April 23, 2014

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Draft more than two deep

Trail Blazers won’t be the only team facing tough choice

Brian Mahoney
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — With a basketball in his hands and a baby blue suit covering his
7-foot frame, Greg Oden exited a midtown hotel ballroom Wednesday just before Kevin Durant arrived.
Oden hopes that isn’t the last time he goes ahead of Durant.
The freshman superstars from Ohio State and Texas are considered the can’t-miss kids today in a deep draft that includes the next potential Chinese All-Star, the core of Florida’s back-to-back national championship teams, and other players who could’ve been vying for the top spot in other years.
Not this time. They’ll have to settle for being No. 3 after Oden and Durant — or Durant and Oden.
The Atlanta Hawks own that third choice, along with No. 11, but were one of many teams reported to be considering a deal on the eve of the draft.
The Portland Trail Blazers will make the Oden-Durant decision, and they haven’t said publicly which way they’re leaning. And if they are still flip-flopping, they aren’t the only ones.
“I’m taking the big guy,” Washington center Spencer Hawes said when asked what he would do. “Look who wins the championships. Nothing against Kevin, but you just got to look at the backbone of championships.”
So then, Oden over Durant?
“I’m not saying that, I’m not going to go that far,” Hawes said. “Conventional wisdom would say that you take the big guy, but that’s a tossup, that’s a tough one to say. I can’t say on the two individuals, but next year if it’s a similar scenario I guess I go with the big guy. But I don’t know, this year I guess I’m a man divided.”
It’s not an easy choice. Oden tested better at predraft camp, Durant had the sharper workout in Portland.
Dominant big men are usually impossible to pass up, and Oden could be a great one. He has been compared to Bill Russell for his rebounding and shot blocking, and he led Ohio State to the national championship game despite never being at full strength after surgery on his right wrist.
“You can see why he’d be a No. 1 pick,” Durant said. “I think he’s one of the best centers to come out of college. He’s quick and agile, he’s 7-feet, 250. I’ve never seen that in a center before.”
Players like Durant don’t come around often, either. The swingman from Texas was the college player of the year after averaging 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds, ranking fourth nationally in both categories. And if he falls to Seattle at No. 2, he’d make a terrific consolation prize.
“Without question, Kevin Durant’s the most talented player in this draft,” Texas A&M point guard Acie Law said. “But if I’m building a franchise, as most teams at the top of the draft are, you can’t pass up a guy you can just build your team around. Because there’s guys in the league that can score 20, 25 a game, like Kevin Durant can, but you’re not going to find a 7-foot manchild that can just patrol your line for 10, 12 years.”
There’s much more in this draft beyond Oden and Durant. Law said the top 15-20 players could become stars, setting up plenty of intrigue around the remainder of the lottery.
The Phoenix Suns were hoping to move up, the Charlotte Bobcats were possibly open to moving down, and the Trail Blazers were rumored to be interested in landing a second lottery pick.
That could put those teams in line for a shot at Al Horford, Corey Brewer or Joakim Noah from Florida, Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr., Georgetown forward Jeff Green, or Hawes.
Green was surprised to be called to a Tuesday workout in Phoenix with Brewer and Noah, even though the Suns aren’t scheduled to draft until well after the lottery. That shows there’s interest in players after Oden and Durant.
“I don’t think a lot of people put a lot of focus on that, after the first two draft picks, because it’s going to be fun to see where people end up,” Green said. “There’s a lot of talent in the draft. In my eyes, we feel like maybe the deepest draft since LeBron’s draft (in 2003).”
Green was seated next to the draft’s unknown, forward Yi Jianlian, illustrating how much the shape of the NBA has changed in the last two decades. The Big East player of the year from the prestigious program was surrounded by maybe a dozen media members, while Yi attracted a crowd about triple that.
Not that much could be learned. Speaking through a translator, Yi said it’s hard to compare him to other players in the draft, but that he could have an advantage over some of them because of his international experience.
Otherwise, he remains a mystery — right down to his age. He’s listed at 19, but has long been rumored to be older. And the 6-11 Yi wants to pattern his game like power forwards such as Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett, not like countryman Yao Ming, a center.
There are fewer doubts about Oden. He probably would’ve been the No. 1 pick last year without going to college if not for the NBA’s age rule, which requires American players be 19 years old and a year out of high school to be eligible for the draft.
The only question now is whether he’s still No. 1 — or if it matters to him.
“Important? It would be nice,” he said. “To play in this league is a dream of mine. Wherever I go will be nice.”