For personal reasons, I stayed off all social media for most of yesterday. When I got off work last night and went home, I intended to check a few email and work on a few writing projects. I opened my email and saw a Facebook wall-post notification from my buddy Jason. It read simply: “Sorry to hear about Oden being done for the year. What do you think the Blazers will do with him at the end of the season?”
I stared at it in disbelief for a few seconds. “That can’t be right,” I thought. It just couldn’t be. I know luck hasn’t exactly been on the Blazers’ side lately, but…really? Greg out for the season again? That’s just a knife through the heart. I debated with myself for a few minutes: do I log into Twitter and have the inevitable confirmed, or do I put it off until tomorrow? I decided to bite the bullet and face the music. Texts started coming in from my friends saying extremely sensitive and considerate things like “DURANT FOR MVP!” and “Be honest, if you were drafting today, would you take Oden or Darko?”
This is a difficult post for me to write. I don’t like to be a homer as a general rule. But this is too close to home. This is one of the darkest days in recent Trail Blazers history. We as fans have stood by Greg Oden through so much. We’ve defended him against all the “bust” and “Sam Bowie 2.0” talk the media has thrown our way by saying things like “But if you look at how he was playing when he was healthy, he was showing signs of improvement. If he could just stay on the court, he would be an All-Star.” And we believed it. And call me delusional or whatever else you want, but I still believe it, dammit.
Before I say anything about what this means for the team going forward, I first have to extend my deepest sympathies to Greg himself. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through right now. Since he’s been here, he’s done absolutely everything the Blazers have asked of him in terms of rehabbing. His work ethic is nothing short of outstanding. He is, by all accounts, beloved by his teammates, to say nothing of the fans. He’s done nothing to deserve any of this. In recent weeks, before this announcement, I had heard talk of Greg going through some fairly serious performance anxiety, to the point of not wanting to let anybody outside of the team’s training staff watch him work out. He hears all of the talk in the media about how much of a bust he is and how the Blazers should have drafted He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (yes, I am going to go all Voldemort on your asses with this Oklahoma City star, at least for the remainder of the 2010-11 season. I hate to ever resort to L*kers-esque things, but we’re in mourning and you’re going to hear his name in connection with this story more than your fair share of times simply by watching 20 minutes of SportsCenter today). He hears it and takes it personally. He desperately doesn’t want to disappoint his teammates or us fans, but for reasons beyond his control, his body simply isn’t up to it. This can’t be chalked up to anything but hard work and bad luck. I can only imagine how devastating this latest microfracture news was to Greg’s already-low self esteem. This couldn’t have happened to a less-deserving kid. All we can do is wish him the best in his surgery and recovery, and hope that it doesn’t happen again.
Now comes the hard part: trying to talk about this news from a tangible basketball standpoint, in terms of its implications for the Blazers this season and beyond. It is very likely that Greg Oden’s career as a Portland Trail Blazer is over. The qualifying offer the Blazers would have to extend him next summer in order to keep him as a restricted free agent is simply too big for the team to afford the risk. If Greg ends up a Grant Hill/Marcus Camby/Zydrunas Ilgauskas-type late bloomer, it will probably be with another team, purely for financial reasons. Right now, it is in the Blazers’ best interests to move on without him. Joel Przybilla is scheduled to return in a couple weeks, which should help, but the Blazers need to go sign another big body, whether by trade or free agency. The still-unsigned Erick Dampier isn’t a terrible option. Pursuing a trade for an Anderson Varejao type is ideal. But Rich Cho needs to do something. I’m not one of those who think the Blazers are already ready to go into rebuild mode, because they still have enough depth and talent to be a contender. But the big-man situation needs to be addressed with the future in mind. For all intents and purposes, the post-Oden era has begun. You have no idea how painful it was for me to type that last sentence.
In closing: everything will be okay. Eventually. We as Blazers fans need to stand together during this tough time. Be completely stubborn and un-budging in your refusal to hear any 2007 draft do-over talk from your friends or from Tony Kornheiser. We’ve been through too much with Greg to disown him. The NBA’s online store currently has Greg Oden jerseys of all types at pretty steep discounts. Consider buying one and wearing it to a few games this season as a show of solidarity. Hit him up on Twitter and send him an encouraging message. Collectively refuse to watch ESPN for the next week, so as not to give them the satisfaction of running this into the ground. Most importantly, hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Greg. He has all the talent in the world, but the cruel forces of fate and physics have conspired to prevent him from realizing it. Hope that he doesn’t beat himself up over these injuries too much, as they are beyond his control. Whether it’s in Portland or not, or even whether or not he continues playing professional basketball, we have to hope for the best for him at whatever he does in life. He will always be one of us.