Commentary

Costly setback for Portland's Oden

Originally Published: November 18, 2010
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

With the latest Greg Oden injury news, all I can think about is the money. We've already shed our tears for Oden, the nice guy whose body has repeatedly betrayed him. We've already made the Sam Bowie comparisons, rendered our verdict on Oden versus Kevin Durant, lamented what might have been for the Portland Trail Blazers if only Oden stayed on the court. Now it's time to count the lost dollars.

Oden's string of injury woes could cost him some $80 million to $90 million. Even Bill Gates cringes at the thought of missing out on $90 million.

We'll use Durant, who was selected right after Oden with the second pick in the 2007 draft, as the benchmark. This past summer, Durant tacked a five-year extension that could be worth up to $89 million onto the $6 million he'll make this season. The Trail Blazers already have declined to pick up their option on Oden following the expiration of his rookie-scale contract this season. Why would they when they already have $9.2 million committed to Marcus Camby?

So Oden would be forced to enter whatever free-agent market awaits for players under the next collective bargaining agreement, a new set of rules that is universally expected to be less lucrative for the players.

Oden reminds me of Shaun Livingston, the promising Clippers draft pick who shredded every part of his knee you could name (and some you couldn't) during his third season in Los Angeles.

Livingston received the final $4.4 million the Clippers owed him for the remaining year on his contract and didn't make $1 million total over his next two seasons.

If teams took a chance on Livingston, they'll take a chance on the 7-foot Oden, but it will be at a pittance by NBA standards. This is not about weeping for someone who already has made $22 million while playing in 82 games over the first four years of his career. It's about a man missing out on the best earning years of his life, sidelined through no fault of his own.

After he missed about one and a half seasons in his first two years in the league, the Blazers were encouraged by the work Oden put in during the summer of 2009. He was averaging 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots in the first 20 games last season, then he fractured his left kneecap while defending a shot by Houston's Aaron Brooks. He hasn't played an NBA game since. We don't know when and where he'll play again. It shouldn't be in Portland. Yes, the Blazers have made the investment in him, and that's the problem. There's a sense of obligation he must feel to the team that drafted him first overall and the fans who greeted him like a conquering hero when he first got to Portland. Except at this point he'll never be able to fulfill the expectations. Not with two knees repaired by microfracture surgery.

Oden will be a restricted free agent next summer. He needs to go somewhere where any contribution he makes will be considered a welcome addition, not a comedown from what was expected from the No. 1 pick.

And it's possible he needs to be surrounded by a different medical and training staff. Oden's knee troubles are the latest in a Portland line that includes Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, Joel Przybilla and Brandon Roy, the franchise player who limped through the playoffs and currently is on the shelf for at least a week. I've had NBA people from inside and outside the organization cast wary eyes on the Trail Blazers' medical ways.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Blazers went out of their way to praise the medical staff, with team president Larry Miller saying, "We have without a doubt one of the most respected medical and training staffs in all of sports," and general manager Rich Cho's opening statement consisting of "These guys are top notch. These guys are very knowledgeable, thorough, extremely hard-working, and I support them 100 percent."

That was all unprompted, before athletic trainer Jay Jensen was asked, pointedly, whether the training and medical staff ever wonders whether it needs to re-evaluate its methods.

"Absolutely," he said.

He said team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Don Roberts is constantly seeking outside opinions while within the organization they ask themselves, "Is there anything we could be doing that we're not doing? Is there anything that we're missing?"

It was only recently that Oden's left knee began swelling after rehab workouts. Fluid was drained from the knee, but the swelling persisted.

Won't the nagging questions persist along with the nagging injuries if he stays in Portland?

It would be best for all if Oden moves on. There's always more demand than supply of big men, so there's a spot for him somewhere. We know Miami could use a big (although the Heat's medical staff also has come under question, particularly by Shaquille O'Neal, and might not be the most knee-friendly).

Jensen said that when they saw the exam results revealing the damage in Oden's knee, they "felt like we had been told somebody close to us had died."

No, no need to write an obituary. Just shake your head at the money lost and lament the potential that has gone unfulfilled.