Assessing the impact of Greg Oden's injury
Posted: Thursday September 13, 2007 4:47PM; Updated: Thursday September 13, 2007 5:01PM
The stunning news that Greg Oden will probably miss his rookie season after being diagnosed Thursday with a microfracture knee injury raises a number of questions for him and the Blazers.
1. How did this happen?
Oden's agent Bill Duffy told me this week that Oden couldn't pinpoint exactly when or how his knee had been injured, that it started hurting suddenly and for no apparent reason.
You may recall that 10 days before the draft last June we broke the news that some teams were concerned about Oden's physical status. One team in particular was worried about a number of problems.
"Our doctors saw some early signs of arthritis in his knees,'' an executive with that franchise recalled Thursday after news of Oden's microfracture had come out. "They were also really concerned with his hip and his back as well. The way they explained it, all of those problems are linked: The knee hurts because the back is doing this, and the back hurts because the hip is doing that. The doctors thought there was some inter-connectivity between each issue, so that basically his body was working against itself.''
What makes all of this complicated -- as anyone with a serious medical issue will attest -- is that different doctors will have different opinions. Provide the 30 NBA franchises with the same MRIs and medical results, and their team doctors will arrive at a variety of diagnoses and predictions.
Based on what Duffy had been told, Oden entered the draft with no pre-existing knee concerns. "Portland did more due diligence than anybody and their doctors saw nothing wrong with his knee,'' Duffy said.
The point of this is not to accuse one doctor of being superior or inferior to another. This is a cautionary moral: As the medical tests become more intricate and sophisticated, the harder it becomes to read them -- and to apply those results with perspective.
2. What is next for Oden?
A long comeback is ahead. The best-case scenario was established by Phoenix center Amare Stoudemire, who missed all but three games in 2005-06 after undergoing microfracture knee surgery in the preseason. He returned last season to play in every game while showing steady improvement, becoming a far more dynamic player in April than he had been in November.
So if everything goes well, Oden is probably looking at a two-year window to recover his athleticism and confidence.
But Kenyon Martin, Chris Webber and Oden's fellow Blazer Darius Miles can tell Oden how difficult an injury this can be, as none of them has regained full health since undergoing microfracture knee surgery.
Oden's recovery will require a lot of work, as Stoudemire was relentless in his rehabilitation. The cutting-edge approach of the medical and athletic training staff in Phoenix was for Stoudemire to strengthen the areas of his body whose weaknesses contributed to the injury in his knee. Their approach helped Stoudemire return in record time -- only Jason Kidd has done as well in his recovery from microfracture knee surgery -- while also, in a roundabout way, confirming the suspicions of Oden's longterm prognosis that we first reported in June.
3. How will the Blazers do without him?
This is going to be a long hard year for Portland, which dealt leading scorer Zach Randolph to make room for a starting frontcourt of Oden and second-year power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers will be one of the youngest teams in the league, and even if projects like Aldridge, Martell Webster and Channing Frye show drastic growth, this franchise is only going as far as Oden will lead them. Now the Blazers might have to wait another two years to be led.
4. Should Portland have taken Kevin Durant instead?
There may be a lot of second-guessing if Durant has a rookie-of-the-year season in Seattle, but let's not be too quick with the Sam Bowie comparisons. Remember that Bill Walton got off to a miserable start over his first two years in Portland before leading the Blazers to their only championship.
Oden is 19, and even if he needs two years to recover, he'll still only be 21 when he's back on the court for Portland. If he is able to use his rehab to strengthen himself by discovering and correcting the weaknesses in other parts of his body that contributed to this injury, then he may ultimately look back on this incident and be grateful that it happened so early in his career. But make no mistake: He will have to endure a lot of suffering before he ever gets to that point.
5. How much does this hurt the NBA?
In one sense Oden wasn't going to make a big impact on the league this year, because the Blazers were too young to make the playoffs even if he was at full strength. But the league was counting on him to rejuvenate the market in Portland, and to provide fans with another likeable personality.
6. How must the Boston Celtics feel about this?
It's a fair question because the Celtics looked like the big loser at the lottery when they drew the No. 5 pick after hoping to land the rights to Oden thanks to the second-worst record in the league. But now the Celtics look like the big winner of that lottery. Instead of investing in a young player like Oden or Durant, their disappointment with the lottery forced them to jump-start their recovery with trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Today, more than ever, it looks as if losing that lottery was the best thing that could have happened for Boston.