It's a strange world when the team that went .500 and missed the playoffs is the one most playing with house money, certainly among division rivals, probably within the Western Conference and possibly throughout the entire league. The Trail Blazers: not your basic lottery team.
They're more like your basic stocked team. Whether the Blazers feel as good once they actually reach the future remains to be seen, but they are already expected to add two impact rookies, Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez, and that doesn't even count the chip of picking 13th.
Portland could trade the pick for a veteran, wanting the influence of experience, or it could use the selection for depth. Or it could use the selection and get another one later in the first round, the way deep-pockets owner Paul Allen green-lighted buying one last season. That turned into Fernandez, who was left in Spain and made major strides to where he would be going much higher in this draft.
Utah Jazz (54-28 in 2007-08)
Picks: 23, 44, 53.
The development of Ronnie Brewer allows Utah the comfort of being set with every starting job, with the additional luxury of being set with young players in some cases, even if small forward appears eternally fragile with Andrei Kirilenko. The needs are adding defense, a backup point guard, maybe a backup center.
Denver Nuggets (50-32)
They're facing much bigger decisions than what to do late in the first round, starting with the uncertain futures of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson in Denver. With the current roster makeup, the concerns are point guard (Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins) and power forward (the poor rebounding of Kenyon Martin, the health issues of Nene).
Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
Picks: 13, 33, 36, 55.
No way the Blazers want four picks showing up in camp, when Oden will return from knee surgery and Fernandez is expected to come from Europe, so it will likely be another busy draft night for the front office. The need in the first round is to find more offense -- Portland finished 20th in shooting and tied for 27th in scoring.
Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)
Picks: 3, 31, 34.
The Timberwolves would like to play Al Jefferson (21 points, 11.1 rebounds while turning 23 around midseason) at power forward, but there's also no ideal center to take in the first round to make that happen. Stanford's Brook Lopez is the possibility. No telling what personnel boss Kevin McHale will do, though. Maybe acquire LeBron James to trade him to the Celtics.
Seattle SuperSonics (20-62)
Picks: 4, 32, 46, 50, 56.
Where to begin. The Sonics need to decide on a future at point guard, with Jerryd Bayless a possibility at No. 4 to settle dismiss the Earl Watson-Luke Ridnour debate, a center, and perimeter offense. And a home.