Oden or Durant? Either way, Portland owner Paul Allen is excited
PORTLAND, Ore. — Paul Allen was in Europe when the NBA draft lottery was held, and fell asleep before finding out where the Trail Blazers would select.
With a 5 percent chance of getting the top pick, Allen figured his team probably would land somewhere in the middle of the top 10. When he woke up, he consulted the internet and couldn't believe his eyes.
"It says, 'Blazers Win Draft Lottery.' I did a double take. Like, wait a minute, am I still asleep?" he said.
Allen, the enigmatic co-founder of Microsoft who has owned the Blazers for 19 years, since has immersed himself in the process leading up to Thursday night's NBA draft.
Last week, he watched as the Blazers worked out the probable top two picks, 7-foot center Greg Oden from Ohio State and versatile forward Kevin Durant from Texas.
"This gives us an incredible opportunity to improve our franchise for the next decade. So obviously it's something we have to be extremely careful about," he said. "But this is a lot of fun, to have the first pick in the draft, which certainly we haven't had since I've been the owner."
The Blazers have the top pick for the first time since 1978, when they chose center Mychal Thompson of Minnesota.
Last year, Portland made six draft-day moves, landing first rounders Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez. Roy went on to be named the league's rookie of the year.
Before last year's draft, the franchise was in turmoil. The Blazers were burdened with a high payroll and a sullied reputation from several years of player arrests and bad behavior. Fans had turned away from the once-beloved team that won the NBA championship in 1977.
And Allen had relinquished control of the Rose Garden Arena by declaring it bankrupt in 2004, so there were no revenues such as from luxury boxes.
It got so bad that Allen said in early 2006 the team was hemorrhaging money, and he could be forced to sell.
A couple of months after last year's draft, Allen, without explanation, pulled the team off the market. Over the course of last season excitement grew surrounding Roy, Aldridge and Rodriguez — and Allen reacquired the Rose Garden.
Then Portland landed the top pick.
"If you compare this organization from a year ago today, it's like 180 degrees — maybe more than 180 degrees," Allen said.
Like everyone else in the Blazers organization, Allen was not hinting about whether the team was leaning toward Oden or Durant.
Oden averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 rebounds while leading Ohio State to the national championship game, even though he was limited for much of the season while recovering from right wrist surgery.
Durant led the Big 12 with 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, and was the AP Player of the Year.
"You look at Kevin Durant and you think he might be able to lead the league in scoring before too many years are passed. You think about Greg Oden and how you might have the top center in the league in a few years, so those are very exciting prospects either way we end up making our decision," Allen said.
Allen will be holed up with other team executives at the practice facility during the draft, while the team throws a party for fans at the Rose Garden. The next day, a rally is scheduled to celebrate in downtown Portland.
"It's just going to be so much fun in the Rose Garden the next few years," Allen said. "I'm just about jumping out of my skin just waiting for summer league to start."