Greg Eno

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One Is The Loneliest Number: Portland Hasn’t Always Gotten It Right

In GregOden, Kevin Durant, NBA draft on June 28, 2007 at 3:02 pm

It was said the other day on ESPN, maybe during the “Road to the Countdown to the Preview of the Hoopla to the NBA Draft.” And it was probably the smartest, most accurate thing uttered.

“One thing’s for sure: the #2 overall pick is going to be the easiest pick in the history of the NBA draft.”

Not-so-sloppy seconds is what awaits the Seattle Sonics, after the Portland Trailblazers make their selection, #1 off the board. And even the Blazers don’t figure to screw this one up.

Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Two big men of the “Rolls Royce” nature, to steal from Dickie Vitale’s lexicon. Both kids — and they ARE kids still — should grow up to be a dominant big man for a long time. Hard to go wrong. But the comment about #2 being so easy is, Seattle will simply take who the Blazers don’t. No analyzing. No hand-wringing. No comparing of notes. No last-minute looks at tape. If Portland takes Oden, Seattle takes Durant. And vice-versa.

But Portland hasn’t always had good luck with drafting big men. Sometimes they’ve been very silly, in fact.

In 1972, Portland used the #1 overall pick to draft LaRue Martin, a 6-foot-11 beanpole from Loyola University in Chicago. He was going to inject hope and life into the third-year franchise.

In four NBA seasons, all with Portland, Martin averaged 5.3 ppg.


Martin (left) and Bowie: Together they made a decent benchwarmer, kinda sorta

In 1974, the Blazers tried again — but this time their choice wasn’t much of a stretch. Choosing the center Bill Walton from UCLA didn’t require a lot of basketball sense. Of course, knowing he’d have an injury-plagued career would have been difficult. So would have imagining him putting America to sleep as a TV analyst. But Walton did lead Portland to its only NBA title, in 1977.

In 1984, Blazers management got their wires crossed and snapped Sam Bowie off the board, from Kentucky. They apparently didn’t think as much of the jewel from the other basketball factory — Michael Jordan from the University of North Carolina.

Now the Blazers have a chance to go 2-2, when they pick either Oden or Durant. They seem to be leading toward Oden. I think I’d lean that way, too — but regardless, the Seattle Sonics will indeed have the easiest pick in NBA draft history. And they can basically grab immunity from criticism — for who can possibly vilify them, even if Durant/Oden busts? NOBODY is suggesting they draft anyone other than who the Blazers DONT.

In 1980, there were two sleek, superstar-destined running backs that were sure to go very high in the NFL draft. One was Charlie White, old #12 for USC. The other was high-stepping Billy Sims, #20 from Oklahoma. White won the Heisman Trophy in 1979; Sims won it in 1978. The Lions would have the #1 overall pick in 1980, thanks to a 2-14 record in 1979. The ’79 season would be their first of many forays into double-digit loss seasons over the ensuing three decades.

As the draft approached, speculation ran rampant: would the Lions select the reigning Heisman winner, White — or the winner two seasons ago, Sims? White or Sims? Sims or White? It seemed to be quite a quandary.

The Lions, of course, chose Sims. And despite a career cut short by injury, Billy Sims was a far superior NFL running back than Charlie White, who went to Cleveland.

And sometimes you get the easiest pick in the history of the NFL draft, too. Such was the case in 1989, when Green Bay passed on Barry Sanders to take the performance-enhanced hulk from MSU, OL Tony Mandarich. Even the Lions couldn’t botch that one up.

So tonight we’ll find out. Oden or Durant? The Portland team is the only one that can make the big mistake here. If they pick Oden, and Durant proves to be the better pro, then you know what’s gonna happen. If Seattle’s pick disappoints, then the Sonics are victims of bad luck — not a team that has pointed a shotgun at its foot and pulled the trigger.

No. 2 can, indeed, be a better position than #1.

As Three Dog Night so rightly noted, “One is the loneliest number.” They also said that “Two can be as bad as one.” But not quite as bad.