Durant, from second choice, to star

by

May 27, 2017
Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin (right), drives against Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on February 23 in Oakland, California.

Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defence in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said.

LOTTERY TEAM

The Warriors were looking like a lottery team in March 2007 when Nelson was asked what he thought they should do if they got the number one pick. He's one of the innovators of small ball, a coach who seemed more comfortable with a point forward than a power forward, so it wouldn't have been surprising if he leaned towards Durant.

But he favoured Oden, a 7-footer who in his lone season at Ohio State was drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Bill Russell, Nelson's teammate in Boston.

"I think it'd be pretty simple for us," Nelson said. "We would probably have to go with the bigger guy at this point."

Nelson said he might reconsider if he thought Durant was going to be a superstar, and the forward looked like one as he tore through the Big 12 as a freshman at Texas. But with the Warriors already having Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson, Nelson saw other needs.

"With this team, the centre position is one that we're looking for," he said. "But I'd say anybody up front. Our backcourt's pretty solid."

The number one pick became a moot point when the Warriors finished the regular season with a 16-5 kick to secure the number eight seed in the Western Conference, then pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in NBA playoff history when they ousted the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

Had he been given the chance, West said he would have taken the best player available, which is always his strategy. He said he considered Durant that player. Many mock drafts had it the other way, given Oden's potential he likely would've been the top pick a year earlier out of high school, but the 2006 draft was the first with the NBA's age requirement.

"Everyone is always looking for someone big in the draft because everyone thinks it's a game-changer. Well, the game has changed," West said. "Now, they're not naming big guys unless you're really versatile. There are very few back-to-the basket centres in the league that are not versatile enough to go out and play on the court."

Next week they'll be watching Durant, who will play for his first title in his first season with the Warriors, a chance to finally be number one on a team that once viewed him as their number two.

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