Oden and Fernandez are questions for Blazers

Much of the focus in the preseason for the Portland Trail

Blazers falls on center Greg Oden, and whether this will be the

year he finally lives up to the expectations of a No. 1 draft

pick.

But the 7-footer has to get healthy first.

Oden arrived in advance of the start of practice on Tuesday with

word that he would not be available for preseason games because he

was still not fully healed from surgery on his right kneecap last

December. In fact, Oden won’t likely be available for the season

opener, and perhaps well into the season.

When asked if he would be ready to play by Christmas, Oden threw

up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

”I wish I could honestly say there’s a timeline, but there’s

not,” he said. ”There’s good days and bad days.”

Oden broke his right kneecap during a game last December against

the Houston Rockets. It is one of several injuries the 7-footer has

suffered since he came into the league.

The Blazers selected Oden with the top pick in the 2007 draft,

choosing him over Kevin Durant. Injuries brought endless

comparisons to Sam Bowie, the frequently injured big man who the

Blazers infamously selected ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984

draft.

Oden missed his rookie season after undergoing microfracture

surgery on his right knee. The next season he sat out six games

after injuring his right foot in the season opener against the

Lakers, before missing 14 games after the All-Star break with a

bone chip in his left knee. He finished the season averaging 8.9

points and 7 rebounds.

Last season, Oden averaged 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4

blocks as a starter before breaking his kneecap. Along with

improved numbers in all the major statistical categories, Oden had

a renewed confidence that was seldom evident in his delayed rookie

season, when he admitted the pressure of being a top draft pick got

to him.

On Monday Oden was in good spirits. He said that while he’s

excited to get started, he knows he must be patient.

”I understand that if I got out there too soon, it’s not going

to help me, and it’s not going to help the team,” he said.

Fellow Blazers center Joel Przybilla, who also missed a good

portion of last season with a knee injury, said Monday he felt

great and was way ahead of schedule – although he too probably

wouldn’t be available on opening night.

Przybilla ruptured his right patella tendon and required surgery

twice last season – once after the initial injury in late December,

then again in March when he re-injured the knee after a fall in his

shower.

Coach Nate McMillan said Marcus Camby will start at center until

either Oden or Przybilla, or both, return. Jeff Pendergraph will

also play at the position, and the Blazers can move over LaMarcus

Aldrige – who put on some 15 pounds in the offseason – if need

be.

The Blazers will not be trading for another center, McMillan

emphatically said.

Portland went 50-32 last season but was ousted in the first

round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Oden and

Przybilla were just two of a spate of injuries that dogged the

team.

In all, Portland players missed a combined 311 regular-season

games because of injury, second only to the Golden State Warriors

and most among playoff teams. Only two players, Andre Miller and

forward Martell Webster, were healthy for all 82 games. The Blazers

used 16 different starting lineups.

Oden and Przybilla weren’t the only talk at the Rose Garden on

Monday, when the Blazers held ”Media Day” in advance of training

camp.

Blazers swingman Rudy Fernandez spoke after rumors swirled over

the summer that the Spaniard would not return to the team. It was

reported that Fernandez wanted to be traded, but he said that was

not the case: He just wants to go home.

”I prefer the style of European competition,” he said. ”I

feel better in Europe.”

Fernandez, a two-year veteran, is known for his flashy skills

and spark off the bench. He averaged 8.1 points per game last

season, a drop off from his 10.4-point average as a rookie. But he

also had back trouble and missed 19 midseason games after a

microdiscectomy.

Fernandez played for Spanish national team this past summer.

Blazers guard Brandon Roy said he talked to Fernandez on Monday,

telling him ”Now that you’re here we’re going to need you to

play.”

”It’s going to be our job to make him more comfortable,” Roy

said about Fernandez. ”We can’t leave him out there on an island

where he gets homesick.”