So, for those of you who haven't been following the NBA Draft lead-up as obsessively as I have (which would probably be all of you), here are the top storylines to keep an eye on tonight:
1. Greg Oden. He's big. He's good. The Portland Trail Blazers have reportedly already decided to take the Ohio State center No. 1 overall, which basically assures them an NBA title sometime in the near future. He's such a big deal, there are two subplots that go along with him:
1A. Whether the Blazers can work out a deal to pair him with Mike Conley, who's been Oden's teammate since middle school. Conley might just be the third best player in the draft, so this could be difficult. But, Conley's dad (who's also named Mike Conley, by the way) is the agent for both his son and Oden, and let us not forget who powerful agents are in modern professional sports.
1B. Oden is supposed to be 19, but looks like he's at least in his late 30s. No kidding. The only way this guy's career is derailed is if he has to retire after his second season because he starts running the floor like the Charlotte Hornets version of Robert Parish.
2. Kevin Durant. He's an explosive, athletic scoring wing from Texas who's drawing comparisons to the greats. However, as great as he is, he'll never be greater than Oden, who, by the way, is about half a foot taller than he is. This is not to say that the Sonics, who will be the team taking him unless there is some kind of weird trade or apocalypse between now and 8 o'clock tonight, can't win a title with him. It's just that teams with great low-post players, like Oden, win more titles than teams with great players at other positions, like Durant, with the lone exception being Michael Jordan's Bulls. Unless Kevin Durant is Michael Jordan (he's not), he is not as good a pick as Oden. No matter how many times Jerry Boggs tries to argue this point with me. Eight of the last nine NBA champs have had either Duncan or Shaq. Enough said.
3. Wither Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett? Both players face the prospect of playing the rest of their primes with shitty teams (which strengthens my big-over-small argument, since both guys are primarily wing players). Kobe is doing everything humanly possible to force the Lakers to trade him, and the T'Wolves are doing everything they can to trade KG before his head literally explodes. Sadly, it appears unlikely either will be traded tonight, despite a flurry of rumors the past two weeks. But we, Kobe, KG and the Phoenix Suns can dream.
4. Yi Jianlian. A 7-foot Chinese center who no one has seen play, who has taken to sunglasses in public at all times, who the Chinese government doesn't want playing for teams in markets without a lot of Asians, and who owners are slavering over because of his ability to let them tap into the Chinese consumer market. If the country weren't already fundamentally fucked up by Iraq, I'd be seriously worried about the potential for an international incident here. The owners of the Hawks, who own the third pick, are reportedly smitten with Yi's economic potential, which means the hopes of American basketball fans in Georgia who want to see a winning basketball team anytime soon may once more be relegated to VHS tapes of Dominique-era TBS broadcasts. (Sigh. Sometimes, I miss Skip Caray as a basketball announcer.)
5. Bill Simmons' NBA Draft Diary. I'll be monitoring this all night long to see if Bill suddenly disappears midway through and goes off to hunt and kill Danny Ainge. If the Celtics wind up taking Yi, the odds are in favor of this actually happening.