Braly: Is winning now worth losing a lottery pick?

Max Braly, Sports Contributor

Is winning now worth losing a lottery pick?

With just over three minutes left in Sunday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder the game shifted into “Lillard-Time” when the fourth-year point guard scored 17 points in the final three minutes. Leading the Blazers to a 115-110 victory over the Thunder.

With the thrilling victory over the Thunder, the Blazers are three games out from the eighth seed in western conference. The Trail Blazers have found themselves in an odd situation: To tank, or not to tank? 

Last summer, Portland general manager Neil Olshey decided to overhaul the roster after franchise cornerstone Lamarcus Aldridge decided to sign with the San Antonio Spurs as a free agent. Fan favorite Wesley Matthews signed with Dallas. Nic Batum was traded to Charlotte. And Robin Lopez signed with New York. By season’s start, the Blazers were left with only one starter from the previous year: Lillard. Olshey surrounded Lillard with young talent through trades and signings.

Despite the rebuild, players have been performing well. C.J. McCollum increased his scoring average by 14 points and is the front-runner in the race for Most Improved Player. Allen Crabbe increased his scoring average by eight points. Acquired via trades, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee are raw bigs with ultra high ceilings,They are perfect projects for player development guru and head coach Terry Stotts. By the looks of it so far, Olshey has made the right call.

Portland hosts the NBA’s fourth youngest team, with an average age of 24.3 years. Because of the team’s youth, the expectations for the team were low. Some NBA analysts predicted the team would win fewer than 20 games, a natural expectation seeing that Portland’s relatively unknown players had to replace their once proven talent.

With such low expectations, the Trail Blazers are free to be bad. Giving young guys ample court time to develop is a great way to lose. The catch with this season is that they haven’t been losing as much as people previously predicted and in the games they do lose, they aren’t losing by much.

With more than half the season remaining, there is time to jump in the standings and secure a playoff spot. But would it be worth it?

By winning and taking their third straight trip to the NBA Playoffs (and likely earning a matchup with Golden State or San Antonio in the first round), they would also sacrifice their 2016 first round draft pick. A pick that would go to Denver unless Portland is in the lottery. The draft would be a huge opportunity to gain a game changing player from a draft class loaded with talent.

By losing and keeping their 2016 pick, the Blazers risk hurting their already excellent team chemistry and could possibly form a habit of losing, (if you don’t think this happens, go study the Philadelphia 76ers.) This route still supplies Portland’s youngsters with court time and a greater chance to get better.

Approaching the midway point of the season, the Blazers have found themselves in a win-win situation

On Twitter @Max_Braly

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