that helped the Blazers acquire more draft picks, most notably the one in 2006 when he moved Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and a second-round pick to Boston for the seventh pick in that June's draft. That pick ended up being Randy Foye, whom Pritchard then traded straight up for Roy that same day.
Pritchard also made a series of trades in the 2008 draft to land Frenchman Nicolas Batum, a 19-year-old swingman who had sky-high potential. Batum has been compared to a young Scottie Pippen by those who have observed him, and as a 20-year-old last year he was thrown into the starting lineup for a team that won 54 games and a division title.
In 2007, Pritchard pounced on an opportunity when the Suns drafted sharpshooter Rudy Fernandez in the first round only to make him available through trade. Pritchard simply used the sizable checkbook of owner Paul Allen—a resource that would also be available with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert—to send cash consideration to the Suns in return for Fernandez.
The Cavaliers could really use Pritchard's expertise in adding young talent to their current roster, which is an aging one that has a 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, a 34-year-old Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and a 33-year-old Antawn Jamison. Portland, meanwhile, has one of the youngest rosters in the league mixed in with veteran role players like Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, and Juwan Howard.
To be fair, Ferry has not had a lot of draft picks to work with since his predecessor, Jim Paxson, traded away a lot of them in crippling trades. But it also seems like he hasn't made a sincere attempt in even acquiring draft picks or moving up in the draft to add young players.
An example of that was last June when he stayed at the 30th pick to take African guard Christian Eyenga and stock him overseas instead of draft Pittsburgh forward DeJuan Blair. While Blair has several red flags due to a vast injury history, he has still managed to be a key rotation player for the Spurs this season and average 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds while Eyenga is far from a sure thing.
To align the stars further, both Pritchard and Ferry are alumni of the San Antonio Spurs organization and worked under current Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford. Ferry won two championship rings with the Spurs, once as a player in 2003 and the second as a member of San Antonio's front office under the title of director of basketball operations.
Pritchard, meanwhile, was already in San Antonio's front office when Ferry was on the actual roster and was already on his way to Portland by the time Ferry moved into management. Buford hired Pritchard as a scout and talent evaluator in 2001 before Pritchard took Portland's job of director of player personnel in 2003.
It might be a problem to give two "alpha dogs" such prominent positions in one front office, a situation that would bring attention to the adage of having too many cooks in one kitchen.
But Ferry's weaknesses are Pritchard's strength, and vice versa. Together, they could work to put a sensational supporting cast around LeBron James assuming he stays in Cleveland this summer, something that would be a treat to many basketball fans worldwide.
The stars are beginning to align perfectly with Pritchard's "sooner or later" exit from Portland. Now it's up to Cavaliers ownership to explore a possibility that would further help them build their organization in the image of the Spurs, something that has seemed obvious from Day One of Dan Gilbert's reign.
Otherwise, the Cavs might continue to misuse the draft as a way to add young talent around their King. And that would be a shame.