Commentary: A good, old-fashioned talent infusion

It wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime draft, but seemingly every NBA team improved Thursday night

It was a throwback draft, the kind of night that can transform a bad team while still allowing a resourceful playoff team picking at the bottom of the heap to come away feeling it might have made a steal. Finally, the NBA didn’t allow itself to be dragged down by high school players trying to make a money grab. Yes, any amateur draft is a gamble on potential. But repeatedly Thursday night, even very late in the first round, NBA teams selected players with credentials, some with championship entries on their resumes.

It might not be the kind of draft that will rival 1984, the one that produced Olajuwon, Jordan and Barkley, the one that reshaped and energized professional basketball globally, and to a degree popular culture. But the 2007 NBA draft, if you care about pro basketball, was something to get excited over. It was a night that saw even the New York Knicks get better, which amounts to nothing short of a miracle.

But the stars of the night are the teams of the Pacific Northwest, Portland and Seattle. They were totally overhauled less than two hours into the draft. The Trailblazers made the smart pick and took 7-footer Greg Oden, then dumped Zach Randolph, the last member of the now extinct “Jailblazers” for another long, tall talented kid, Channing Frye. Goodness, Portland’s scouts and GM Kevin Pritchard have to be giddy, knowing they’ll come into the season with Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Frye, 2007 rookie-of-the-year Brandon Roy, and the Spaniard Rudy Fernandez, a guard with international experience and lottery-level talent.

And just 175 miles to the north, the SuperSonics not only took Kevin Durant, as expected, but moved Ray Allen to Boston in favor of Georgetown’s Jeff Green. Talk about an impressive young one-two punch. Durant and Green, two kids from essentially the same big plot of land in Prince George’s County, Md. The Sonics also got Delonte West, and shooter Wally Szczerbiak in that trade with the Celtics, who just seem to be wandering aimlessly philosophically.

Usually, on draft night you look for three or four “winners.” In a great draft, maybe a half-dozen. But so many teams seemed to help themselves Thursday night, even after Portland and Seattle. As bad as Randolph and his criminal baggage were for Portland, he still represents a measure of hope for the Knicks who can put 6-foot-10 Randolph and his 23 points and 10 rebounds a game on the floor with 7-foot Eddie Curry.

There were precious few surprises in the draft. Why reach when there’s that much talent available? It was a welcome break from Kobe Bryant’s boorishness, from unknown, overhyped high school ballers wearing bad suits. Once again, the draft appears to have done what it was designed to do; infuse the entire league, particularly the bad teams, with talent and optimism.