Blazers front office looks back on Greg Oden pick

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It all seems so simple in hindsight. Greg Oden will soon undergo his 3rd microfracture surgery since being drafted in 2007, while Kevin Durant will continue to be one of the best players in the Western Conference and, more than likely, lead his team into the playoffs. Oden spent much of his college career nursing a wrist injury, while Durant spent most of his one year at Texas demolishing his competition with a silky-smooth inside-out game on his way to being named the consensus national player of the year.

In hindsight, it all seems so silly. How could we not have seen this? Why did we think that Kevin Durant’s inability to lift the weight bar once or sprint down the court during the draft combine would keep him from being a dominant force in the NBA? It’s hard to remember how sure we all were about Oden after we read things like Chad Ford’s awed recap of Oden’s pre-draft workout:

Oden measures 6-foot-11½ in socks and 7-1 in shoes, and he weighs around 260. His wingspan is an impressive 7-5, and his standing reach nearly 9-3. Those measurements provide the biggest reason most scouts think Oden should be the No. 1 pick. In a league devoid of big, traditional centers — Oden’s numbers add up to a perfect 10.

Everything else is supposed to be gravy.

But when St. Vincent director Ralph Reiff warned that I was in for a surprise, he wasn’t kidding.

Oden’s agility, flexibility, balance and explosiveness are remarkable for a player his size. He’s a 2 guard in a center’s body.

Clearly Oden is more than a big stiff who’s learned how to play basketball. He’s an athlete who happens to be 7 feet tall.

In the span of an hour, there wasn’t a drill point guard Mike Conley could do that Oden couldn’t do. In the strength department, we’d expect that and more. But in terms of athleticism and agility, you have to see it to believe it.

Remember that ridiculous dunk he tried against Georgetown — the one when he took off from a little inside the free-throw line? That type of play should be a staple of his NBA game…

…As the workout continues, Oden plants down low alongside Purdue’s Carl Landry and works on a number of post moves around the basket. His hands are soft. His hook shot is smooth. And most everything Oden lobs up finds its way in the basket. While he’s been working on a midrange jumper to increase his arsenal, it’s his work down on the post that is most impressive.

We’d seen so many pure scorers, shooters, and tweener forwards struggle in the NBA, especially ones with less-than stellar athleticism. Oden was supposed to be the sure thing. 3 microfracture surgeries, 1 Thunder Conference Finals appearance, and 2 Kevin Durant scoring titles later, it’s easy to see just how wrong we were.

However, Blazers acting GM Chad Buchanan, who was in the room when Oden was drafted, says he has no regrets about picking Oden over Durant all these years later (hat tip to Ben Golliver of Blazersedge and CBS’ Eye on Basketball):

Buchanan, speaking at the team’s practice facility on Monday afternoon, told CBSSports.com that he remembered the phone call declaring the team’s intention to select Oden was being placed to NBA commissioner David Stern, thinking that the team’s braintrust was in the process of acquiring a title-delivering talent.

“I was very excited,” he said. “A chance to draft a player who could potentially get your franchise to your ultimate goal. Looking back on it, we were all excited. We had visions of Greg being a great player for us for years to come.”

But just like his predecessors and Blazers president Larry Miller before him, Buchanan said that he still stands by the team’s selection of Oden over Durant.

“Looking back on it, I would still draft Greg,” he said. “Hindsight, it’s easy to make an assumption [now]… You can’t predict the injuries that would come. Going back on it, I wouldn’t have changed anything in drafting Greg.”

Asked if the decision was unanimous among those in the room, Buchanan politely declined to reply.

At the time, there wasn’t much of a debate across the city: a vast majority supported selecting Oden. “Even Caveman Knows: Pick Oden,” read the headline of one letter to the editor that was published in the June 17, 2007, edition ofThe Oregonian. “Oden Possesses Championship Aura,” read another.

Well, it’s safe to say that aura has worn off, and it’s now an open question whether the player who was once a lock to be a franchise center will ever play in the NBA again, let alone play another game for the team that took him over Durant. It’s easy for the Blazers front office to say they would have made the same pick again if they had the same amount of information now that they did them, but it has to be hard to watch Durant continue to light up the league as Oden can do nothing but watch.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.