Blazers seem cursed when it comes to big men
With Greg Oden facing yet another knee operation that will keep him off the court for yet another season, Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan confronted the perceived curse that has hung over his oft-injured 7-foot center.
There's a tendency to grasp for answers why Oden is injury-prone, or why former Blazers Bill Walton or more infamously Sam Bowie were, too. McMillan said the truth is that it's merely an unfortunate coincidence.
''When things go wrong, we as a society, we all want to find someone to point the finger at, or blame, and sometimes things just happen,'' McMillan said. ''These injuries, each one of them, they just happened.''
McMillan made the comments during a hastily called a news conference on a stormy Wednesday night to announce that Oden would have microfracture surgery on his left knee.
It was yet another setback for the former No. 1 draft pick, who has played just 82 games since he came into the league in 2007.
Oden's rookie season was put off by microfracture surgery on his other knee. Then a little more than a month into last season he broke his left kneecap, which also required surgery and has kept him off the court ever since.
Because of his apparent predisposition toward injury, Oden has often been compared to Bowie, fairly or unfairly considered one of the NBA's biggest draft busts.
The Blazers took the 7-foot-1 Bowie with the No. 2 overall pick, passing on Michael Jordan.
While Bowie played in 76 games his rookie season, averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds, he appeared in just 63 games over the next four seasons because of injuries. He missed the entire 1987-88 season and in all he had five operations on his legs.
Then there was Walton, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1974 who, like Oden, was hailed as a franchise player. But his first two seasons were beset by injury, with a broken nose, leg, foot and wrist.
Walton's legacy ultimately turned in the 1976-77 season when the Blazers won the NBA championship.
No one has seen enough of Oden to justly call him a bust on the court, which Walton's story shows. But there are questions about whether he'll ever live up to the potential he showed when the Blazers drafted him.
Portland selected Oden out of Ohio State over Kevin Durant, who went to the Oklahoma City franchise and has blossomed into one of the NBA's best players.
Teamed with guard Brandon Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who were already lifting the Blazers out of the so-called Jail Blazers era, Oden was seen as the final component of a trilogy that would take Portland back to the NBA finals.
Those hopes were dashed when shortly before his rookie season started, the team announced Oden would have microfracture surgery on his right knee.
Oden, always chided about how his mature looks belie his actual age, was still a looming presence that first season, making regular personal appearances and even keeping a popular blog. He even did some campaigning for Barack Obama's presidential bid.
He showed promise the next season when he played in 61 games, averaging 8.9 points and seven rebounds. But he was at times moody with lofty expectations clearly weighing on him.
He really began to blossom last season when he became a starter and was averaging 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
But then he was hurt in a game against Houston in early December, crashing to the floor with his kneecap visibly contorted.
Now the new injury, which the Blazers insist is not related to the kneecap.
''This is really tough for us to have to sit here and talk about someone like Greg, who doesn't deserve what's going on with him because he's worked his tail off to get to where he's at to get ready to play basketball,'' Blazers trainer Jay Jensen said, at times pausing to regain his composure.
Oden, who could not immediately be reached for comment, will undergo the microfracture surgery on Friday at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo.
McMillan said he spoke to Oden on Wednesday.
''As I've talked to him, it is a challenge, and we all are faced with different challenges throughout our lives. He's just unfortunate to have situations over the last few years that haven't been good,'' McMillan said. ''He has to stay positive, he has to keep believing, he has to keep working to get back on the floor. The main thing is he has to stay positive.''
It is unclear whether Oden will ever play for the Blazers again.
The team decided late last month not to extend his rookie contract. That means that on July 1 Oden will become a restricted free agent and he can deal with other teams, but Portland will have the right to match any offers.
There is an argument that even as a backup, Oden's size and the skills he has been able to show make him a commodity. Then again, it's difficult to return from even one microfracture surgery, and Oden will have had two.
Denver forward Kenyon Martin is the only NBA player to return from the procedure on both knees.
For the time being, Oden's injury was still sinking in with both his team and its faithful fans. ''Oden'' was a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday.
Reid Bamford, a Blazers fan from Beaverton, Ore., said he doesn't blame the team for selecting Oden over Durant, and he doesn't necessarily buy into the whole curse thing. ''Disappointment,'' was his one-word summation.
''Structurally, he's got a problem,'' Bamford said. ''I don't think those legs can hold up to the weight of his body.''
The front page of the Blazers' official website on Thursday splashed the word ''Courage.'' It went on to say: ''The courage for us to not give up. The courage for us to not give in. The courage for us to stand together.''