Rejuvenated hope

The last time the Portland Trail Blazers felt the same kind of hope they received after winning the 2007 NBA draft lottery was early in the fourth quarter of game seven in the 2000 Western Conference finals, leading by 15 and cruising against the hated Los Angeles Lakers.

The last time the Portland Trail Blazers felt the same kind of hope they received after winning the 2007 NBA draft lottery was early in the fourth quarter of game seven in the 2000 Western Conference finals, leading by 15 and cruising against the hated Los Angeles Lakers.

Scottie Pippen. Rasheed Wallace. Sabonis. Mighty Mouse. Smitty. Brian freakin’ Grant. They were all only 10 more minutes away from earning a date in the finals with the Indiana Pacers.

That crushing loss was a turning point in franchise history, the beginning of the end for a veteran nucleus worthy of a championship.

There were a thousand miscues that every fan remembers after “the choke job.” Shawn Kemp. Rod Strickland. Ruben Patterson. Darius Miles. Running ‘Sheed out of town, only to see him win a championship with the Pistons the same year.

Then, finally, after years of frustration, the rebirth of a franchise on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in late May, as Rip City wakes from a seven-year slumber. The 2007-08 Blazers season is going to be a circus, and for the first time in years there will be a packed house every night to see it.

The only question is whom that circus will star. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Sergio Rodriguez and Jarrett Jack are the core nucleus of talent unlikely to be moved. They are young and quickly developing chemistry. Trading any just doesn’t make sense.

Center Joel Przybilla should figure to stay put as well, due to the $32 million contract inked before last season and his reputation as the role model in the locker room. Portland Stater Ime Udoka proved he deserves to keep some minutes too, even if it’s a reduced role.

But Travis Outlaw is a free agent. So is Jamaal Magloire. Martell Webster needs to have a great summer league to prove he isn’t a total bust. Fred Jones is insignificant and Darius Miles is a cancerous presence.

Then there’s Zach Randolph, and no matter whom the Blazers take, he’s likely trade bait while his value is at an all-time high.

That’s the shakedown in the Rose City.

Depending on whom the Blazers take, here are two scenarios.

The Durant scenario

Here’s what happens if Portland GM Kevin Pritchard gets a little gun shy and thinks he’s missing out on Michael Jordan reincarnated, passing up the sure thing in Ohio State center Greg Oden and taking Texas star Kevin Durant instead.

Durant is going to be a huge star in the NBA. There’s no doubt he has a tantalizing combination of talents, including three-point range, a high hoops IQ and those long, long arms.

He’d fill a large hole in the Blazers’ rotation and Randolph might not need to be traded.

But it would still be the wrong move. Kevin Durant will bring flair, scoring and probably the Rookie of the Year award to whatever team ends up with him, but he isn’t the piece to push this young squad toward a championship.

As great as Durant may become, you simply don’t win rings in the NBA without a dominant big man. At 6-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Durant is more Tracy McGrady or Kevin Garnett than Bill Russell or Tim Duncan.

Look at it this way: McGrady and Garnett have never tasted the finals (or the second round if you’re T-Mac), while Russell and Duncan have a combined 14 championships between them.

The Oden scenario

Who cares if the last pick the Blazers had this high was wasted on a bust like Sam Bowie. Greg Oden is nothing like Bowie. Bowie was a 7-foot-1 waif who weighed 230 pounds and was, for lack of a better word, soft.

Then there’s Oden, who at 7 feet and 255 pounds already looks like a grizzled 30-year-old, bringing a game-changing presence on defense. And he’ll surprise a few people on offense now that he has functionality in both hands.

So imagine Pritchard, who has already proven he is the best GM the Blazers have had in quite a while, selects Oden in a month. This is where things can get really interesting if Pritchard continues to emulate trader Bob Whitsitt.

With Aldridge coming along nicely, it’s imperative to get him more minutes this season. That means that in all likelihood, it’s time to say goodbye to Z-Bo in exchange for a small forward who can shoot the ball.

This might be obvious, but a straight up sign-and-trade with Seattle for Rashard Lewis is the most attractive option here. The Sonics are desperate for a big man who can score inside and Lewis is a Nate McMillan fan.

Lewis scored 22 points a contest last year while shooting 39 percent from downtown, an area in which the Blazers need improvement. And, while trading for Lewis may be like getting 75 cents on the dollar for Randolph, he’s one of the last links to the Jail Blazer era and seeing his backside exiting One Center Court for the last time would be satisfying.

Add in a veteran guard or two with the mid-level exception to shore up the bench, and the team’s starting lineup looks like this: Oden, Aldridge, Lewis, Roy and Jack/Sergio.

That’s a playoff team next year. A refreshing thought after a four-year drought.

Just the facts

? Blazers receive first overall draft pick for the 2007 NBA draft.

? League sources said Wednesday afternoon that the Blazers had sold nearly 2,000 season tickets since Tuesday’s lottery.

? The team’s website,, reportedly crashed twice after drawing more than 300,000 page views Tuesday night.

? Ohio State’s Greg Oden is the best young center prospect to enter the draft since Yao Ming in 2002. Oden, who broke his wrist before the season, still averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game in his college career.

? Texas’s Kevin Durant was unanimously voted the AP National Player of the Year after the 2007 season. He averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He draws comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Tracey McGrady.