NEW YORK (AP) — 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 freshmen superstars are considered the can’t-miss kids Thursday 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 even while never 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.”