How much better off would the Blazers be had they drafted Durant instead of Oden?

No one can fault the job that Portland GM Kevin Pritchard has done so far. In 2005, when he was the Blazers’ interim coach, he reportedly advised then-GM John Nash and Steve Patterson to draft Chris Paul at #3, but the duo instead decided to trade the pick and ended up with Martell Webster at #6. He was promoted to assistant GM in 2006, and was involved in a series of deals that resulted in the acquisition of the draft rights of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. In 2007, he was promoted to general manager. That summer, in addition to drafting Greg Oden, he turned Zach Randolph into a trade exception that he used to steal Rudy Fernandez from the Phoenix Suns.

Other than an ill-advised threat to sue anyone that tried to sign Darius Miles, it’s tough to second-guess anything that Pritchard has done in Portland.

But what if he had drafted Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden? How much better off would the franchise be with Durant on the roster?

Look, I like Greg Oden and I’m really rooting for him to bounce back from his knee problems and go on to have the NBA career he was supposed to have. Two years ago, I advocated drafting him #1 over Durant, though it was a tough call. I was really impressed with how Oden handled his wrist injury early on at Ohio State and his dominating performance against Florida in the NCAA tournament. No one could have predicted the kind of injury trouble that the big man would have, and if he had stayed healthy, he’d probably be entrenched as a top 10 center. (By the way, as fond as Bill Simmons is of saying that he thought Durant was the pick back then, he doesn’t really pick a side in his June ’07 column.) I’m sure that after the Fernandez acquisition, Pritchard had dreams of a Roy-Fernandez-Aldridge-Oden lineup dancing in his head, so drafting a small forward wasn’t a priority. But almost three years later, it’s clear that Durant’s career is on a much higher trajectory than Oden’s.

Durant is averaging 26.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He is shooting almost 49% from the field and almost 44% from long range. (The fact that he shot just 43% from the field and 29% from three-point range in his rookie season shows just how far he has come in one year.) He has the #17 PER in the league, which is the seventh-best amongst wings. And he’s been pretty durable, missing just nine games in two seasons. Not bad for a 20-year-old who’s weighing in at just 215 pounds and hasn’t yet reached his ideal weight.

Imagine building around a core of Durant, Roy and Aldridge. And with the Blazers cap flexibility, they’d have a great shot at landing Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire next summer. Throw in a pass-first point guard (Steve Blake?) and you’d have one of the most dangerous lineups in the West. The Blazers just blew out the Lakers the other night – imagine if they added Durant and Bosh to that lineup! Moreover, Portland owner Paul Allen (the 12th-richest American with a net worth of $16 billion) would have the dough to keep that group together as long as he wanted.

When I plug a straight Durant-for-Oden swap into the ESPN Trade Machine, it shows that the Blazers’ win total would increase by two while the Thunder’s wins would drop by five. Assuming those are for-the-rest-of-the-season numbers, that would equate to about nine additional Blazer wins over the course of the entire season. They’re projected to win 52 games at their current pace, but with Durant in the lineup that number would rise to 61. That would make the Blazers the fourth-best team in the NBA (behind the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers) and the second-best team in the West. And that’s without Bosh or Stoudemire.

What’s even more amazing is the lineup Pritchard would have if he had had his way back in 2005 and the Blazers had drafted Paul. Can you imagine a lineup of CP3, Roy, Durant and Aldridge, with the potential to add a free agent big in 2010? Granted, had Portland drafted Paul, they probably wouldn’t have been in a position to draft those other guys in subsequent years, but it’s still fun to think about.

Pritchard has justifiably built a reputation for being a genius, but if Oden can’t get his career back on track and the Blazers can’t capitalize on all that potential, then he might be remembered for the one mistake he made in his first few years on the job.

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