You know the NBA draft is almost here because we've gone from building up the best players to tearing them down.
Greg Oden has gone from the next Bill Russell to a walking list of physical maladies, ranging from his right wrist to his lower back to his legs of mismatched length. Kevin Durant has gone from the next Kevin Garnett to a weakling who couldn't bench-press 185 pounds even once at the Orlando draft camp.
So we welcome the best one-two draft combo since LeBron and Carmelo -- whoops, Detroit screwed that one up, didn't it? -- to the wonderful world of overexposure. When you've reached this stage of the game, the NBA types have stopped marveling at your gifts and started muttering about your flaws.
It's simply how the draft cycle turns, regardless of sport. Once a Chad Ford or Mel Kiper establishes your spot at the top of the young millionaire food chain, here come the critics to sound the alarms.
For instance, this was part of a 10-year-old scouting report on a current NFL quarterback: "He has good arm strength, but not necessarily a 'gun' that you might expect from a QB at the top of the draft. He has adequate mobility and good overall AA [athletic ability], although he is not a scrambler by nature. He has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his abilities, but he is not quite as natural a player as [Ryan] Leaf. One question that some NFL scouts have is, 'Will he get any better?' At times he gives the appearance of being a self-made player, and sometimes those types of players don't always go on to great NFL careers."
The quarterback, of course, is Peyton Manning. And he has gone on to a slightly great NFL career.
But for all the nitpicking, that scouting report ends presciently: "He has probably been the most scouted player in the draft in recent years, and because of that NFL teams tend to look too much at potential flaws, instead of accepting him for what he is, a great college QB ... on his way to an outstanding NFL career."
Oden and Durant currently are in the same petri dish. They're can't-miss prospects -- but just in case they do miss, scouts and NBA front-office guys want to have a "See, I saw it coming" card in their back pockets.
They won't miss.
Anyone doubting Oden should know this much: He's on his way to becoming one of the 10 best centers ever to pick up a basketball. Right now, that list comprises Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan (you can call him a power forward if you want, but he looks an awful lot like a center to me), Moses Malone, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed and Bill Walton.
(I realize that list leaves off George Mikan and Arvydas Sabonis. Never saw Mikan, and never saw Sabonis in his international glory. It also leaves off Patrick Ewing and Robert Parish, which pains me, but 10 isn't 12.)
I actually received an e-mail early last basketball season from an Ohio State fan insisting that Oden was wildly overhyped and that the Buckeyes would badly miss Terence Dials (yes, Terence Dials) in the middle. Strangely, I wasn't hearing from that guy by season's end, when Ohio State was 35-3 and playing in the national title game.
Nor did I hear anyone calling Oden overhyped when he shredded the best frontcourt in basketball in that title game. Oden went for 25 and 12 with four blocks against fellow lottery picks Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and he nearly fouled out every big man Florida threw at him.
Anyone who saw that game knew we were looking at the truth. And knew how the draft order would play out.
You take Oden over Durant, no matter what John Hollinger's admittedly interesting numbers indicate. (They also say Tayshaun Prince was nowhere near the prospect Curtis Borchardt was. Anyone seen the oft-injured Borchardt lately? He was drafted ahead of Prince, but injuries derailed his career after 83 games)
Oden's defensive presence is towering and will transfer immediately to the pro level. His offense will continue to flower. His athleticism is undeniable. He's a center who wants to play center rather than a center who wants to get cute shooting 18-foot jumpers. He's coachable, level-headed and understands he's far from a finished product.
So Portland takes him, and gets started on making up for drafting Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.
That leaves Durant, who looks like a 20,000-point career scorer, for Seattle in the biggest no-brainer pick since Carmelo Anthony fell to the Nuggets in '03. (If the Sonics take more than five seconds getting the card in commissioner David Stern's hand, someone should be fired.)
I don't think Seattle will be worrying about Durant's bench press, either.
Although his current lack of muscle isn't a glowing endorsement of Rick Barnes' strength and conditioning program at Texas, don't miss the bigger picture here. A skinny body is no reason to ignore the kid's on-court body of work.
The Big 12 is nobody's idea of a pansy league, and Durant dominated. He's a basketball player, not a shot-putter.
Besides, they have a weight room in Seattle. The Sonics -- unlike the Longhorns -- will show Durant how to get there.
After that is when the draft gets interesting -- when Atlanta must challenge its own historical ineptitude and make the right pick when the right pick is not blatantly obvious.
Because there's no way Portland or Seattle passes on sure things. We might be tearing down Oden and Durant now, but that's just the way the draft cycle works. The buildup will begin again shortly.
Pat Forde is a national columnist for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.