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Draft's riches stay in West

Oden and Durant go to Portland and Seattle as expected, and trades add to the intrigue to keep the pressure on the Lakers to keep up.

June 29, 2007|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

Now what?

The West got tougher in Thursday's draft, the East remained merely the East, but despite a flurry of trades, the big names the Lakers pursued -- Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal -- weren't in any of them.

As expected, Ohio State's Greg Oden, considered the top center prospect in years, went to Portland at No. 1, adding one more contender to the Western Conference's long list.

Seattle got highly regarded Kevin Durant at No. 2 but went into an immediate long-term building project, trading sharpshooting Ray Allen to Boston for the Celtics' No. 5 pick, Georgetown forward Jeff Green.

The Clippers got a piece they needed -- Florida State forward Al Thornton, a Corey Maggette type, with Maggette in his contract season.

The Lakers got Javaris Crittenton, a big promising point guard, whose future may or may not be too far ahead of him to play a lot alongside Kobe Bryant.

Garnett, sought by the Lakers and Phoenix Suns in multi-team talks that broke down this week, may still be traded ... with speculation now centering on the Golden State Warriors.

Whether it was part of a deal the Warriors are working on with Minnesota or not, they traded guard Jason Richardson to Charlotte for North Carolina's Brandan Wright, a promising young big man whom the Bobcats drafted at No. 8.

The Warriors may now offer Wright with center Andris Biedrins and guard Monta Ellis and enough salary to make the deal work to Minnesota for Garnett.

If it's hard to move up in the West, a player here and there can turn anyone around in the East and several teams were out there wheeling and dealing.

Boston General Manager Danny Ainge, who was tempted to take 6-foot-11 Yi Jianlian, instead traded the pick to Seattle for Allen.

With Allen and Paul Pierce, the Celtics, who finished last in the East at 24-58 and were bitterly disappointed at not getting one of the top two picks, have a chance to get back in the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Celtics' long-term strategy that saw them bring in young players such as Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair looks as if it's on hold.

New York President Isiah Thomas, the original riverboat gambler, took the risk everyone else shunned, trading Channing Frye and Steve Francis for Portland's Zach Randolph.

The talented Randolph has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds over four seasons but was an attitude problem, frequently clashing with his coaches, and was involved in a series of late-night brushes with the law.

Now, in New York, the chunky Randolph will play alongside even chunkier Eddy Curry, in a tandem that should be good for 40 points a game, at both ends of the court.

Indiana is still discussing trades for O'Neal. A league source says the Pacers have interest from a team other than the Lakers.

After failing to get Garnett or O'Neal, it remains to be seen what the Lakers have in mind next.

They can reportedly have O'Neal for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom but, to date, have decided that's too much.

If Durant is the more celebrated rookie, who just got the bigger sneaker contract, Oden is the one who'll make the most difference.

With Randolph's exit, the Trail Blazers, known only a few years ago as "Jail Blazers," have been almost completely transformed.

Next season's projected starters -- Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ime Udoka, Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack -- have all been acquired in the last two seasons, have an average age of 22 and a total of seven seasons' experience among them.

Of course, the off-season has just started, the Lakers hope.

"It looks like there's going to be a lot of activity," said Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

"I doubt there'll be a flurry of activity the next week or two. You have the whole summer to sort it out. It could actually go into next season.

"I wouldn't say in the next week there's going to be four or five big-name players exchanging teams, but maybe by the time training camp rolls around and the season starts, you'll see some substantial and significant movement in the league."

For the Lakers, whatever happens will be significant.


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