Greg Oden

Blazers front office looks back on Greg Oden pick


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 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.

Steve Kerr: Luke Walton not being credited with W-L record ‘the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard’

Luke Walton
Leave a comment

The Warriors have surged to a 16-0 start with interim coach Luke Walton, as Steve Kerr is out after a bad reaction to his offseason back surgery.

Walton’s coaching record: 0-0.

Per NBA policy, the 16 wins are credited to Kerr.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN:

Kerr and Walton are engaged in a brutal war of deferential humility. To hear Walton tell it, he’s just a functionary, carrying out Kerr’s well-laid plans. To hear Kerr tell it, Walton deserves all the credit.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Kerr told when asked about getting all of Walton’s wins. “I’m sitting in the locker room and watching the games on TV, and I’m not even traveling to most of the road games. Luke’s doing all the work with the rest of the staff. Luke is 15-0 right now. I’m not. So it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, to be honest with you. I don’t even understand it.”

Walton expresses no angst over being winless, saying of Kerr, “Steve’s done a lot for me. It’s the least I can do to add a couple wins on his total for him with all he’s done for me.”

This is purely an academic argument. It doesn’t really matter which coach gets the wins.

But we care about records in sports, so it is important to get this right. Personally, I think Walton should get credit. He’s the head coach for these games.

The biggest counterargument is that Kerr is still involved, which is true. But he’s involved on a level more in line with an assistant. Several people are involved in a team’s coaching for every game. Only the head coach gets the win or loss on his record.

The Warriors have designated Walton their head coach. He should get the wins.

The biggest hindrance in changing the policy is probably retroactively altering other coaches’ records. Specifically, Don Nelson is the all-time wins leader with just three more than Lenny Wilkins. But the Mavericks went 10-4 in 2004-05 while coached by Avery Johnson as Nelson attended to health issues, both his own and his wife’s. Nelson stepped down for good later in the season, and Johnson’s 16-2 finish goes to Johnson. But Johnson’s first 14 games as acting head coach are credited to Nelson. Does the NBA want to revoke Nelson’s wins record over this?

So, this issue is bigger than the Warriors.

For them, the key facts much simpler. An undefeated team has two people fighting to credit the other for its success.

Whomever officially gets the wins, this is a healthy organization.

Report: 76ers supporting, not blaming, Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor


76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor fought a man in a Boston street.

The team has released a short, vague statement. CSN Philly:

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

But what do the 76ers really think?

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

I spoke with somebody close to him. They’ve talked to the 76ers. They’ve talked with the NBA.

The Sixers are very supportive of Okafor. They understand the situation, but they have to do their due diligence and look into it.

The Sixers are supporting him. They’re not blaming him. If they have to discipline, it still won’t sully him in their eyes.

Again, I’m told that they’re very supportive of him.

If the 76ers really support Okafor, they’ll do so publicly. Leaking their support anonymously doesn’t really move the needle.

I also find this report a little dubious, because Broussard only said he talked to someone close to Okafor. If the 76ers’ viewpoint came filtered through an Okafor rep, there could be a lot of spin – though it’s possible Broussard also spoke with someone from the team.

What choice do the 76ers have but to support Okafor, anyway? He’s a promising young player on a team that desperately needs hope. It seems he made a major mistake, but it’s not a career-ender. And as long as the 76ers are keeping him, they might as well stand by him.

However – based on what we’ve seen, which is obviously not everything – this incident should “sully him in their eyes.” He appeared to be the aggressor, and the team should be concerned by that. Perhaps, further investigation has provided extenuating circumstances, but absent new evidence, the 76ers should view him less favorably – and be proactive about helping him correct any underlying issues.

That’s the support Okafor needs from them.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.