Is Greg Oden worth the risk?

Is Greg Oden worth the risk?

Published May. 27, 2011 10:34 a.m. ET

Suddenly, the idea of Greg Oden being available makes good sense again.

We all know the story of the former Ohio State and current Portland Trail Blazers center. Oden was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007. Then he got injured. Then he got injured again. Then he missed the entire 2010-11 season with another injury.

Oden has been hurt so much, he makes injury-prone ex-Blazer centers Bill Walton and Sam Bowie look like fortresses of vigor and good health.

You probably also know the Blazers recently fired general manager Rich Cho. This comes less than a year after they fired GM Kevin Pritchard. Now, former Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry (now in San Antonio's front office) is rumored to be high on the Blazers' list of possible replacements.


Why anyone would be clamoring for a job that turns over more than Larry King changes wives is beyond comprehension, of course. But that's a topic for another day.

Back to Oden.

First, the positives. There aren't many, outside of the fact Oden is 7-foot, a good athlete and strong. He also showed the defensive ability in college to make you think he was a modern-day Bill Russell.

Now, the negatives. Oden has played in just 82 games over the course of four seasons. He missed all of his rookie year after micro-fracture surgery on his right knee. Last year, it was micro-fracture surgery on the left knee. The year before that, he played just 21 games with an assortment of knee and foot injuries.

His most productive and injury-free season was 2008-09, when he averaged 8.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 61 games. His numbers were better in 2009-10 (11.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.3 blocks), but again, he couldn't even make it a quarter of a season.

Things aren't exactly looking up, either.

Because of the injuries, Oden is understandably above his ideal playing weight and nowhere near basketball shape. Worse, he isn't expected to be cleared to work on his game until the end of summer. He isn't expected to be able to run until September.

All of this makes Oden a major mystery and, for any team willing to sign him, a huge risk.

The Blazers own a team option on Oden. They can pick it up and pay him about $8.8 million next season, or not sign him and allow him to become a free agent. There is also the possibility they could sign and trade him — but it's doubtful any team would want to take on that contract, given Oden's history.

What makes all of this intriguing is the fact Cho indicated he was leaning toward keeping Oden. But now Cho is gone, and acting Blazers GM Chad Buchanan has been noncommittal.

"We've had a lot of discussions about (Oden)," Buchanan told the Portland Tribune. "We'll continue having those. I can't give you much more than that on the situation."

Big pain

Oden isn't alone in beginning his career this way. Other big-name NBA players have had to overcome similar predicaments.

The list includes Walton, Grant Hill, Bowie and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Walton experienced multiple foot issues his entire career — at least he played long enough to lead the Blazers to a championship in 1977. He also was a key player off the bench on Boston's 1986 title team.

Hill was considered one of the league's true young superstars in the 1990s before being derailed by his own set of foot injuries. Just when everyone figured he was finished, Hill reinvented himself as a veteran small forward who acts as the glue to the Phoenix Suns. In the past three seasons, he has missed just three games combined.

Meanwhile, Ilgauskas' foot issues caused him to miss all but five games of his second season (1998-99) and all but 24 of the following year. He hasn't missed more than 20 games in any season since.

Finally, even Bowie recovered enough to play extensively once the Blazers traded him to New Jersey. In his four seasons with the Nets, Bowie missed just 14, 20, 11 and three games, respectively.

Does the same fate await Oden?

The answer is, no one knows. Perhaps the biggest difference between Oden and his predecessors in pain is the fact Oden has serious knee issues. Most of the other guys (Hill, Walton, Ilgauskas) experienced problems with their feet.

Still, you can be sure someone will be willing to take a chance on Oden. If not the Blazers, then somebody desperate for a center, a team that can afford to gamble.

Fortunately for the big man, there are quite a few teams out there that fit that description. So it's safe to say Oden will be in the news again soon. This time, let's just hope it's for something other than another visit to the doctor's office.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO