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Oden Tale Is Familiar One For Portland Trail Blazer Fans

Posted on November 20, 2010 by Dean Hybl

There hasn't been a lot for Portland Trail Blazer fans to smile about since the selection of Greg Oden in the 2007 NBA Draft.

The announcement this week that Portland Trail Blazer center Greg Oden is out for the year while undergoing microfracture surgery for the second time in four years is simply the equivalent of tossing more salt into an old wound for Trail Blazer fans.

When Portland management made the decision in the spring of 2007 to bypass Texas forward Kevin Durant and choose Ohio State center Greg Oden with the first pick in the NBA Draft, fans hoped the move would work out better than a similar decision 23 years earlier.

In 1984, the Trail Blazers passed on selecting a young guard from North Carolina with the second pick in the NBA Draft to instead shore up their frontcourt with Kentucky big man Sam Bowie.

Over the next five seasons, Bowie would average 10.5 points per contest while playing in a grand total of 139 games for the Trail Blazers. Conversely, during those same five seasons, Michael Jordan claimed three of what would ultimately be 10 NBA scoring titles while building the Chicago Bulls into a franchise that would claim six NBA titles in the 1990s.

The reasoning at the time was that Jordan played a similar position to that of Clyde Drexler, who Portland had drafted the previous season out of the University of Houston. Drexler would go on to make eight All-Star appearances with the Trail Blazers and twice lead the team into the NBA Championship Series (including once against Jordan’s Bulls), but would never lead Portland to the title.

Similarly, when Portland approached the 2007 NBA Draft they felt second year swingman Brandon Roy was comparable in position and ability to Durant and instead needed to use the draft choice to enhance their frontcourt. Ironically, it was Roy who had represented the team at the NBA Lottery when they had received the top selection.

In the subsequent four seasons, Roy has earned three All-Star appearances and become a solid NBA player, but he has ranked among the top 10 scorers in the league only once (10th in 2008-09 at 22.6 ppg) while missing 56 games due to injuries.

After Houston chose Hakeem Olajuwon, the Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie with the second pick in the 1984 NBA Draft.

As a team, Portland has improved from 32 wins the year before Oden’s arrival to 54 wins the following season and 50 victories last year. Portland has lost in the opening round of the playoffs each of the last two years.

However, the little of the improvement can be associated with the performance of the 7-foot center.

Before he even made it to his first training camp, Oden underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee and missed the entire 2007-08 campaign.

He returned for the 2008-09 season and averaged 8.9 points and 7 rebounds per game in 61 contests. He showed glimpses of his great potential with 16 double-doubles, including a 24 point and 15 rebound performance against the Milwaukee Bucks. He scored 15 points in his first career playoff game against the Houston Rockets, but added only 15 additional points in the following five games as the Rockets defeated the Trail Blazers in six games.

The following season, Oden averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game before hurting his left knee in his 21st game of the season.

He missed the remainder of the season with a fractured left patella. After attempting to return for the 2010-2011 season, it was announced this week that Oden will undergo microfracture surgery on his left knee and miss the entire season.

That means Oden will have played in a total of 82 games out of a possible 328 regular season games in his first four seasons.

While the man Portland bypassed to select Oden hasn’t yet developed into Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant is definitely establishing himself as one of the NBA’s best scorers and most dynamic young players.

He averaged 20.3 points as a rookie for the Seattle Supersonics in 2007-08 and following the relocation of the franchise to Oklahoma City has continued to blossom. His scoring average increased to 25.3 points per game the next year and in just his third season Durant led the league with an average of 30.1 points per contest. This season he is again leading the league in scoring through the first month.

Durant led the Thunder to a 50-32 record in 2009-2010 and their first playoff appearance since moving to Oklahoma. In a surprisingly competitive six-game series against the eventual NBA Champion Lakers, Durant averaged 25 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest.

When healthy Greg Oden has illustrated an ability to tower over opponents.

While it is certainly easy for Portland fans to now look back and wonder what might have been had the team chosen Durant over Oden, it is still hard to completely fault the selection. When healthy, Brandon Roy is a solid NBA player and the combination of him and Oden could be devastating if they could ever both be healthy at the same time.

As they say, “you can’t teach height” and if Oden is able to recover from this latest blow he could still develop into a quality NBA center.

The question, though, is whether he will be able to reach that potential in Portland. With such disappointment, it is conceivable that at some point Portland could just decide to cut bait and not wait for Oden to develop.

It would be another similarity to the Bowie situation from more than two decades ago. In 1989, the Trail Blazers traded Bowie and a first round pick to the New Jersey Nets for Buck Williams.

Bowie went on to play six additional NBA seasons for the Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. He played at least 60 games in five of those six campaigns and averaged 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. During the 1989-90 season, he averaged a double-double of 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds in 68 games for the Nets.

While the legend of Jordan amplified the decision Portland made in 1984, only time will tell if the decision of 2007 will be ultimately give Trail Blazer fans the same amount of angst. It certainly is looking very similar so far, but both Durant and Oden have a lot more time before their NBA legacies will be decided.


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