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Thursday, August 2, 2007
Debate: Are you pumped for Oden-Durant?

By Kieran Darcy & Bomani Jones
Page 2

Let the hype begin. On Christmas night, Portland's Greg Oden and Seattle's Kevin Durant kick their Battle for the Northwest into gear for the first time.

Some of us are already pumped for the matchup. Others? Not so much.

For Christmas, the NBA has given its fans a PlayStation 4 … and a new pair of socks.

That's the Christmas matchup of Kevin Durant's Sonics and Greg Oden's Trail Blazers. Durant is the PS4, a technological innovation that will be as fun to watch as it is amazing to consider such a thing could even exist. Oden, on the other hand, will make your feet feel great. He'll be functional. One day, he might be high fashion.

That day, however, will not be Dec. 25, 2007.

Though I was slow to come around, I firmly believe Oden will be the next great big man, and he will be the center of at least one championship team. However, the fact that he'll play lots of games in Junes to come doesn't mean I want to watch him play on Christmas.

Portland didn't take Oden because you want to see him play. The Blazers took him because you don't want to see him play against your team. You don't want to see him pitching your favorite player's shots into the front row.

The NBA knows many East Coast fans with jobs won't be able to see its future stars in the Northwest. So it wants to showcase them in prime time, allowing the future to shine when the present looks pitch-black.

It's a great hustle. It's just not a great Christmas present.

In fact, look at the other teams playing this Christmas. LeBron's Cavs will take on D-Wade's Heat. Kobe's Lakers will face the Suns. Those squads have high-wattage stars, players who do things we rarely see. They demand attention. They're made for TV.

The Blazers, while on the rise, don't fit that description. Neither does Oden, with his rough offensive game and potential for being a foul machine as a rookie. Portland will make the playoffs this season, and that young team will be a joy to watch as it begins its rise in the Western Conference.

But hey, call me when they get there. On Christmas, I'd rather play with toys.
I tend to conk out early Christmas night. Still get as jacked up for Santa Claus as I did as a kid. I can barely sleep Christmas Eve and by 6 a.m. I'm shaking everyone out of bed to open presents. Wears me out.

But this Christmas Eve, I'll pop a couple Ambien if I have to. Because I need to be awake when Greg Oden and Kevin Durant face off for the first time.

But I won't really be tuning in to watch Durant. Don't get me wrong, I loved watching him play in college and think he'll be a dynamite pro. But Durant's a swingman who can handle the ball and light up the scoreboard -- there are plenty of them in the NBA.

No, the reason I'll be retiring early so I can stay awake Christmas night is the big man, Mr. Oden.

And that's precisely why -- because he's a big man. And not just any old big man. Oden has the most upside of any big man to enter the NBA in many years. Do I expect him to put up 24, 12 and six blocks his rookie season? Hardly. But there's a natural curiosity that comes with watching someone so raw -- yet so gifted -- try to harness his talent.

It'll take time, to be sure. But don't forget, Oden basically played all of last season with a broken wrist on his shooting hand. Give him a healthy body -- and 24/7 NBA tutelage -- and the possibilities are mind-boggling.

If I want to watch someone pour in points from all over the court, I'll put the Lakers on -- at least for the time being. And call me crazy if you wish -- maybe it's because I grew up a Knicks fan -- but I enjoy watching great defense. Blocked shots send an electric charge through my body. And Oden should immediately be one of the best defensive players and shot-blockers in the league.

So when Durant inevitably takes it to the rack on Christmas night, my eyes will be wide open, and focused squarely on the big fella standing in his way. And I hope Oden sends the ball into the stands.

Santa does too -- I've heard he likes those who send gifts.