The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder will forever be linked because of the 2007 NBA draft and the former I-5 Rivalry.
The problem is, OKC fans probably don’t even realize it.
The Thunder have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season, and while their fans are hoping for their first appearance in the NBA Finals, they likely don’t even see the anguish their success brings Trail Blazers fans tucked away in the Pacific Northwest.
The I-5 Rivalry means nothing to the fans down south. Why Oklahoma City even remains in the Northwest Division is beyond me.
Even Greg Oden should be an afterthought in their minds, as the city had Kevin Durant and the former Seattle SuperSonics land in their laps a whole year after the 2007 NBA draft took place.
The question in Portland, of course, is, would the Blazers be in the Western Conference Finals right now if they had drafted Durant instead of the often-injured Oden?
There’s no way to tell, but fans just can’t help but think about where the team would be with LaMarcus Aldridge and Durant leading the way deep into the playoffs.
With Oden gone and the Blazers entering yet another rebuilding project this summer, Rip City is left behind to reflect on the ‘what-if’ questions and witness the Thunder continue their run to a title.
The worst part about it? They’re beyond entertaining to watch.
While the Trail Blazers are relaxing, rebuilding and rehabilitating this summer, the Thunder have quickly become one of the most exciting teams that the game has to offer.
James Harden provides energy, scoring and lights-out shooting off the bench night in and night out.
Serge Ibaka is averaging nearly four blocks per game in the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook epitomizes the new brand of athletic, score-first point guards in the NBA.
And then, of course, there’s Durant. Already one of the top scorers in the league, Durant has proven to be one of the best crunch-time performers this postseason and a far more versatile player than some imagined him being out of the University of Texas.
If you love fast-paced, exhilarating basketball, you should love watching the Thunder compete for an appearance in the NBA Finals this season.
But as always, as a Trail Blazers fan watching from a distance, it comes back to Kevin Durant and what could have been.
Regardless of what anybody wants to say today, Oden was the right pick at the time; the team had to take him.
But if management had seen in Oden what we see now, or if the Blazers had gotten lucky enough to draw the second ping pong ball in the draft instead of the first, who knows which team we’d be watching in the Western Conference Finals this season.
The current Thunder mold of growing organically through the draft was once the goal of the Trail Blazers during the mid-2000’s.
The Thunder have their big three in Durant, Westbrook and Harden, all of whom were brought in through the draft. The Blazers had theirs too, but with Oden and Brandon Roy gone because of injuries, Aldridge is the only one left standing of the bunch.
The team has said that acquiring talent is the goal this summer, but it doesn’t change the fact that the 2011-12 season was a lost cause in Rip City.
The Blazers are on vacation. The Thunder are as entertaining as ever. And a fan base in Portland is forced to sit back and watch, simply asking themselves, what if?