Oden’s Too Special To Pass Up

By Dwight Jaynes
Updated: May 25, 2007

PORTLAND — All that talk you’ve been reading for months now — and yes, theres been a lot of it in this very space — about the NBA heading toward smaller, quick lineups and a faster pace?

Well, never mind.

Yes, now that the Trail Blazers are faced with the opportunity to draft potentially the best big man to come out of college since Tim Duncan, I think they better just grab him.

In the old days, there would have been no hesitation about it — bigger has nearly always been considered better in basketball.

But Michael Jordan shook that up a little when he proved you can consistently win championships without the Hall of Fame-level center, and now, in the last few seasons, the trend toward faster-paced, up-tempo offense has left a lot of big men on the bench.

But it’s time to look reality in the face here. Most of those teams are playing small ball simply because they don’t have a star big man. There just aren’t many superstar centers anymore.

Do you really think the Phoenix Suns, for example, would pass on Greg Oden if they could get him?

I don’t think so. There is too much potential there. I know the Blazers like Kevin Durant a lot. But in the end, I don’t think there’s any way they can pick anyone but Oden.

The kid’s ready to contribute immediately on defense and eventually he’s going to be a very good offensive player, too.

“People make me laugh when they say they doubt his offense,” Larry Bird told The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan. “They badly underestimate him.”

And in spite of all the talk of the game opening up to smaller, quicker players, basketball is still about size. Just take a look at the styles of the teams still alive in the playoffs.

And, seriously, this kid Oden is really something.

“People talk about this draft being all about 1 or 2,” ESPN analyst Greg Anthony said in Ryan’s column. “Really, it’s about 1.

“Durant is nice, but Oden is special. There’s a reason why the court has that paint, why there is a three-second rule. Check out the championships. Teams with the great big men rule.

“Oden hasn’t lost a home game since junior high.”

Blazer GM Kevin Pritchard’s job will be to collect more outside shooters, because there are going to be open shots for players. I think he now can move swiftly to find a new home for Zach Randolph, in exchange for a veteran small forward who can shoot.

That new guy won’t have to be a great defensive player because Oden will be behind him, covering his mistakes.

Just make sure everyone added to this team can make an open shot because most of the other pieces already are in place.

Tuesday’s lottery might be the one that finally forces the NBA to make changes in its procedures. Drafts, after all, are held in order to equalize the talent — allow the worst teams to get better.

Under the current lottery setup, the worst team has gotten the top pick only four times in the last 22 years. This year, none of the three worst teams ended up holding any of the top three draft choices.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

The NBA probably isn’t too happy, either, with the best two players ending up in the Pacific Northwest. The hope, I’m sure, was for help in Boston, Philadelphia and New York — the major media outlets that seem to think of themselves as meccas for the game.

I’m also hearing a lot of whining about what a marketing disaster this is and how nobody in the East will get to see these kids play because their games will always be starting so late.

Baloney. Quite obviously, these teams play a lot of games outside their own time zones. And even when they’re at home, the NBA can seemingly dictate starting times on games whenever it wants.

Get ready, Blazer fans — you might be facing some 5:00 home games this year. But at least if you have to scalp your tickets, somebody’s going to want to buy them.

And speaking of renewed interest in the team, did Comcast get lucky, or what? Just a day after announcing a new cable-sports network built around the Blazers, the team goes from somewhere near the outhouse to at least the stairway to the penthouse. That deal is gold now.

I’m not going to sit here and predict championships based on lottery results. But I’m also here to tell you that the face of sports in Portland has been altered. A new course is being charted.

And, yes, you can give the Blazers all the credit in the world for doing the right things and setting up a nice corporate culture again. But at the same time, remember — it’s better to be lucky than good.

And the team was double lucky this time. It’s one thing to win the lottery when the top pick is Andrea Bargnani or Andrew Bogut. But it’s quite another to get it when it’s Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan.

Or Greg Oden.