'We're not good enough yet': Blazers GM Joe Cronin talks Sharpe, NBA Draft

Portland Tribune
Portland Tribune
 2022-06-23 Cronin spoke on first-round pick Shaedon Sharpe, Damian Lillard's involvement and more on draft night.

Portland Trail Blazers first-year general manager Joe Cronin confirmed what everyone suspected: The team was shopping the No. 7 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft that took place Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

However, the Blazers hung on to it and took Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe despite him not playing at all last season for the Wildcats.

At 18-years-old, Sharpe is the definition of young, raw talent. And ultimately that ceiling is what tipped Portland in his favor despite the highest level of basketball he's played coming in high school.

"We were lucky enough to have a pretty good foundation built on Shaedon through past viewings, specifically some of the new (assistant GMs) we hired that had seen him quite a bit," Cronin said. "We also had Shaedon here in a 3-on-3 workout and he was really impressive."

Cronin went on to praise Sharpe's demeanor despite being so young and coming into the NBA. Sharpe was originally the No. 1 college recruit of the 2022 class until he reclassified and joined Kentucky back in January.

Sharpe didn't see any court time for the Wildcats though and decided to enter the draft, ultimately ending up as a lottery pick despite the lack of tape.

"It was difficult, you can't have a perfect career," Sharpe said on the path to the NBA without any college tape. "Going from high school to college and not playing your college season and straight to the NBA. It's quite the journey but every step of the way I've just fought and had fun with it."

Sharpe is reportedly a highly talented scorer with strong shooting ability and plenty of explosiveness and athleticism to create his own looks.

Defense seems to be an area needing improvement, and he'll have a big hill to climb with Portland already boasting guards Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart.

Cronin said he and head coach Chauncey Billups also liked Sharpe by projecting what could have been. If Sharpe had played half the season at Kentucky, Cronin said he might have gone top three, and the same potential in the 2023 draft if Sharpe had stayed one more year.

With a 6-foot-6 frame and a solid wingspan, Sharpe could even see some time at small forward, but for now it's just about earning his way into some minutes and earning that No. 17 jersey he'll be wearing.

"I think he's talented enough to play right away and I'm sure he'll get some minutes," Cronin said. "Talent wise he's very capable of competing."

Cronin and crew, which included owner Jody Allen in the war room, also took Jabari Walker out of Colorado with the No. 57 pick. Portland traded their No. 46 pick that was acquired from Detroit in the reported trade for Jerami Grant.

Walker projects as a solid 3-and-D guy after leading CU last year in scoring and rebounding at 6-foot-9. He's also the son of former NBA player Samaki Walker who played 10 seasons in the NBA.

And it helps when head coach Chauncey Billups is from Colorado and also played for the Buffaloes (Cronin is from Colorado as well).

"Chauncey is excited about getting a Colorado guy and inherently he watches more Colorado basketball than say some other random school," Cronin said. "He has a good feel for Jabari's game and he's got a pro skill set."

Away from the court, Cronin said he was working the phones from post-combine and until the draft as he said from the onset that he wanted to maximize the No. 7 pick.

Admittedly, Cronin said there were some players offered that could have provided some instant and long-term help, but couldn't work out a deal.

"As the process went on, we became more and more enamored with pick 7," Cronin said. "In my trade discussions, most of them became, 'You gotta wow us to have us even think about moving this pick,' and it ended up that nobody wowed us."

Cronin couldn't discuss the Grant trade with Detroit as the deal hasn't been officially finalized, but did he say he tried to keep different deals separate and didn't let the reported trade influence ideas with No. 7.

The rookie GM also said there was plenty about the process that surprised in his first time round, mostly things not having to do with basketball.

But he did have his star in Lillard to bounce ideas off of as the Blazers leader was seen at many of the predraft workouts.

"He's a huge fan, he's curious and he loves to watch players and see this process," Cronin said of Lillard. "He has such a unique perspective being a high-level but also a player who's got a pretty good front-office lens, like he gets the other side of this."

Up next for Portland will be the NBA Summer League, which Portland plays one of the two opening games in Las Vegas on July 7 against Detroit at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Cronin believes there is plenty of work to do still, saying, "we know we're not good enough."

Those phone lines have been working hard already, and they're sure to be ringing still from now all the way to the trade deadline in February.

"We're trying to be really aggressive," Cronin said. "The draft is a big trade day, but it's not the end all as far as trades go … We'll continue working the trade lines, looking for upgrades and when the time comes, enter the free agent market and look to fill some specific needs."

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