Chad Buchanan may have just answered the number-one burning question of the Blazers’ offseason. Team officials have mostly been sworn to secrecy when it comes to their plans to bring Greg Oden back onto the court after his second significant knee injury that caused him to miss three quarters of the 2009-10 season. Over the course of the summer, Rich Cho, Nate McMillan, Paul Allen, lead scouts Buchanan and Mike Born, and Oden himself have refused to commit to a timeline of any kind, stressing patience over any kind of public statement on a timeline.
Well, Buchanan may have inadvertently let slip the team’s plans for the 2007 no. 1 overall pick in a recent appearance on Wheels at Work (Blazersedge link to audio of the interview):
People want Greg to be ready at the start of the season… Looking long term, we need everyone healthy, clicking together, come March, April and into May. If we can get Greg to play 60-65 games this year and continue the development curve he was on before he got injured last year, I think we’ll have a chance to have some success in the playoffs, this season.
Well then, there’s your answer. It’s disappointing on the surface, but can we really be all that surprised? The front office has refused to say anything other than variations on “he’s progressing, and he’ll be back this season.” If they believe that by keeping Oden out the first month of the season, he will be back 100 percent when he does play again, then this is the right decision. To pressure him into starting on opening night if he’s not entirely ready is to run your team based on how many “Is Oden the New Bowie?” segments on PTI you want there to be, not on the best interests of the club. If Oden plays 60-65 games at the level he was playing before he got hurt last year and his healthy for the playoffs, what Blazers fan wouldn’t take that?
So with all of that said, where does that leave the first quarter of the season? This is purely guesswork and speculation on my part, but based on Buchanan’s “60-65 games” comment and the makeup of the Blazers’ schedule, let’s assume the team is shooting for Dec. 5’s home game against the Clippers to bring Oden back. It’s the first game of a three-game homestand with two games before the next back-to-back. Oden would miss the first 19 games of the season in this case, which falls right in line with Buchanan’s estimate.
Here are the games Oden would miss in this case, with the opposing team’s starting center in parentheses.
- 11/26 vs. Phoenix (Robin Lopez)
- 11/27 at LA Clippers (Chris Kaman)
- 11/30 at New York (Ronny Turiaf)
- 11/01 at Chicago (Joakim Noah)
- 11/02 at Milwaukee (Andrew Bogut, pending recovery)
- 11/04 vs. Oklahoma City (Serge Ibaka)
- 11/06 vs. Toronto (Andrea Bargnani)
- 11/07 at LA Lakers (Andrew Bynum)
- 11/09 vs. Detroit (Ben Wallace)
- 11/12 at Oklahoma City (Ibaka)
- 11/13 at New Orleans (Emeka Okafor)
- 11/16 at Memphis (Marc Gasol)
- 11/18 vs. Denver (Nene Hilario)
- 11/20 vs. Utah (Mehmet Okur)
- 11/26 vs. New Orleans (Okafor)
- 11/28 at New Jersey (Brook Lopez)
- 11/30 at Philadelphia (Marreese Speights)
- 11/01 at Boston (Shaquille O’Neal [Kendrick Perkins out until late December or early January])
- 11/03 at Washington (JaVale McGee)
As far as first-quarter schedules go, that’s not that bad. In terms of teams with other young, elite centers with Oden’s skillset, we’re basically only looking at the matchups against Joakim Noah, Andrew Bynum (or Pau Gasol, depending on Bynum’s health), and Brook Lopez where there will be a huge void. There’s nobody else on that list that Marcus Camby can’t handle. A vast majority of these games are against teams the Blazers should be able to beat with or without Oden, and teams that they did beat last year without not just Oden but other players at various points in the year. The importance of having Nicolas Batum, arguably the Blazers’ best defender, healthy to start the year cannot be overstated. If the Blazers can get through this set of games with a decent record–and most of these are games they should win–and then get a completely healthy Oden back for the rest of the year, they’ll be fine. Say it with me: they’ll be fine.