A Case of Natural Selection
Friday, June 29, 2007
NEW YORK, June 28 -- As NBA Commissioner David Stern approached the podium at the Theater at Madison Square Garden to announce the top choice in the 2007 NBA draft, Kevin Durant and his mother, Wanda Pratt, linked eyes and he grabbed her hand tightly. He held out the slightest hope that his name would be called first, and his heart skipped a beat as Stern officially ended a year-long debate and announced that the Portland Trail Blazers had selected Greg Oden as the No. 1 pick.
"When [Stern] said Greg, I figured where I was going next," said Durant, a Suitland native who quickly went second to the Seattle SuperSonics. Durant gave his mother a kiss and Pratt began to cry as her son walked to the stage to shake Stern's hand. "I was crying because I was so happy for him. I know he's worked so hard for this," Pratt said. "He had a plan, he set some goals and he reached his goals."
But the suspense of one of the most highly anticipated drafts in recent memory didn't end with Oden and Durant, the first two freshmen ever taken No. 1 and 2 overall. Portland and Seattle would continue to dominate the evening with two blockbuster trades; a band of brothers who won back-to-back national championships at Florida -- Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah -- would make the Gator chomp the most popular post-selection celebration in the lottery; and Chinese big man Yi Jianlian found an unlikely home in Milwaukee.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett was the player involved in most of the trade rumors prior to the draft, but Seattle guard Ray Allen, Portland forward Zach Randolph and Golden State Warriors guard Jason Richardson were the big-name players who actually were dealt last night.
The Boston Celtics selected Big East player of the year Jeff Green of Georgetown with the No. 5 pick and sent him, along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, to the Sonics in exchange for shooting guard Ray Allen and Glen Davis, the 35th pick. The Sonics have been rumored to be leaving Seattle after this season, but wherever they wind up, they should have a huge following in Maryland regardless, with Durant, Green and West, the former Eleanor Roosevelt star.
The Blazers also made a trade with the New York Knicks, sending Randolph, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones to New York for Channing Frye and former Maryland point guard Steve Francis. Knicks fans roared in support when the trade was announced, and movie director Spike Lee shot up from his seat and applauded. Portland later acquired two late first-rounders, Spanish guard Rudy Fernandez (the 26th pick) and Petteri Koponen from Finland (the 30th pick) in separate deals with Phoenix and Philadelphia, respectively.
Michael Jordan filled the Charlotte Bobcats' need for offensive firepower, trading No. 8 pick Brandan Wright of North Carolina for Golden State's high-flying Richardson. The Bobcats also received Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson in the deal.
The Atlanta Hawks ignored their needs for a point guard and passed on Oden's former teammate at Ohio State, Mike Conley Jr., to select Horford with the third pick. Florida became the first school to have three players taken among the top nine picks, with Corey Brewer, the most outstanding player of the NCAA Final Four, going seventh to Minnesota and the Chicago Bulls selecting Joakim Noah at No. 9. Noah, the loudest and most loquacious player in the draft, arrived in the most outlandish suit and bow tie. "A funky look, isn't it?" Noah said, abandoning his classic ponytail to let his curly locks hug his shoulders.
Conley went No. 4 to the Memphis Grizzlies. Milwaukee made arguably the most shocking selection of the draft, selecting Yi sixth and disregarding his desire to play in a city with a large Chinese population. Yi held individual workouts in Los Angeles for select teams, but Milwaukee was not one of them. "It's a surprise to me as well," Yi said through an interpreter. "I'm not familiar with the city, but I'm happy to play with the team and I'm happy to be in the NBA."
The Washington Wizards patiently watched Southern California shooting guard Nick Young slip and snatched him with the 16th pick. In other deals, the Miami Heat sent Colorado State forward-center Jason Smith, the 20th pick, to Philadelphia for the 21st pick, Daequan Cook, a 2009 second-round pick and cash.
Durant, 18, was an unstoppable offensive weapon at Texas. The 6-foot-9 forward was the most decorated freshman in NCAA history, sweeping every major college player of the year award after averaging 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds.
He might've been the No. 1 pick in just about any other draft -- if Oden hadn't been around. Portland General Manager Kevin Pritchard said he couldn't pass on taking a potentially dominant center with the top choice. The 7-foot Oden averaged 15.7 points and led Ohio State to the national championship game in his only college season despite never fully recovering from an injured right wrist. "Centers with athletic ability, with character, with the ability to change a game on both ends of the floor -- we felt very good about that, and Greg fits that bill," Pritchard said.
Shortly after the players were selected, Oden's mother, Zoe, walked up to Pratt and they embraced. Their sons are both headed to the Pacific Northwest and they likely will be linked for the duration of their careers. "I know we're going to be connected for a long time," said Oden, who has been battling a head cold since he arrived in New York this week. "When you hear my name, you'll hear his. Greg Oden-Durant. He's a really, really good player. I'm a pretty decent player. So I hope things work out. I would love to get way more championships than him."
Durant was elated about going to Seattle and said he was "happy for Greg. It's going to be fun playing against him."