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.

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.