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Trail Blazers facing a can't-lose situation Oden or Durant could be No. 1 pick

If any NBA franchise is deserving of the top pick in the draft, it's the Portland Trail Blazers.

While the Blazers have enjoyed tremendous success in the 30 years since they captured their one and only NBA championship, what they've done in the draft has placed them in the bittersweet position they enjoy today. Portland will go a long way in erasing previous mistakes if it selects Buffalo native Greg Oden No. 1 overall as expected in the NBA draft at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN).

The 7-foot Oden, who led Ohio State to the national championship game last April, is considered the best center prospect since LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, while others say he's the best since Georgetown's Patrick Ewing in 1985.

"Honestly, I'm just going to be excited to hear my name called, whether it's one, two or even 20," Oden said. "Just to get up there and get to shake Mr. (NBA Commissioner David) Stern's hand, that would nice. It's been a dream of mine."

While Oden is clearly the best big man in the draft, the best overall prospect available is 6-9 Texas small forward Kevin Durant, the national Player of the Year this past season. Durant will be selected no later than No. 2 overall by the Seattle SuperSonics.

"I've wanted to be in the NBA for so long, since I was a young kid," Durant said. "I'm lucky to be in this position. I can't wait for the journey to begin."
Others expected to be chosen among the first eight include Florida's Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer; Ohio State's Mike Conley and Georgetown's Jeff Green. China's Yi Jianlian is expected to be the first international player taken.

Portland can't go wrong by taking either Oden or Durant. Both are franchise-altering players in the mold of O'Neal, Cleveland's LeBron James and San Antonio's Tim Duncan. There is a debate among the Portland brass but in a poll conducted on the team's Web site, 72 percent of the fans want the Blazers to select Oden.

"We'll come to a conclusion," Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard said on the team's Web site recently. "This isn't 'The Sopranos,' we're going to come to some kind of conclusion."

Hopefully for the Blazers it will be a favorable finale because some of their draft picks over the years have been whacked right out of the NBA. What do Chris Anstey, Erick Barkley and Qyntel Woods have in common? All were drafted by the Blazers over the past 10 seasons and are no longer in the league.

While Portland's Brandon Roy won the Rookie of the Year this past season, Linas Kleiza, Sebastian Telfair, Sergei Monia and Travis Outlaw -- the Blazers' last four picks prior to 2006 -- have a combined career scoring average thus far of an underwhelming 23 points a game.

Since the Blazers last won the NBA title in 1977, they've drafted one player who was named All-NBA: Clyde Drexler, who was picked in 1983.

Mychal Thompson (1978), Jim Paxson (1979), Lafayette Lever (1982), Terry Porter (1985), Arvydas Sabonis (1986) were all considered good picks by the Blazers, but they are overshadowed by mystifying selections like Walter Berry (1986), Alaa Abdelnaby (1990), Syracuse University's David Johnson (1992) and James Robinson (1993). They had better luck in the second round with players like Jerome Kersey (1984) and Buffalo native Cliff Robinson (1989).

And we don't need to discuss the selection of Sam Bowie with you-know-who still on the board in 1984. But picking either Oden or Durant will set up this franchise for success over the next decade.

"Our starting point has always been the same: Which player wins more championships? Which one gives us an opportunity, when he steps on the floor to get us that [championship] trophy?" Pritchard said. "That's where the process starts and ends."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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