Scoot Henderson’s downfall against the Blazers was a gift, and Joe Cronin knows he can’t give that away

Heading into the 2023 NBA draft, all the intrigue began at 2nd pick, where the Charlotte Hornets’ decision between Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson would determine what the 3rd pick Portland Trail Blazers would do.

The Hornets took Miller with them. For the Blazers who coveted Henderson, it was a gift. Had Charlotte Henderson taken over, Portland might have gone into swap mode with Miller harder as the company aims to build a competitive roster around Damian Lillard.

But Henderson was, and still is, just too good to give up, according to Portland GM Joe Cronin, which is sure to come as a disappointment to Blazers fans who have long craved the proverbial “all-in” move Cronin has long made I indicated I was ready to do this and saw in Henderson the blue-chip partner who would make it happen.

“I would say that signing Scoot Henderson is the biggest step we can take,” Cronin said of The Athletic’s Jason Quick. “He’ll be better than any player who might be perceived as that big step. And then you start considering other things that are important in this league — the salary cap (Henderson) on a rookie scale — that allows us to.” We’re building a lot more depth than we could have otherwise managed.

Many would agree with Cronin. Henderson is widely regarded as the No. 1 talent overall who happened to take the stage at the same time as Victor Wembanyama, one of the greatest up-and-coming talents of all time. That a player of this caliber, a potential generation type, dropped to the Blazers at No. 3 is a stroke of luck.

Personally, I feel that Charlotte totally undid that decision by choosing Miller because he was a better “fit” for LaMelo Ball. Remember when the Golden State Warriors ranked #2 overall James Wiseman ahead of Ball in 2020 for filling a “need” as a big man on a small team? How did that work?

“You pick the best possible player,” Cronin said, “then you find out.”

Now comes the part of how to find out. The Blazers can still trade Henderson. Whatever offers came up on draft night, they weren’t enough for Cronin to part ways with Henderson, who he believes has “a chance to be a great player in this league,” but it is just a starting point. Free agency starts in a week. Portland will be aggressive and at least try to field a competitor.

I suspect that they want to do this in tandem with Lillard and Henderson, which will likely make Anfernee Simons and future draft funds the core of any outgoing package in a potential deal.

(However, in order for Portland to trade multiple future picks, they would have to remove protection for the 2024 first-round pick they owe Chicago, which is protected by lottery until 2028, thus blocking Portland’s options over the Stepien Rule.)

If that path doesn’t result in a return that they think makes the Blazers and Lillard a viable contender, fire up the lady trading machine because things are heating up. They could switch Lillard this summer. You could move him to the close of trading. Anyway, I have a feeling they’ll put Lillard ahead of Scoot Henderson and I agree with that assessment.

There’s a strong chance that Portland has what it takes to bring back a package that will make them a competitor without giving up on Henderson, and I agree with Cronin on that score. Henderson is just too good to give up on what would still be a very big shot at winning the title.

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