Bigger Bust: Oden or Bowie?

By Vince Cunningham

In 1984, the Portland Trailblazers used their #2 overall pick to select Sam Bowie, a player who would have been easily forgotten had he not been bookended by Hall of Famers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. Whether they’re truly cursed or merely stupid, the Trailblazers are an organization who has a knack for making the wrong decision. Time and again, opting for the lesser of two players, the Blazers mistakes have been exceptionally gut-wrenching as they are highlighted by the brilliant careers of those whom they’ve left on the table. And while the city of Portland has been mired in hindsight for nearly three decades, depressingly pondering over what could have been, let’s finally decide which of their draft day blunders was truly the worst?

For all the times that Portland GM’s cut the red wire, when in fact it was the blue one which prevented destruction, the team’s greatest remorse have come from two particularly misguided decisions: The 1984 and 2007 NBA Drafts. More frustrating then the underwhelming careers of their chosen players, has been utter brilliance of those who they passed on. The Blazers have dismissed two of the most prolific scorers in NBA history and had nothing to show for it. But which pick is there biggest source of regret?

The obvious choice here would seemingly be passing on Michael Jordan and taking Bowie. I mean, how do you not kick yourself for allowing the greatest player of all time to slip through your fingers? Of course the Rockets also went a different direction on that night but have never been criticized for doing so since they at least acquired a star of their own. So we are now left asking if the 1984 or 2007 was blunder was worse.

If you go by the player that they passed on, then the 1984 draft day flub was undoubtedly their worst decision yet. Michael Jordan was a player who comes along once in a lifetime, and had they chose him, then perhaps there would be an additional six banners hanging in the Rose Garden rafters. But, if your basis for determining the worst is focused on what they actually received, then it was 2007’s selection that has less to show for itself.

The former number one overall pick, Greg Oden was released today, after four and half injury riddled years with the Blazers. In his time in Portland, the fragile 7-footer missed an astounding total of 289 games. And while, during his rare time on the court, he would show occasional flashes of brilliance, his game left much to be desired. If Oden was to retire today, his resume would boast only 60 games started and career averages of 9 points and 7 rebounds. Whereas, Bowie, who ironically also missed 271 games over his five seasons in Portland, was at least able to manage averages of 12 points and 8 boards during that time. And once released by the team, he went on to play six more seasons in the NBA, including a three-year span with the Nets, in which he averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds a night.

But while Bowie has a slight statistical edge to Oden, their careers are otherwise eerily similar, and do not offer us enough to form a definitive answer to the question. So, a new basis for comparison is needed, and that would be the age old quandary of talent versus team need.

Based on this criteria, I would contend once more, that Greg Oden is the worst pick in Portland’s history. Following a 2006 season in which the Blazers had five players that stood 6’11 or taller, not to mention a productive yet undersized forward in Zach Randolph, the team opted to add another big man to the bunch. Meanwhile, their starting small forward spot was occupied by Travis Outlaw, who was averaging a meager 9 points per game, a problem that Kevin Durant would’ve fixed right away. And had they drafted him, Portland would have formed one of the most dynamic and feared tandems in the league, between him and Roy. But, instead they opted for (what they valued as) talent, instead of necessity.

Meanwhile, in 1984, the decision to pass on MJ was based on the fact that the Blazers already rostered a shooting guard, in Jim Paxson, who lead the team in scoring a year prior with 21 points per game. And who’s backup was a first year player by the name of Clyde Drexler, perhaps you’ve heard of him? So, with the two guard spot already accounted for, the ’84 Blazers decided to focus on their gaping hole at Center. Their roster listed just one player standing 6’11 or taller, in Tom Piotrowski, and he averaged team worst statistics in every single category. So, given their situation, the drafting of a 7’1 All-American Center would seem to be forgivable, if not logical.

While none of this will erase the hardships of Blazer fans everywhere, nor will add banners to their building or trophies to their case, it should bring a smile to at least one man’s face. Congratulations Sam Bowie, you are no longer the biggest bust in NBA history or the most hated man in Portland.

Follow me on Twitter @VinceC23

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