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Trail Blazers, SuperSonics get 1-2 punch

Portland and Seattle beat the lottery odds and are expected to take Oden and Durant. Grizzlies and Celtics fall out of top three.

May 23, 2007|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

If things weren't tough enough for the Lakers and Clippers, the West just got wilder.

The Pacific Northwest, which had been a rest stop, vaulted back into the picture as Portland and Seattle drew the first and second picks in Tuesday night's lottery, putting them in position to draft the two hottest prospects in one draft since Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984.

With rookie of the year Brandon Roy representing them, the Trail Blazers, who tied for the sixth-worst record and had only a 5.3% chance, drew the No. 1 pick.

Although General Manager Kevin Pritchard wouldn't commit himself, they're expected to take 7-foot Ohio State freshman Greg Oden, considered the best center prospect since Shaquille O'Neal arrived in 1992.

The SuperSonics, who had the fifth-worst record, jumped up to No. 2.

They're expected to take 6-9 Texas freshman Kevin Durant, who is already being compared to perennial All-Stars such as Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett.

"We know we have to go through the process to make that pick," Pritchard said. "No decisions have been made....

"I'm the kind of GM who really looks at the best player available. I don't care what position it is."

Team officials had been prohibited from discussing draftees before Tuesday, but privately, general managers have overwhelmingly named Oden as the No. 1 pick.

"He's a once-in-a-lifetime guy, but there are no crystal balls," one GM said. "I think he's going to be a great player in the league, but whether he's going to be the next [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar or the next [Bill] Russell, I don't know."

The West already had five of the six winningest teams and eight of the nine top offenses.

Portland, which cratered after breaking up the old "Jail Blazers," finished No. 12 in the West but gained 11 games in the standings with an exciting young team that included Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez.

Despite Pritchard's reticence, the Trail Blazers have one big hole -- at center -- making Oden an obvious choice.

Meanwhile, the SuperSonics finished No. 14 and appeared to be in free fall, not to mention on their way out of Seattle.

Reportedly complaining he was cheated when he bought the team, new owner Clay Bennett just fired GM Rick Sund and Coach Bob Hill and saw all his attempts to get a new arena foiled.

Durant's arrival could change everything. An exciting perimeter player, as opposed to the powerful Oden, Durant's fresh-faced look reportedly has Nike ready to offer him a $25-million endorsement deal.

Not everyone makes out in the lottery, and the two worst teams didn't.

The Memphis Grizzlies, who had a 64% chance of finishing in the top three, fell as far as they could, to No. 4.

It might have been even worse for the Boston Celtics, who went through this in 1997 when they had the worst record but saw San Antonio vault up to No. 1 and get Tim Duncan.

With this season's second-worst record and a 56% chance of getting into the top three, the Celtics fell all the way to No. 5.

The lottery was a rare stroke of luck for the Atlanta Hawks, who were in trouble again after GM Billy Knight neglected to get lottery protection for the No. 1 pick he traded to Phoenix for Joe Johnson in 2005.

The pick was only top-three protected. Unless the Hawks, who had the fourth-worst record, jumped into the top three -- which was only a 38% shot -- their pick would go to the Suns.

Happily for Atlanta and unhappily for Phoenix, the Hawks drew No. 3.

"This gives us a chance to look at what we really need as far as helping us progress as a franchise," Vice President Dominique Wilkins said.

"This is big for us. Everybody wants the No. 1, No. 2 picks. But any time you get in the top three picks, this is monumental for us."

The Clippers, who had the best record of any non-playoff team, didn't improve in the lottery and will select No. 14.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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