Unable to make a trade, Neil Olshey on Thursday decided the Trail Blazers’ best path was to gamble.
So the Blazers’ president of basketball operations took a chance in the first round, drafting guard Anfernee Simons, who earlier this month turned 19. Simons bypassed college last season and trained at the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
For Blazers’ fans who were hoping for a trade to land a proven veteran, or at least prospect who has a proven track record, the selection of Simons could be viewed as risky.
And Olshey wouldn’t dispute that.
“But it’s not our job to play it safe,’’ Olshey said. “Our job is to go get the guy who has the talent, that if he pans out, you’re not going to get as a free agent, and that nobody is going to trade him to you. That’s what we are trying to find.’’
Olshey thinks he might have that in Simons, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who is slight of build but heavy in potential.
“He’s really gifted,’’ Olshey said. “We felt like he was the most talented guy (left) on the board. He has a really bright future … When the physical growth catches up to his natural, God-given ability, he’s going to be a really good player.’’
Later, in the second round, the Blazers traded with Sacramento to acquire Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th overall pick. Trent, another 19-year-old who just finished his freshman season at Duke, is a wing who is expected to have more of a chance to play next season.
“We are all looking for shooting and this is a guy we think can step in right away and fill a void,’’ Olshey said. “How much or how little is up to (coach) Terry (Stotts). But I don’t think we are going to need to be as patient with Gary.’’
Since the Blazers were swept in the playoffs, Olshey has been transparent about seeking veterans to add to one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. And on Thursday, he directly said the Blazers are looking for wings.
Ideally, Olshey said he would have liked to execute a trade using the team’s $12.9 traded-player-exception from last July’s move of Allen Crabbe, but the rest of the league was more focused on the draft, and not player movement.
“We were trying to look for teams where trading 24 could get us an impact rotation guy into the trade exception,’’ Olshey said. “But tonight wasn’t about existing players (for other teams); it was about the draft.
“We were aggressive leading up to the draft – but we know it was to be a specific fit, a specific guy in terms of skill set. And a guy we believe could make an impact,’’ Olshey said. “Tonight wasn’t the night to do that.’’
So, the Blazers looked ahead, hoping that a player most had targeted in the second round because of his youth and inexperience on the big stage, will one day develop into a star.
“At that point in the draft, we are looking for the guy with the highest ceiling that we could possibly find,’’ Olshey said. “He’s really gifted.’’
Olshey said Simons will likely be an off-the-ball guard, but could someday develop into a point. The Blazers have established guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but have question marks behind them, as Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton are free agents and Wade Baldwin is working on a partially guaranteed contract.
“But this was not a need pick, this was a pick as far as who had the highest ceiling,’’ Olshey said. “There are things he can do that can’t be replicated by a lot of guys in this draft. He just needs to get physically strong enough to do it against NBA competition and do it more consistently.’’
Trent, meanwhile, is more ready and Olshey said he hopes for him to contribute at some level next season. Trent was a McDonald’s All-American and has played for various Team USA teams.
“He’s been on track for this his whole life,’’ Olshey said.
Trent is 6-foot-6 and Olshey said he envisions him as a something between a shooting guard and small forward – needing to improve his quickness to guard elite shooting guards and “having to play up” to guard a small forward.
Many of the mock drafts had Trent being a mid-to-late first round pick. That he lasted to the 37th pick will stick with him.
“Chip on my shoulder? It’s more than that,’’ Trent said. “Going in the second round … I believe I was a first rounder. I’m going to have to come in and work and prove I belong, prove I can stay in this league and prove that I’m better than a second round pick. I’m up for that challenge.’’
Trent’s father played for the Blazers from 1995-1998, a coincidence not lost on the younger Trent.
“It’s crazy. That can’t be nothing but God’s work,’’ Trent said. “To put me in the same place that my dad played – it’s a surreal feeling. It’s unexplainable. Crazy to think about.’’