PORTLAND, Ore. — E-mails arrive for Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard reading simply “honk” or “honk, honk.”
They come from fans weighing in on whom the Trail Blazers should take with the first pick of this week’s NBA draft. Franchise officials have embraced the alluring but agonizing choice, putting up billboards around the city that ask drivers to beep their horns once for Ohio State center Greg Oden and twice for Texas forward Kevin Durant.
The Blazers did not indicate which way they were leaning heading into Thursday’s draft in New York. “There is no consensus” among the team’s brass, Pritchard said.
“We’re not ready to make a choice right now,” he said. “We owe it to this organization to make the best choice, not the immediate choice.”
These teenagers who turned pro after one year in college are widely viewed as future stars who can make an immediate impact on a franchise. Each worked out for the team last week.
Portland’s good fortune of landing the No. 1 pick in a year when the top of the draft is so strong has turned fans giddy after several down years led many to lose enthusiasm. An unscientific poll on the Blazers.com Web site showed Oden with 75 percent of the vote as of Sunday.
Oden would be the top pick of many teams because franchise centers are rare. The Blazers, who already have 6-foot-9 Zach Randolph and 6-foot-11 LaMarcus Aldridge, could be one of the few in a position to favor Durant.
After getting a late start his freshman year because of a wrist injury, the 7-foot Oden led the Buckeyes in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (9.6) and topped the Big Ten in shooting percentage (.616).
Ohio State went 35-4 and won the conference’s regular season and tournament titles before advancing to its first NCAA final since 1962, where the Buckeyes lost to two-time champion Florida. In the title game, Oden had 25 points and 12 rebounds.
The 6-9 Durant, The Associated Press Player of the Year, was the only player in the country to average more than 25 points and 10 rebounds.
He shot 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the foul line. He led the Longhorns in steals and blocked shots and scored at least 30 points a Big 12-record 11 times.
Each player downplayed the significance of going No. 1.
“It would be an honor for me,” Durant said. “But I’m just blessed to be in this position. I’m not going to be picky.”
After his workout with Portland, Oden was asked whether he likened himself more to Shaquille O’Neal or Bill Russell.
Without hesitation, he answered, “Russell.”
“Ten fingers, 11 rings,” he explained.
Durant said he tries to emulate Dirk Nowitzki.
“But I know I’m nowhere as near as good as Dirk,” he said.
Oden displayed his quick wit when asked what would happen if Portland doesn’t select him.
“I’d cry,” he responded.
Kidding aside, he added: “I would be a little disappointed because it’s starting to grow on me. The trees. I love it out here.”