|Oden, Durant unlikely to have immediate impact in the rugged West|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 21 June 2007 10:27|
So how many seasons will it take Greg Oden to play for his first title?
``I hope one,'' Oden said with a smile during the finals.
Not likely, big guy.
Oden and Kevin Durant figure to go 1-2 in what shapes up as the strongest draft in years. But they're also likely headed to the rugged Western Conference, where 50 wins wasn't good enough to earn home-court advantage in the first round last season.
To realize how strong the West was, consider that the Spurs-Cavaliers finals mismatch would have taken place in the first round if Cleveland had been in the other conference. The Cavs' 50-32 record would have been good for sixth place - they were second in the East - and given them an opening-round meeting with third-seeded San Antonio.
So if Portland and Seattle, which own the top two picks in the June 28 draft, are hoping to take a giant leap, they may need to think again. They might have to settle for small steps at first.
``People don't understand how good the NBA is. The NBA is hard. It really is,'' said former Seattle coach Bob Hill, fired before possibly getting the chance to coach one of the potential can't-miss stars.
``You play 82 games in seven months or six months and travel, and you play four games in five nights. It's hard. The guys that have to score every night, that's the hardest thing to do.''
Durant will be asked to do that, while Oden can probably make a big enough mark at first with his rebounding and shot blocking. But enough to make the Pacific Northwest teams instant contenders?
Those skills might not even be enough for either player to make an All-Star team anytime soon out West, whose players occupied all five spots on the All-NBA first team. San Antonio's place as a dynasty has been debated since it won a fourth title in nine years, but the Spurs couldn't even get out of the second round four times during that span in a conference that has won seven of the last nine titles.
At 32-50, Portland finished 10 games behind the Lakers and Golden State Warriors, who grabbed the West's final two playoff spots. And as good as Oden and Durant are, that's a large gap to make up unless they have help.
``It takes a lot of components,'' Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. ``Obviously one guy won't be able to turn a franchise around, you have to have a good mix of veterans and enough talent.
``Guys like LeBron come into the league probably once in 20, 30 years. So to expect those guys to do the same things, it's unfair more than anything to them.''
The Spurs set the standard for one-year turnarounds. San Antonio improved by 35 victories in David Robinson's rookie season, and bettered that record with a 36-game jump in Duncan's first season.
But Duncan had played four years at Wake Forest, and Robinson was even more mature after serving his two-year military commitment following his playing days at Navy. Oden and Durant, on the other hand, were just finishing up high school this time last year.
``I think that would be unfair pressure to put on whatever young kid is drafted in Portland,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said when asked about a San Antonio-type jump. ``We all can guess what we think is going to happen, but I believe that the two guys you're talking about are like 18 or 19 years old.
``When David came out, I don't remember how old he was, but I think he was about 23. He played at the Academy, he played service ball after that. He was very mature already. I think that's a huge difference, emotionally, physically - and I don't think those young men can be put in that same category as far as being prepared to go do that.''
Neither Portland nor Seattle has to start over, which could make the transition easier. The Trail Blazers have Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, another promising first-year player in LaMarcus Aldridge, and Zach Randolph - though he could be moved if Portland goes for Oden. The SuperSonics have All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen, but face losing Rashard Lewis to free agency.
Having a good support system in place can make a difference. Duncan was able to learn from Robinson, while James was familiar with the Cavs organization after growing up down the road in Akron. But Kwame Brown had none of those luxuries, and his career never took off the way a No. 1 pick's should.
Brown was taken first by Washington in 2001. But he was buried under, not inspired by, Michael Jordan's criticisms, and the Wizards had a winning record only once in his four seasons there.
``I've seen a No. 1 pick in Kwame, I wasn't there when he got there, but he was around a lot of young guys,'' said Cleveland guard Larry Hughes, who played for the Wizards. ``He wasn't in the best situation as far as being on a winning team or a winning organization. So I think it makes it tougher.
``LeBron is a talent, I think he was going to make the situation successful anywhere he went. Tim Duncan came into a pretty good situation where he had veteran guys around him, it kind of made it easier, made the transition a little bit easier. So I think anything can happen when you place that No. 1 pick when you're going to a franchise that struggled.''
Oden and Durant figure to be more successful than Brown. Even though never 100 percent while recovering from a broken right wrist, Oden proved he could dominate while leading Ohio State to the national championship game.
Durant averaged 25.8 points at Texas during one of the most outstanding freshman seasons in NCAA history, so he obviously can score. But so can Kobe Bryant, and he managed only 7.6 points per game in his first pro season.
``I'm realistic of my goals,'' Durant said recently. ``I just want to be an impact player in the NBA.''
He probably will. It just might take a while.
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.