Deja Vu: Portland’s Draft Debacle

Barry Rothbard

Ever since Greg Oden graduated from high school, he has been compared to the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and even Wilt Chamberlain. He was supposed to be the next great big man in the NBA and the first one to enter the league in over a decade with so much hype. Now, Oden is being labeled the next Sam Bowie, the same player who was drafted before Olajuwon and Jordan, and who is arguably the biggest draft bust of all-time. While it can be said that Oden was simply unlucky or that many players have recovered from microfracture surgery (see Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire), I have always had a bad feeling about Oden’s NBA career.

This injury really should not come as a surprise to anyone. Can you remember the last time Oden was actually healthy? He missed his team’s first stretch of games last year after undergoing wrist surgery and couldn’t shoot free throws right-handed until over halfway through the season. And throughout the year (until the NCAA tournament), he played like a man who was afraid to go all out, afraid of re-injuring his wrist. Then, this summer, he had to drop out of the tryouts for the national team due to extreme fatigue. Huh? This guy is supposed to be a professional athlete and he’s tired? That just does not make sense. Additionally, prior to that, he dropped out of the summer league with tonsillitis. When a series of injuries like this occurs, it stops becoming a fluke at some point and starts becoming a trend. Greg Oden’s career is starting to look a lot like a Yankee great by the name of Carl Pavano; big injury-laden players with no end in sight.

When, and if, Oden ever fully recovers from the microfracture surgery, he’s already working from behind. Kevin Durant, who I believe should have been selected with the first pick, will have a full year of work in the NBA under his belt. He probably will average 20 points per game and be in countless commercials and billboards throughout the country. Oden, meanwhile, will be under a knife, then on a hospital bed, and will have to undergo a long, grueling rehab process. If you saw Amare Stoudemire’s first attempt at a comeback, you know how tentative Oden will be upon his return. Simply put, the odds seem to be stacked up against him. Furthermore, during this whole process, he will continually hear the word “bust” whispered into his ear while analysts praise Durant and chide the Blazers for foolishly choosing the next Sam Bowie over the next Michael Jordan.

Look, I’m rooting for Greg Oden as much as the Blazers front office is. I would love to see the next Alonzo Mourning or Dikembe Mutombo swatting shots left and right. But it does not seem likely at this point. Recently, I heard Jamal Mashburn discussing his career before and after microfracture surgery. Before the surgery, he said that he used his cross over dribble to drive to the hoop. After, he used his crossover to set up his jump shot. Mashburn was still a fine player after the surgery, but he was always more of an outside shooter anyway. Oden’s range stops at about eight to ten feet. How is Oden going to be effective if he can’t leap in front of driving, lightning quick point guards and send their attempts into the stands? Timing is everything for a shot blocker, and Oden’s timing will certainly be different after the surgery.

While I am pessimistic about Oden’s future, there is a bright side to this debacle. The debate about Oden and Durant has finally come to a screeching halt. Durant, who always looked like the, brighter star last year, possesses the ability to single-handedly win a game; Oden couldn’t even do this with his best performance in the championship game. Durant is the only potential savior for the NBA in these dark times, consumed by the Tim Donaghy scandal, the lackluster playoffs and the top heavy West. Durant is the one with the ability to rescue the NBA from this abyss. As for Oden? The nail has begun to enter the coffin.