PORTLAND, Ore. – Kevin Pritchard was on his way to dinner the other night, strolling down a sidewalk in suburban Lake Oswego when an approaching car slowed and a guy popped himself through the sky roof only to start screaming at the Portland Trail Blazers' general manager.
"Take Durant!" the guy shouted. "Take Durant!"
Pritchard just laughed and waved. At this point, ever since the Blazers won the NBA draft lottery and were given the No. 1 pick in next week's draft, he's gotten used to it.
There are two megastars available – Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant – and no matter where Pritchard or coach Nate McMillan go, they are hearing from would-be player personnel directors.
"They want to give you their G.M. pick of the year," McMillan said. "Pretty much wherever I go it's, 'Are you taking Oden? Are you taking Durant? Take this guy.' "
McMillan had a motorist roll down his window and scream to him while both were speeding across the I-205 freeway. The team has received impassioned and detailed letters making the case for one or the other. Pritchard's own children have chimed in (split decision).
Downtown apartment windows have signs, sort of like a political campaign. Talk radio can't discuss the issue enough. Local bloggers can't write enough. The Oregonian newspaper chases down the slightest bit of gossip all day. During the recent NCAA baseball super regional played down the road at Oregon State, an "Oden" sign even appeared behind home plate, just in case Pritchard or McMillan happened to be watching on TV.
And it's not like the team isn't milking this for everything it can. Billboards were put up around the region asking motorists to honk once for Oden, twice for Durant. The team's official Web site is little more than an "Oden or Durant?" debate these days, complete with stories, stats, photos and polls.
Welcome to draft mania here in the Pacific Northwest, which kicks into an even higher gear here Tuesday when the Blazers welcome Oden to town for interviews and a Wednesday workout. Thursday they bring in Durant.
"Let the debate begin," Pritchard said at the team's suburban practice facility. "Well, I guess it started a long time ago. It's funny because everybody has a very strong opinion.
"There is no grey area here. People either are very strong with Durant or very strong with Oden."
For the Trail Blazers, who already boast a young nucleus including reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, this feels like a bright new day.
The once-proud franchise hasn't won a playoff series since 2000. Fan unrest grew during the infamous "Jail Blazers" era, which featured a seemingly endless string of outrageous and often illegal off-court incidents only to peak, at least in terms of comedy, when the team drafted a guy named "Outlaw" in 2003.
Portland has tried to clean house and change direction of late.
"We are not the 'Jail Blazers,' " Pritchard said. "I guarantee you that."
"The biggest thing for us (is) if you are not high character, then you get eliminated early in the process," he continued. "For us we feel very strongly that character means a lot, and that is what wins championships."
That's where both Oden and Durant fit in. Pritchard said you never know until you get to sit down and talk with each player, but if these two aren't upstanding winners, they managed to fool everyone during their amateur careers.
So this should come down to a basketball decision. Do you want the dominating big man who can control games defensively or the high-flying perimeter scorer? That's the debate basketball fans waged all winter as they watched the two shred collegiate competition.
But Pritchard is the only person who actually has to make the choice.
"You go through your process, you get your feel for both kids, who they are personally, you see them in our own gym, sort of on our own court, and hopefully make a decision that is best," he said.
"We will not release anything. You will find out when Mr. Stern reads the name."
Almost everyone assumes it will be Oden because, as spectacular as Durant's talent is, great big men are just about impossible to find.
But who knows for sure? Pritchard insists he hasn't made up his mind and speaks wistfully about Durant's 25-point performance in a half against Kansas on March 3.
The workouts this week, of course, could change everything. Durant is capable of some awe-inspiring effort. Oden is, too, of course. Mostly Pritchard just wants one of the biggest stretches in recent Blazers history to get here.
In the meantime, he'll keep getting unsolicited advice. At dinner. In the car. At the coffee shop. Durant, Oden. Oden, Durant.
Honk once. Honk twice.
- Kevin Pritchard
- Greg Oden
- Kevin Durant