Now Warriors’ All-Star, Durant was once their second choice
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. “So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin’s obviously been more than advertised.’’
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 No. 1 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 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 Warriors were fined by the NBA for Nelson’s comments about players who weren’t yet draft eligible.
Boston, San Antonio and New Orleans also would be penalized that spring when normally button-lipped coaches couldn’t help themselves when thinking about the promise of the two freshmen.
“I don’t think there could have been any more hype than there was,’’ Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “It was an amazing time to see two great players who have Hall of Fame potential from the beginning. You just know that they could come in and win multiple championships and be AllStars every year and you don’t have that in every draft.’’
In this May 22 file photo, San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray has his shot blocked by Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant during NBA playoff aaction in San Antonio.