Portland set to blaze a new trail

Greg OdenHappy Days are here again? Is that the slogan for the fans of the Great Northwest? With a stroke of genius or luck, the ping pong balls fell in favor of the Portland Trail Blazers, who won the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery with just a 5.3 percent chance overall. The tanking strategy didn’t work for Boston and Memphis as both were sacked with the fourth and fifth pick, respectively. Footage was shown of Celtic head coach Doc Rivers looking as if he had indigestion after the team’s name was called. Celtic president and GM Danny Ainge likened it to being on the losing side of the visitors’ locker room after a playoff series. Outgoing Grizzlies GM Jerry West voiced his displeasure regarding the lottery system.

In their 36 years of existence, the Blazers have drafted No. 1 overall three times. The first was the immortal center LaRue Martin in 1972. The second was the Big Redhead, Bill Walton from UCLA fame, in 1974 and in 1978 the Portland selected center Mychal Thompson out of Minnesota. Needless to say, the only center that didn’t pan out to be any type of impact player was Martin.

The Blazers are now in a position to not only pick first, but are also in line to change the overall culture of the franchise and bring back the glory days of Bill Walton and his crew of Bobby Gross and Lionel Hollins – and to a lesser degree the squad with Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams and Terry Porter. Those were teams that virtually ruled the Western Conference.

Whether the pick is Greg Oden – who most say is a lock – or wunderkind and scoring deluxe small forward Kevin Durant, they are getting quality young men to which you can build around on and off the court, along with reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and All-Rookie selection LaMarcus Aldridge. The days of the Portland Jail Blazers now appear to be over and done with – if not forever, than at least for the foreseeable future.

Oden is indeed a build-your-team-around center, a rarity in these days of small ball. Some say Durant has more talent at this point in time. And a case can be made in essence for Durant being the first pick. After all, he and not Oden was the consensus overall choice for Player of the Year in college. Some may argue that Oden played only half a season due to a broken wrist he suffered while playing high school ball in Indiana. But there’s absolutely no denying the numbers that Durant put up. He may not be a ferocious defender or rebounder like Oden, but he can certainly certain grab rebounds in a cluster. And his shooting ability reminds many of Larry Bird and/or Dirk Nowitzki. Simply put, Durant’s game is much prettier to the eyes.

But as they say, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. So look for the Blazers to begin life anew with Oden. A potential lineup of Roy, Oden, Aldridge, Jarrett Jack and Martell Webster isn’t bad. Look for the Blazers to start entertaining offers for back-to-the-basket and 20-10 specialist Zach Randolph and oft-injured Darius Miles. The Blazers would want to rid themselves of any potential problem they could bring.

All in all the Blazers and the Seattle SuperSonics will have the Great Northwest all abuzz and there will be much ado about a lot. The only problem on the immediate future is that much of America will not get to see them play on a regular basis unless the NBA gets very creative in their television coverage because 10:30 pm games on the East coast will rob them of exposure.

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