You know the story by now. Greg Oden is likely out for the 2009-10 season after fracturing his left patella against the Houston Rockets. He will need surgery. He will not be able to bend his knee for more than a month. Few people deserve this less. Michael Vick gets paid to play professional football again while Oden’s knee imploded and he will miss the majority of the third NBA season since he was drafted. Justice is a fleeting idea.
The good people of the world wish him well. The people who want to call him a bust and bring up Sam Bowie — of which there have been many in less than 24 hours — have their prerogative and don’t deserve to be acknowledged. There’s little humor to be found in the situation.
For Blazer fans, this is one of, if not the biggest, the worst punches in the gut since the fourth quarter of Game 7 in 2000. Losing Oden before his rookie season was one thing, but losing him after watching him persevere, grow and display potential dominance in another. It’s not even melodramatic to say that finding out about the injury was like hearing a family member was in the hospital. It caused both physical and mental grief. The first person to tweet us, @justin_pdx, had nothing to say but “God is dead, huh?” Here are some of the reactions that came immediately and once people had to digest the incident:
@KDonhoops (Yahoo! Sports’ Kelley Dwyer): Also, I just clicked over to the Y! NBA page, I didn’t know, and I’m … no other way to put this, crying. This just isn’t fair.
@ripcityproject (SJ): my sadness is intense — I’m not going to talk about this tonight.
@tmundal: brightside? Pressure and expectations are gone. Team can play loose. Us against the World. Miller and Roy will rock.
@alexjsteele: we have an alibi for a mediocre rest of season and the media can’t beat us up for underperforming.
@mws_pdx_bc: on some warm June day, the parade winding up Broadway with Oden holding the Larry O’Brien trophy, it will all make sense.
@mentaldribbles: Remember Greg, there’s a line from an old movie.”Love means NEVER having to say you’re sorry.”
It’s a heartbreaking injury. Now let’s talk about what this means for the season.
Expectations have been ground into dust. Along with all the other injuries, winning the division is probably out of the question. The best-case scenario at this point in probably just finding a way to make it into the playoffs. There are going to be people who want to start losing again to have a shot at John Wall, but the Blazers are beyond that. Look at what the Rockets are doing without Yao and T-Mac or what the Celtics did last season once they lost Kevin Garnett among another smattering of injuries. Portland might not be able to show its maturity with playoff results this year, but they can by fighting through this. Reverting back to the team of years ago would be a big step back in the larger scheme of things.
Joel Przbyilla is proven and we need not worry about him. Juwan Howard will be steady, if unspectacular in reserve. Dante Cunningham will have a chance to grow. Jeff Pendergraph will return from hip surgery and step right into opportunity. If the young players are worthy of being NBA rotation guys, we’ll have a decent picture of it or not by June.
That goes especially for Jerryd Bayless. With zero expectations comes little pressure, and little reason to emphasize the steadiness of Steve Blake and Andre Miller. Those two PG’s should continue to play, but between spot PG minutes and SG time, Bayless needs to be on the court for at least 20 minutes a game. Something is seriously wrong, with Bayless or with the decision makers, if that isn’t happening with so many difference makers on the pine.
Oden’s absence should also make it simpler for Kevin Pritchard to make a move. The concerns about disrupting team chemistry go out the window, because even even the Blazers make a nice little run playing well together, any chemistry they develop now will be interrupted with the return of Batum/Outlaw/Oden eventually. Blake and Outlaw’s expiring contracts should be used, better to bring in a potential long-term guy than just to patch up holes. This is still the last chance to use whatever is left of the cap space. We’ve said all along that the success of the Miller signing hinges on whatever Pritchard does as a follow up. As trade talks start heating up we’ll discuss available players, but most of the small forwards that could be had last February should be on the blocks again.
On court things should look pretty familiar. Roy and Aldridge running countless high pick-and-rolls and everyone playing off them. Oden was the great hope for inside scoring, but the paint should open up for Roy to drive more, at least. The Blazers must still improve on defense, and without Oden acting the safety blanket the perimeter D should become/remain a major focal point of the year. Otherwise, Bayless is the key. If he makes good on his talent and makes some national noise, there will be cause to say the season was a (relative) success.
The best reports have been that Oden should make a full recovery. Think about Andrew Bynum coming back from multiple injuries. Think about Zydrunas Ilgauskas. You can also take small comfort in the word “likely” in the Blazers’ official statement regarding his return. Best scenario would be Oden returning for spot minutes in a handful of games to get his sea legs back, but at least he could be healthy for a full offseason of work, which is when he was really going to improve his repertoire in the first place.
I think you already know how I feel about making the No. 1 pick decision all over again.