You know how it went. With the second pick... of the 1984 NBA Draft... the Portland Trail Blazers select... Sam Bowie, Center, Kentucky. Uh, oh. That was it. All the way back in the mid-eighties, more than 35 years ago, the Blazers chose Bowie with the second pick of the draft only after Akeem Olakuwon’s name had been shouted from the podium. And with that, the whole NBA—and pretty much 95% of cultural references related to it—as we know it got shaped in the blink of an eye. Going third to Chicago, Michael Jordan. That’s why, just in case.
Fast-forward to the night of June 28, 2007. It wasn’t a second pick this time the one involved, but actually the first overall selection being in Portland’s hands. No excuses, that is. There were two names widely considered as the cream of the crop in the 2007 class of newcomers: Greg Oden, an impossible-to-stop big man that had caused panic around the nation playing for Ohio State, and Kevin Durant, a skinny forward that had made a name for himself after one monster year of college ball in Texans.
Being the year it was (yes, we still kinda praised big men in the mid-00s and Durant had not yet entered the league nor coined the term “unicorn”), and given their roster-in-place—Porltand already had a couple of promising young guards in Brandon Roy and Jarret Jack, another interesting 22-year-old forward in Martell Webster, and a young great-looking forward to pair a big with in LaMarcus Aldridge—Portland chose Oden with the first pick. That, obviously, made Seattle very happy at least for the season they got to enjoy Durant’s exploits before the team moved to OKC.
So, what would have happened had Portland taken the gamble of doubling-down on scoring and chosen Durant over Oden? I needed to answer that question to see how Durant’s career had gone and what he could have achieved if he had started his tenure in Portland instead of Seattle.
This one is very simple. I’ve used free-to-play BasketballGM—go play that game if you want your quarantine to go by flying, believe me—to simulate Kevin Durant’s career in this alternate universe. I’m not trying nor am I interested in the Blazers. This is a post about Durant’s careers. We start at the 2008 preseason with the draft just completed, only with Durant now in Portland and Oden part of the Sonics.
This is how Portland’s starting lineup and rest of the roster might have looked like with Durant in town. The franchise never completed a trade until late June in preparation for the 2008 draft, so that’s cool in that the roster isn’t too affected after making that Durant-Oden swap.
The numbers kinda fit. Durant slots as the second-best Blazer only behind Brandon Roy—if you don’t know Brandon Roy because you’re too young or because you didn’t pay attention to the NBA until a few years back, please go watch some clips of his heyday in YouTube, you won’t regret it—and way over LaMarcus Aldridge. Durant was a generational talent. Not that we know it know. He was one from the get-go, which also talks about the attention and abilities generated and showcased by Oden back then. They both brought everything to the draft table, truth be told.
2007-08: Rookie Season
First, your quickly recap.
That’s correct. Those two to the right are Blazers! Both Durant and Aldridge built a formidable pair starting and coming off the bench respectively and they earned Rookie and 6th-Man of the Year Awards in 2008. The Rockets got the championship without sweating it a lot. They had to beat Memphis (4-0), the Lakers (4-1), Phoenix (4-1), and finally Milwaukee (4-2) to lift the OB.
Focusing on our man Durant, the race for ROY wasn’t even close. Durant played all 82 games logging more than 30 MPG, and his season-average line read 22-6-1-2-2. For real. Durant averaged just one dime but on the other hand he stole 1.9 balls per game and blocked 3.2 (!) shots per. His 22 buckets per game ranked 16th in the whole NBA. Al Horford averaged 9-8-2 and Mike Conley 9-2-7, and that was pretty much it when it came to Duran’t competition for the ROY trophy.
As it couldn’t be other way, he also was named to the All-Rookie Team by the end of the season... along with a nod into the Second Teal All-Defense of the year! As a rookie! Crazy start to a... crazy career?
2008-09 to 2012-13: The Blazer Years
After being drafted by Portland back in 2007, Durant spent his first five years as a pro in the city of Roses to finally put his name in the free agent market and look for other venues. It made sense, considering Portland’s achievements through his first few years in the league and how things seemed to have stalled a bit for the Blazers.
The best season of the Durant-Portland partnership came just during his sophomore season in 2009 when they reached the WCF and faced Utah. It couldn’t be, though, and even entering the contest as the no. 1 seed (and the Jazz being only the no. 7 and having a 22-win worse record) Portland could only snatch a couple of games from Utah. Those Jazz would be demolished by the North in the Finals even having a great roster made of a core built around Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, JJ Hickson, and Andrei Kirilenko. The Raps were too good to handle, though, with the likes of Omer Asik, Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Kevin Martin, and Elton Brand carrying them all the way to the gold.
Other than that, and although he could get no rings during his Blazers tenure, Durant left Portland as quite the accomplished player. Since 2008 (when this alternate universe starts counting stats) Durant became the highest scoring-averager of the franchise with 23.1 PPG while also logging 5.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, and franchise-leading numbers on Win Shares (72.1) and PER (25). He did that in 399 games as a Trail Blazer
As far as personal accolades go, Durant got a bunch of awards in this five-year span. He was named to the third-best defensive team in 2009 and 2011, and was a second-teamer in 2010, finally cracking the first team in 2012. He also made the All-Star every year from 2010 to 2012, was named to the second All-NBA team in 2010, then to the first team in 2012, and perhaps the most important of awards along with his 2008 ROY, he got himself the Most Improved Player award of 2010.
When the 2012 summer arrived and testing the market, some team was willing to put the dough on the table and offered Durant a four-year max-money deal. It was time for KD to fly east to Chi Town and become a member of the Headache Bulls.
