Marty Burns
Thursday June 28th, 2007

Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were supposed to be the big names in Thursday night's NBA Draft.

Instead, Kevin Garnett, Amaré Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Jermaine O'Neal, Marcus Camby and Andrei Kirilenko, among others, are stealing the thunder as trade talks involving established NBA stars swirl in the hours leading up to the big event.

It sets up a potentially wild and fun night for fans as the league gets set to hold its annual talent grab from New York.

Just weeks ago the focus of the draft was expected to be on the two players considered potential franchise-changers -- Oden, a 7-foot center from Ohio State, and Durant, a 6-9 small forward from Texas -- and which would be the No. 1 overall selection by the Trail Blazers.

Now the NBA is buzzing over possible blockbuster trades that could overshadow everything and tip the balance of power in the 2007-08 season.

One rumor Wednesday had Garnett headed to Phoenix in a three-way deal that would send Stoudemire to the Hawks. Earlier reports speculated about the 10-time All-Star going to the Suns in a three-team swap involving Shawn Marion (to Boston), or to the Lakers in a four-team maneuver involving O'Neal (to Boston).

While those particular deals appear either dead or outright false, any Garnett move would send shock waves throughout the NBA. Adding Garnett to Steve Nash and either Stoudemire or Marion in Phoenix might push the Suns past the Spurs among next year's top title contenders. Meanwhile, it would deal a huge blow to Kobe Bryant's hopes of a quick fix for his Lakers and the Bulls' hopes of securing that missing piece they need to counter LeBron James in the East.

Whether Garnett gets moved or not, there almost certainly will be other deals Thursday as teams jockey for position in what is considered one of the deepest drafts in years. The Hawks (Nos. 3 and 11), Bobcats (Nos. 8 and 22), Sixers (Nos. 12, 21 and 30) and Suns (Nos. 24 and 29) hold multiple picks and are willing to trade one or more. Meanwhile, there are other quality veterans available on the market like Utah's Kirilenko, Denver's Camby and Seattle's Luke Ridnour who could help one or more those teams.

And, of course, the draft itself features plenty of intrigue.

While it has been widely assumed the Blazers will select Oden with the top pick, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard and his staff have never said so publicly.

Some scouts insist Durant is going to be the better player, the type who will win multiple scoring titles. Portland got burned famously in 1984 with the Sam Bowie pick (over Michael Jordan), and Durant would probably enable them to be better immediately since they wouldn't have a logjam in the frontcourt with Oden, Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge. With Durant, the Blazers could keep Randolph and Aldridge in a frontcourt that could be dynamite in two or three years.

On the other hand, Pritchard would have to have steel guts to let Oden slip to his Pacific Northwest rival Sonics. It's usually safer to go with the big guy, especially one as gifted as Oden. If the 7-footer turned out to be the better player, Portland fans would never let Pritchard live it down.

Here are six other teams to watch Thursday night:

Hawks: Nobody has more at stake in this draft than does Atlanta GM Billy Knight. Now in his fourth season at the helm, he must find a way to parlay the Nos. 3 and 11 picks into something that can help his young team take the next step and contend for the playoffs in the wide-open East. Knight admits his top priority is to find a point guard, but is Mike Conley Jr. worth a No. 3 pick? Or does Knight trade down, and perhaps try to address the point guard hole later via free agency? Or will he select Al Horford and try to swing a deal for Ridnour or some other veteran point? What Knight decides to do at No. 3 will set the dominos falling for the rest of the draft.

Suns: Among the top title contenders, they have been the most active in trade talks leading up to the draft. The Suns clearly want to make a splash, whether by adding Garnett or moving up into the top five to select a big man such as Joakim Noah or Yi Jianlian. With the Suns on track for a luxury-tax hit, they have financial reasons to move the All-Star forward now. Even Stoudemire could be available if the Suns can get the right piece. Add it all up and it appears Phoenix will be heard from in some way.

Lakers: Bryant's recent trade demands have put GM Mitch Kupchak and the front office in a bind. They need to do something to satisfy their superstar, but they have only the No. 19 pick in this draft. Garnett would be the perfect solution (at least short term), but he appears to favor Phoenix over L.A.. Plus, the Lakers don't appear to have the right combination of assets to satisfy the T'wolves. If L.A. stands pat and uses its pick to draft a prospect, Bryant just might go off on another one of his sports talk radio crusades.

Sixers: They traded franchise player Allen Iverson last season with an eye toward rebuilding through this draft. GM Billy King holds three first-round picks at Nos. 12, 21 and 30. The Sixers badly need a power forward and a perimeter scorer, but it is doubtful they will be able to get an immediate impact player so far down the draft board. King might try to package one or more of the picks to move up or land a veteran. One rumor had the Sixers sending Andre Miller and one of their first-rounders to the Hawks for the No. 3 pick, but King has flatly denied it.

Celtics: The embattled Danny Ainge is under pressure to do something to help Pierce. With the No. 5 pick, the Celtics have a key asset that several teams (such as the Suns) covet. Ainge clearly has been aggressive in trying to get something done. The Celtics could keep the pick and use it on another top prospect (Yi is said to be at the top of their list), but do they really have time to wait for him to develop?

Bobcats: With the eighth and 22nd picks, as well as loads of cap room, the Bobcats are in position to be major facilitators in a multiteam trade. Vice president Bernie Bickerstaff has been openly urging teams to call him. The Bobcats have needs at center, shooting guard and small forward (especially if Gerald Wallace departs as a free agent), and they seem willing to part with one or more of those picks for a decent veteran.

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