Saturday, June 9, 2012
It isn't and shouldn't be my place to defend the Portland Trailblazers. However, with the recent solidification of Kevin Durant's place as the chief rival to LeBron James' title as "Best Player on Earth", I feel that I must. The choice of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant has taken on a Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan like mystique. The media talk about it, and I know that every Blazers fan watching these playoffs has to be thinking about it. We are now 5 years removed from that fateful draft and it seems as though people have forgotten the circumstances surrounding the choice. People act as though it was unfathomable to take a gamble on Oden, a raw and injury prone big man, when a sure thing like Durant was sitting right there. That was not what it was like.
Oden and Durant both entered their freshman year in college both hyped by the talent scouting media. Oden was already billed as the next great big man. He was over 7 ft tall with long arms who could score, rebound, block shots, with athleticism rare for a man his size. Durant was a raw, enigmatic, scoring machine from the D.C. are who was leaving the east coast to play at Texas. It was Oden who was being compared to the greatest players of all-time. The next Wilt, Kareem, Duncan, etc. No one was sure if Durant would be able to reach even a fraction of his potential.
Oden, in the first of many strikes of bad luck, broke his strong hand at the start of the season. He continued to play however ... WITH ONLY HIS OFF HAND! ALL YEAR! And he was successful! Teaming up with Mike Conley and future Durant teammate Daequan Cook, Oden led a dominant Ohio St. team that cruised to the Big 10 title. Durant led a similarly talented Texas team that included future NBA players D.J. Augustin, Damion James, and Dexter Pittman. Unlike Oden, Durant led his team to a decent, but not great record. He did prove himself to be the scoring machine he would continue to be at the NBA level, earning player of the year considerations. Oden's Ohio St. team earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Durant's Longhorns earned a respectable #4 seed albeit as an at large bid.
In the tournament, Oden and the Buckeyes continued their dominance besting high profile programs like Xavier, Tennessee, and destroying a Memphis team coached by John Callipari that (with the addition of Derrick Rose) would make the title game the following year. Durant's team meanwhile snuck past New Mexico State before getting CRUSHED by an O.J. Mayo led USC team. Oden went on to play a brilliant title game against one of the most stacked college teams of all-time (2006-07 Florida Gators: Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Mareese Speights, Chris Richard, & Taurean Green).
So lets recap. Greg Oden dominates college basketball with his favored hand broken the entire year and nearly upsets the defending national champion with 4 lottery picks on the team and Durant doesn't make it out of the second round with a solid team and holding the NCAA scoring title.
Then comes the Draft Combine. Every concern about Durant is right there. He was one of the only prospects unable to bench 185 lbs. Not so great for someone who is going to have to guard the Carmelo's and LeBron's every night and play forward in the NBA. Oden on the other hand wowed scouts and team personnel with his strength and athleticism. There was no contest. Greg Oden was going to be the #1 pick. He was a sure thing. Nothing was going to get in his way to becoming the games dominant big man.
EVERYONE had questions about Durant's ability to succeed on the next level. He was rail thin, was still raw, had never won at high level, etc. Even though Durant won Rookie of Year honors, he led his Supersonics to a terrible 20-62 record despite having a decent roster that included Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox, Johan Petro, Luke Ridnour, Earl Watson, Delonte West, and fellow rookie Jeff Green. EVERYONE still had questions about his ability to become a great player and nothing more than a great scorer who couldn't win.
We know what happened to Oden.
The point is this: anyone who says that they saw this coming with Durant is a liar.