2012-13 to 2015-16: Righting the Wrong Bulls
Back when Durant signed with the Bulls in 2012 the franchise had a 152-258 record in the past five years. They had never made the playoffs and their best record came in 2008 (37-45), with the second-worst just months before signing Durant (26-56 in 2012).
Durant joined a stacked team led by old-pal Brandon Roy (signed in 2011), the no. 3 pick in 2011 Tristan Thompson, the no. 5 pick in 2012 Mo Harkless, and the pair of 2010 FA signees Dirk Nowitzki (already 35yo) and Josh Howard, along with the up-and-coming Thaddeus Young.
The first couple of years in the Windy City were absolutely horrific. The Bulls won 23 and 27 games, Durant fell down injured for part of the 2013 season, and although he reached his peak that year the Bulls were as stinky as ever. Chicago used the third-overall pick of 2013 in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the second-overall of 2014 in Aaron Gordon. The summer of 2014 also brought heavy-names to town in those of Tobias Harris and Gilbert Arenas to form one of the most stacked rosters around the NBA: Harris, Durant, Gordon, Roy, and Arenas was the starting five with KCP, Harkless, Mason Plumlee, and Carrick Felix (32nd pick in 2013—he went 33rd to the Cavs in real life!) coming off the bench.
The results take no time to arrive with such overhaul and the Bulls got their first conference championship and Finals appearance since the good old times of Mike after posting a 55-27 record on the 2015 regular season... only to get blasted by a worse-on-paper Kings bunch in the last round of the year.
In a completely opposite building-way, the Kings had created their roster by drafting their pieces and only Mario Chalmers was signed in 2010 and averaged more than 10 MPG for Sacramento that year. The rest of the team, by PER: John Wall, Eric Gordon, Pat Beverly, Mike Muscala, Malcolm Thomas, KJ McDaniels, and Dennis Schroeder.
More of the same happened in 2016, as the Bulls made it back to the conference finals to face the Charlotte Bobcats (shouts to the late Cats!) though they couldn’t even beat them once and saw Seattle (Seattle, remember, the time that drafted Oden and lost him just two years after that to the Clippers!) lift the chip. Roy wasn’t part of the Bulls, though they were able to bring in Draymond Green as a free agent. Not enough firepower.
Not enough cash either to pay Durant (whose best accomplishments as a Bull came down to dropping 50 points on Portland back in 2013 and being named an All-Star starter again in 2015) who, once again, was on the move and back to the Western conference.
2016-17 to 2021-22: Trying to Salvage Utah
Much like the Bulls when they signed Durant, the Jazz were a monster-team built both on drafting and free agents. Utah got KD in the 2016 market, but they had already signed LeBron James (just imagine this in real life!) back in 2014 and picked the 4th overall player in 2016 (Jamal Murray) along with the 2nd overall in 2015 (Rashad Vaughn... meh). It had been a tremendous five-year run for the Jazz from 2008 to 2012, making it to the Finals twice, but the last four seasons couldn’t have been worse with four consecutive playoff-misses. A power-move, such as bringing Durant in, was definitely needed. And well, it is not that we don’t know Durant is all for joining other top-tier players, amirite?
Pretty much like it happened in Chicago, Durant and his talents helped Utah back to the postseason just three years after his arrival. Although Utah wasn’t very clever in drafting (Terrance Ferguson no. 7 in 2017, Michael Porter Jr. no. 4 in 2018, fake-ass-Zach Groce no. 11 in 2019) the Jazz were able to sign a few relatively nice players in Gary Harris, Evan Fournier, Thon Maker, and Sergey Karasev to reach the playoffs.
They made the postseason three years in a row (including in 2022 with a negative 38-44 record) but they never made it past the first round and the best they could do was win a game in 2021 against a Dallas team led by De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Knox.
The Utah years were some to forget, all things considered. While Durant was still valuable he was another player. He never posted a negative WS season other than the 2021 one (negative-0.1) and even that was a borderline one. His PER never dropped under 10.8 (also 2021) and he was the main reason the Jazz even reached the playoffs.
No more personal trophies, all-teams, etc... went Durant way during his tenure in Utah, and the worst was still to come.
2022: Collusion and NBA Exit
I never expected this to happen, I have to say. Sure, Durant had dropped his talent quite a lot during the last few years in Utah, but he had still carried the team to the playoffs from 2020 to 2022 without fail.
Truth be told, this alternate universe and simulation wasn’t the best for Durant. He started nicely but turned into some good-not-great player who never made the All-Star past his age-27 season. With that, once he ran out of a contract in the summer of 2022 after a season in which he already played 73 games but started none (he averaged 19.8 MPG, though), no team wanted to pay for KD... and that was the case in 2023 and also in 2024, when it was finally time for Durant to make the ultimate decision: retire for good. Oden, by the way, also retired in 2024 after playing in each and every year since he entered the league for Seattle, the Clippers, Atlanta (he reached the 2017 NBA Finals with them as a starter), and the Nets.
This is just one of infinite scenarios and tales of what could have happened had Portland drafted Durant instead of Oden more than 10 years ago. For as much criticism as KD has endured during his career for not having it, for taking the easy way, for joining others after not being good enough to accomplish the greatest of feats on his own, he should be thankful of where he’s gotten and what he’s already won. No matter how he does as a member of the Nets, there will still be voices out there claiming that he needed to—again—join another superstar in Kyrie Irving to make it easier for him. Whatever, man. I’m glad I’m living the universe where I’ve been able to watch KD dominate, become a force of nature, grab multiple chips, and still have more than a handful of years left to keep racking up wins. Can’t wait for that final chapter to unfold.