Greg Oden Is Done, but the Portland Trail Blazers Are Not

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Greg Oden Is Done, but the Portland Trail Blazers Are Not

When I woke up on the Sunday morning of Dec. 6, I thought it would be just like any other day. Wake up, go to church, and then watch NFL the rest of the day. However, when I looked up the box score for the Blazers-Rockets game, I quickly realized that today would not be a good day, not at all.

At first glance, when I saw the score of the Blazers game, I was joyous. A one-point victory to break a three game losing streak! Then I looked at Oden's stat line, the one I am routinely most interested in, to see if Oden had continued his strong play this season. Then I saw it.

He had only played four minutes. I thought "Okay, maybe he just had very bad foul trouble." I looked at the number of fouls he committed. One. My heart immediately sunk. Greg Oden, once again, was injured.

I begged, "please don't be the knee, please don't be the knee, don't let it be serious, don't let it be serious."

Fractured knee cap, will require surgery, likely out for the season.

Two days before the day America was bombed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the Trailblazers and their former number one overall draft pick had had emotional and physical bombs dropped on them. Oden had looked so promising this season, averaging nearly a double double, being among the league leaders in blocks, and coming off of a 20-rebound performance in the previous game. It appeared everything was coming together.

Everything was coming together, except for his knee. His knee was coming apart. Oden will miss the rest of the year. All of the 61 games remaining. He missed all 82 in his "rookie season." He also missed a good chunk of games last season, not even playing in three-fourths of the Blazers contests.

So, in his first three seasons, Oden will have  played less than a full season's worth of games.  Let me rephrase that, the 2007 No. 1 overall pick will have played in less than 82 games, while No. 2 pick Kevin Durant continues to be among the league leaders in scoring as he is leading the Thunder to a surprising start.

If the Oden-Durant argument wasn't over already, it is now.

Still, Blazers fans will love Oden. I know I will. I feel horrible for the guy. Players said that Oden apologized to his teammates for getting hurt. He is taking the blame for getting hurt. He feels like he is letting his team down. It's hard to not like a guy like that.

Oden just had bad knees, and that's that. He will probably never play a full season. He will probably never be a top 10 NBA center. He will never live up to his hype. Centers with bad knees just don't make it in the NBA.

This is the same knee cap that was chipped last year in a game against the Warriors. Maybe surgery can help, but that is looking through Rose colored glasses. Oden has demonstrated having the knees of a 35 year old center instead of the 21 year center that he is. Juwan Howard probably has better knees than Oden at this point.

So is Portland's season over? Are they done? While it certainly does not help the Blazers, the Oden injury should not be a huge bump in their season's path. They played fine without him last season, and they feel less pressure to try getting him the ball.

The injury will make better players out of their two emerging cornerstones, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge will need to really bang the boards with Oden out, something he really needs to work on, although he's been better on the glass this season. He will also need to score more.

Roy will have to bring the injury ravaged Blazers together and lead them like never before. Portland will be down their Oden, Outlaw, Batum, and Fernandez when they go on an Eastern road trip this next week that includes playing in Cleveland.

Oh, and coach Nate McMillan will be absent as well. Roy is already a great leader, but if the Blazers make it through the season as a playoff team, Roy can be considered maybe the best leader in the NBA. How many guys have ever gone through what he's having happen to his team right now at such a young age? Not many.

The guy who will replace Oden is a capable player as well. Joel Pryzbilla actually started almost every game last season and is a gritty rebounder and defender. They have shallow depth behind him, but the Blazers should now have to play small with some combination of Roy, Blake, Miller, and Fernandez on the court at many times. They have pretty good personnel to play with a small lineup like that.

With the unforeseeable return of Outlaw or Oden, the Blazers will have a very tough road ahead of them. They should still make the playoffs, but it wouldn't be surprising if they did not. Even the most optimistic Portland fan should have seen that the Blazers would not be a champion if with a fully healthy team, so while the season will most likely end in disappointment, it would have ended in less than a title anyway,

"What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." That's what the Blazers motto should be this season. Injuries have ravaged their lineup and coach, but the rest of their guys will be better, tougher players because of this season.

Maybe Greg won't be playing when the playoffs roll around, but perhaps he can be congratulating his teammates for getting past the first round while watching in his street clothes. That seems like the best case scenario for Portland right now.

Worst case scenario? Now is really not the time to think about that...

Get well soon Greg (and Travis, Nicolas, Rudy, and Nate).


-A.T.

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