Uncontested Shots: What's Next for Greg Oden and the Blazers?
In light of Saturday night's events, you really have to feel for Greg Oden. Fran Blinebury of NBA.com points out that by the conclusion of this season, Oden will have played in just 82 of a possible 246 games to begin his career. That's exactly one full season of games out of three.
While I'm not trying to say that injuries to athletes who are unlikable should be cheered, the fact that Oden seems to be a great kid makes it that much more heartbreaking.
If you don't believe me, check out Oden's "audition" for the hosting gig at the 2008 ESPY Awards.
Looking at the small picture, the news is devastating. Just last week, Oden had 20 rebounds and 13 points in a home loss to the Heat.
At the time of the injury, Oden was shooting 60 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line for the season—both outstanding numbers for a center.
In a league with so few legitimate centers, Oden gave the Blazers an advantage over most of the teams in the league at a very important position. With All-Star shooting guard Brandon Roy and the multi-talented LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward, the Blazers had the league's most impressive array of young talent.
In the big picture, the news has actually has a silver lining for the Blazers and their fans.
Let's be honest. The Blazers were not going to contend for a title this year—with or without a healthy Oden.
While the loss of Oden might impact the Blazers playoff seeding, it won't make much of a difference in how far the team goes. Because of injuries to Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw, the Blazers were already a long shot to beat out the Nuggets for the Northwest Division title.
While a top four seed was definitely realistic (and still is), the chance of the Blazers beating either the Nuggets or Lakers for a spot in the Western Conference Finals was looking less and less likely with each unforgivable loss they suffered this season.
That much hasn't changed.
The silver lining is in the fact that Oden, who is eligible for a contract extension at season's end, will most likely have to play for his extension next season instead of this current one.
It's true that if the Blazers wait until the summer of 2011 to extend Oden that he will be a restricted free agent. But it's highly unlikely that another team would now consider offering Oden a long-term offer sheet that the Blazers would be forced to match.
In fact, with the league's current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in the summer of 2011, there's a good chance that the amount of money that Oden will be eligible for as a former first-overall pick will decrease with the next CBA.
There's a precedent that should also work in the Blazers favor.
In the summer of 2008, Andrew Bynum was eligible for a contract extension after suffering a season-ending knee surgery.
Bynum's agent, David Lee, convinced the Lakers that Bynum was unhappy and felt disrespected by the team's slow movement to commit long-term to his client.
Eventually, the Lakers caved in and gave Bynum a big money extension because they feared that one of the handful of teams with significant cap space would have offered Bynum the type of long-term offer sheet that in the end, would have cost them a lot more in terms of years and/or dollars.
The Lakers and Lee came to a compromise in which Bynum would get big-time money but for only three years (instead of the maximum six years) with a team option for the fourth year.
Then Bynum suffered another long-term knee injury that caused him to miss 32 games the following season.
If Oden's agent, Mike Conley, tries to convince the Blazers to give Oden an extension next summer, the team can always point to Bynum and tell Conley that they want to make sure that Oden can play at least 70 games before they extend him.
Keep in mind that the Blazers just signed Roy and Aldridge to big-time extensions that kick in next season. Those extensions came on the heels of the team signing point guard Andre Miller to a free agent contract.
So while Oden's next deal would have begun in 2011 regardless of whether the Blazers extended him in the summer of 2010 or 2011, they now have an extra year to gauge Oden's long-term health as well as his ceiling as a player.
The Blazers also know that Oden cannot justify asking for a max-type deal in light of his injury history. That new savings could be the difference between the Blazers re-signing either Steve Blake or Outlaw when they hit the free agent market next summer.
The Blazers have options if they feel they need to make a move to remain in the top half of the Western Conference standings.
Without Oden, they seem to be in need of frontcourt depth. The Blazers now have Joel Pryzbilla, Aldridge, 16-year veteran Juwan Howard, and rookie Dante Cunningham.
The team can always try to trade one of their guards for a big man.
Even before Oden's injury, Yahoo! 's Adrian Wojnarowski brought up Miller's name when listing players who could be traded on or after Dec. 15. So did I in my annual list of ten players who could be moved before the trade deadline .
While the Blazers could try to move Blake, Miller's $6.7 million contract could net them a better player than Blake's $5 million deal could.
The list of quality big men available isn't very long. The list of teams in need of a starting point guard is even shorter. The list of teams looking to take on Miller's contract, which runs through next season with a team option for 2011-12, is even shorter than that.
The list of power forward/centers who are available for straight one-for-one trades isn't going to excite Blazers fans.
Nazr Mohammed of the Charlotte Bobcats makes about the same money as Miller and is signed for only one more season after this. Miller is the type of player that Larry Brown loves.
Raymond Felton is an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and sophomore D.J. Augustin appears to be in Brown's doghouse in the wake of consecutive DNPs.
There are two problems with a Miller-for-Mohammed deal. First, the Blazers would want a lot more for Miller than Mohammed. Perhaps a future first-round pick would entice them.
Second, the Bobcats have been openly shopping for big men and trading one of their few bigs for another guard doesn't seem likely. Although how could they possibly pass up this type of deal?
The struggling Wizards could try to make a move for Miller if they think he can coexist in the same backcourt with Gilbert Arenas. A trade of Miller for Brendan Haywood and his expiring contract would work if the Wizards were willing to go with Andray Blatche at center and Fabricio Oberto backing him up.
That's another lopsided trade that would probably require a draft pick from the Wizards. The Wizards might be more inclined to trade for Steve Blake—who has played with Arenas in the past and is still beloved in the area as a member of the Maryland Terps 2002 championship team.
If the Blazers decide to go the free agency route, then they're looking at guys like Lorenzen Wright, Chris Mihm, Jake Voskuhl, and Robert Swift—not exactly Russell, Chamberlain, Jabbar, and Mikan. Heck, that's not even Longley, Dare, Benjamin, and Koncak.
The last thing Blazers fans want to hear right now are more comparisons between Oden and Sam Bowie—the often-injured center the Blazers selected over Michael Jordan in the 1984 Draft.
What Blazers fans need to remember is how lucky they were to win the 2007 Draft Lottery to begin with. They won despite having only a 53 percent chance of winning. Sure, it would be nice to have Kevin Durant right now, but Oden made the most sense given the fact that the team already had Roy and Martell Webster playing the two positions Durant can play.
A lot of Blazers fan are still optimistic in thinking that Oden can bounce back from another devastating injury and be the player they think he's destined to become.
While I applaud their optimism, they need to realize that Oden might be better off as a 20 minutes per game player coming off the bench than as a starting center.
While it's easy to compare Oden to Bynum, neither of Bynum's injuries were even close to the severity of those suffered by Oden. Both of Oden's knee injuries required surgery, whereas Bynum's knee injuries required just one 30-minute arthroscopic procedure to remove scar tissue.
Regardless, the basketball world should be more concerned with a great kid getting the opportunity to do what he was destined to than with saying "I told you so!" to the Blazers and their fans.
Andrew Ungvari is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and co-lead blogger for basketball website SirCharlesInCharge.com .
Follow him on Twitter .
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