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Late to the Party

Andy Katz has a great little article on Oden and his recovery here.  But that's only part of the reason I'm writing this post.

I heard an excellent interview with Kevin Durant on the afternoon ESPN Radio sports show (SportsBash) with John Seibel yesterday.  Durant really came across as a grounded, sensible, easy-to-like guy.  Seibel even mentioned after the interview how impressed he was with both of the first two picks in this year's draft, that they were hard workers and regular guys despite having enormous talent.  He also said the world needs to watch out for the Pacific Northwest in a couple of years, so brownie points for him.

That interview jogged my memory that Bill Simmons had written an article about Durant and Oden a couple weeks article which I never read.  I'm sure you've read it by now but if not it's  here.  Since the article is ancient (in media terms fourteen days might as well be two years) I had no intention of responding to it publicly.  But Simmons made strident points about what a mistake it was to draft Oden over Durant.  That's also a discussion we've heard some of around here and we're bound to hear more.  Given that, I felt like it was time to weigh in officially on the subject.

Warning:  Do not read this if you're a Bill Simmons fan.

I think anybody who knows anything about basketball agrees that Kevin Durant is going to be an amazing basketball player, particularly on the offensive end.  Let's get that out of the way up front.

Also I have no quibble with those who think that Durant would have been a great pick for the Blazers.  He absolutely would have been and I'd be happy as punch to have him.

However I do have a problem with saying Durant was the obvious choice over Oden and that Portland will regret not taking the other road as Mr. Simmons has done.

Let's face it...that assertion is made because of one name and one name only:  Michael Jordan.  Had Jordan not come along and dominated the 90's nobody, and I mean NOBODY, would be championing Durant over Oden right now.  Had those Jordan championships gone to some combination of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal (which seem the most likely candidates if you erase Chicago from the picture) there would be absolutely no evidence that a versatile wing guy could single-handedly bring you to the promised land.  In fact there would be a ton more evidence for the three dominant centers in that group.  Had this been the case every pundit (and 99% of the fans) on the planet would have said we'd be fools not to take Oden.  There would be no traction in the Bowie/Jordan comparison today.  The knee injury would have been put in its rightful place:  something unfortunate that happened to a team that clearly made the right decision.

Of course it's not fair to ignore the Jordan era.  It did happen and Michael did change the world.  He showed that one guy can make a huge difference.  But I would point out that one of the key concepts in that assertion is one guy.  Jordan was just that:  singular, unprecedented, and as yet not even close to duplicated.  He was not a blueprint, he was an anomaly...a perfect storm of talent, desire, dedication, and (dare I say it) marketing. Claiming Michael's success was a function of talent alone is like saying "Friends" succeeded because of Jennifer Aniston's hairdo. That's partially correct, but there's more to it than that. You could put somebody with the same good looks and hairdo in front of a camera and still not find the magic in the same way. In fact you could trot Jennifer Aniston herself out there and it might not work the same way twice.

We've seen plenty of talent-laden superstars come through the league since Michael:  Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway.  Not one of them has even come close to having the impact #23 did.  Of the players on that list only Kobe has rings and his came when teamed beside the most dominant center of the modern era.  Though the fanfare has risen anew with every young prospect I have seen absolutely no proof that there is another Michael in the offing.  I don't even know that what he did can be done again any more than what Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did can be repeated.

I can truly see Kevin Durant having a Tracy McGrady-like impact.  That's an enormous compliment as McGrady is perhaps the most dominant, amazing scorer I've seen in the last decade when he's healthy and on his game.  But even if he reaches those lofty heights that's still a long way from Jordan and six rings.  If Durant does better than expected defensively, works really hard, and keeps a clean bill of health he'd STILL be light years away.  Even at that point--having already demonstrated that he was one of the best in the league--nobody outside of Durant himself could know if he had what it takes to bridge that distance or if that distance could be bridged.

Those who say that Durant is clearly the superior choice and is obviously going to define an era are basing that assessment on something that does not exist outside of our past memories.  The prediction rests far more on Michael Jordan's past than Kevin Durant's future.  Could Durant dominate?  Of course he could.  Eventually somebody new always comes along.  But we won't know that it is happening until it actually happens...or more likely until after it happens and we look back on its totality.  We are so far away from that right now that even suggesting it is crying wolf.

Or, more accurately, crying Michael.

--Dave (