Celtics Prefer Oden to Durant?

April 11, 2007

One down, one to go. The University of Texas's star freshman, Kevin Durant, has decided to leave Austin and make himself available for the June 28 NBA draft. Does this mean Danny Ainge gets his $30,000 back from the NBA for chatting up Durant's mom last month at the Big 12 tournament?

All that awaits now is the decision by Ohio State's Greg Oden, and if he declares for the draft, you will be able to hear the champagne corks popping at the Celtics offices from the top of Mount Washington. While by no means guaranteed one of the top two picks, the Celtics' record gives them almost a 39 percent chance at one of the two at the May 22 draft lottery.

And while the Celtics would prefer Oden, the 6-foot-9-inch Durant, only the best player in college basketball this past season, would be a very acceptable alternative. At this point, it looks like both are can't-missers.

Durant made his decision official yesterday at a news conference in Austin, and it was hardly a shocker. He's looking at a starting salary of around $4 million from his NBA employer if he goes No. 2. Throw in what is certain to be a much, much larger sneaker deal - ESPN estimated it could be as high as $20 million - and the decision was basically made for him.

Ainge said he is not allowed to comment on any early entries for the draft until the NBA releases the official list, which comes out the first week of May. Underclassmen have until April 29 to declare. A player can preserve his college eligibility if he does not hire an agent and withdraws his name by June 18, 10 days before the draft. That happens when a guy doesn't like what he hears about his draft status. But, in Durant's case, there is no mystery. He isn't going any lower than 2.

Given the historical craziness of the lottery, and the teams involved, you can make a case for a few teams taking Durant No. 1 even if Oden is on the board. Charlotte has Emeka Okafor and Primoz Brezec, and Durant would seem to be a better fit there. Milwaukee used the No. 1 pick two years ago to take Andrew Bogut. Then the Bucks traded for Jamaal Magloire so Bogut could play power forward. Then they traded Magliore to Portland for Steve Blake and Brian Skinner. So what do they do if they win the thing?

How about Philadelphia? The Sixers shelled out $64 million for Samuel Dalembert. The Timberwolves have Mark Blount. The Sonics have Robert Swift.

And the Celtics? Ainge has a soft spot for offensive players, and Durant is definitely that. He finished fourth in the nation in scoring (and fourth in rebounding) and picked up seven Player of the Year awards, including the two biggies, the Naismith and Wooden. No freshman had won the Naismith, which was first presented to Lew Alcindor in 1969. Celtics fans will have no problem getting jacked and pumped envisioning a frontcourt flanked by Al Jefferson and Durant. If Ainge has any concerns about Paul Pierce's body holding up - he says he doesn't - then maybe Durant is the guy.

There doesn't appear to be any doubt that, right now, Durant is the better player. He averaged 1.5 rebounds a game more than Oden, and his 37-point, 23-rebound submission against Texas Tech Jan. 31 may forever be the gold standard for electrifying performances. He can score from anywhere on the court and has been likened to Bob McAdoo, Kevin Garnett, and Tracy McGrady. He also led the Big 12 in blocked shots - he has a 7-foot-6-inch wingspan - so he isn't exactly a cipher on defense.

Ainge talked recently about the many draft mistakes that had been made when a team focused on size. But Oden appears to be one of those centers that doesn't come around very often, and anyone who has seen the Celtics play knows he would fill an immediate and demonstrable need. (You know what Pat Summitt says: "Offense sells tickets. Defense wins games. Rebounding wins championships.") With Shaq on his last legs, Oden and Yao Ming already loom as the two best centers on the planet. (We're not counting pseudo-centers like Tim Duncan and Amare Stoudemire.)

But we don't know yet about Oden's plans. We do know about Durant's. We also know that Durant likes to read the Bible and that he won't turn 19 until September. And we can be reasonably certain that one team is going to be very, very happy to have the kid play in its city next season. And it could be here.

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