Tag Archives: Greg Oden

Greg Oden’s Second Chance

Photo Credit: Flickr/Michael King

Perhaps it’s because he’s 25 and I’m just months away from turning 25. Maybe it’s because I’ve dealt with a slew of lower body injuries from ranging from sprained ankles to dislocated knees that have made recreational sports difficult at times. Or it could be that I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to be young and talented, but not have the body to support these gifts. It could even be something as simple as not wanting to see bad things happen to people over and over again that makes me feel like I can relate to him.

Regardless of the actual reason, I’m excited for Greg Oden’s opportunity with the Miami Heat.

Yes, it’s probably unrealistic to expect Oden to be even 80 percent of the player that posted a 23.4 PER in his last season with the Blazers. It’s been said many times, but Miami was the most ideal place for him since he would only be given a diminished role compared to his in Portland. For Oden that could mean salvaging what’s left of a career and a dream by prolonging it beyond what even the most optimistic of believers would estimate.

And having watched Brandon Roy last season in Minnesota I hope that things play out better for him than his ex-teammate. I understand the likelihood of a 7-foot center with lower body issues curbing those issues, because once those start it’s usually the beginning of the end, but I can still hope. After awhile the surgeries and the injuries just don’t affect a player physically, but mentally as well. As strange as it sounds, it’s a matter of having to trust your body again, which is a concept that most weekend warriors can probably grasp. And for Oden that very mental hurdle may wind up being his biggest obstacle to overcome if he is ever to have even a semblance of an NBA career.

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect from Oden this coming season. Others like myself would like to see him complete a full season, even as a bench player who grabs a few rebounds while giving the Heat solid off of the bench defense in about 10 minutes per game. No, it’s not the career anyone envisioned of Oden when he was selected first overall, but if this is the career he gets and he’s happy with (which it sounds like it is), then that’s good enough for me.

In a lot of ways it sounds like this is just hope for a sappy, feel good,  Hollywood ending to Oden’s story. But to me it’s more than that. It’s about being able to mention his name without instantly souring the mood of the conversation or having to hear the same injury jokes that have been circulating for the last five years. Even if Oden won’t end up collecting the accolades many anticipated six years, having him achieve even a modest amount of success would be better than him being a punchline or tragic tale. Even if Oden was supposed to be more than this, he has a second chance at being more than he is now, and that’s what I’m hoping to see. It may take awhile, but as long as he gets there…that’s all that matters.

The Life and Death of Potential

Every year, when the season begins anew, we think maybe, just maybe, this is the year the player that has, for so long infuriated us with his inability to harness his potential, teased us with a double-double one night and a no-show the next, gets it. This is the year Anthony Randolph becomes a quicker Lamar Odom in his prime. This is the year Evan Turner blossoms into a bigger Brandon Roy. They just needed a new coach, a new city, a new situation. Hope, that pesky creature, persists.

Until that inevitable point in every underachieving player’s career, the one in which “what could be” becomes “what could have been,” and we’re left angered and confused as to why it wasn’t. A Randolph line of 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and two blocks, once inspiring, now invokes sighs and utterances of wasted potential. Michael Beasley’s Per 36 numbers of 17 points and 6.6 rebounds would have been encouraging his rookie year, igniting arguments of how many championships he and Dwyane Wade would win together. Then we look and see those numbers are worse than those of his rookie campaign, and all we can do is hang our heads.  Hope, that fickle creature, dies.

The time at which a player reaches this point varies, as does the reason.

For some, injuries hamper development or rob them of what made them so special. Rodrique Beaubois showed flashes of promise, but always seemed to sustain an injury just before we could determine if it was more than a mere hot streak. Still, those flashes were enough for the Mavericks to demand a first round pick in any trade scenario that involved Beaubois.

Also hindering development is the situation into which a player enters. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Evan Turner second, despite the fact that ne not only played the same position as Andre Iguodala, but also played it in nearly identical fashion.

Too high of a draft position can saddle a player with too-lofty expectations, especially in a weak draft. A player’s production in college may be less a sign of his potential in the NBA and more a signal of the plateau of his abilities. The Timberwolves waived Wesley Johnson just two years after selecting him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, his expected instant production never coming to pass.

Whatever the reason, the once-anointed franchise cornerstone becomes a pariah, his every appearance on the court a reminder of what isn’t. The tools were there, but the will, either of mind or body, wasn’t.

That’s not say there’s no middle ground between those who realized their potential and those who squandered it; there certainly is. In fact, it could be argued these sorts of players comprise the majority of the league, and Josh Smith is their Patron Saint.

It seems odd to point to a perennial contender for a spot on the All-Defense team as a player that hasn’t fully realized his potential, but few players leave us with such hollow want as Smith. His propensity to shoot long two-pointers is equally maddening and bewildering. It’s unclear whether he hoists them out of belief in his ability to make the shot, or defiance of everyone telling him he can’t.

The numbers are right there in front of us, staring, mocking. They show us both the Josh Smith that could be, the one that shoots 71% at the rim, and the Josh Smith that is, the one that’s launched 186 three-pointers and made only 57 of them. Synergy tells of a player that is among the best and most versatile in the league, yet also ranks below average in his most-used areas of offense.

Fast approaching this sainthood is DeMarcus Cousins. The word “if” has quickly become attached to nearly any sentence concerning the mercurial forward’s future: If he can control his emotions, if he can be in a stable environment, if he can get a coach that understands him. The problem here is that it’s a slippery slope from “if” to “if only,” indicating the past tense. If only he could have controlled his emotions, if only he could have been in a stable environment, and so forth. Should we come to speak of Cousins in this sense, it won’t necessarily mean he joined the ranks of Beasley or Randolph, as he’s already had a more successful career. Rather, it would mean the hope we once had for him to shed his immaturity no longer remains.

Reports surfaced throughout this season of Greg Oden’s possible return to the league. Once simultaneously considered the heir to Bill Russell’s throne and the savior of basketball in Portland, Oden only played a total of 82 games in his five seasons in Portland, due to a myriad of injuries, including three microfracture surgeries. Despite these clear red flags, Oden continues to draw interest from teams including the Heat and the Cavaliers. He is the definition of low-risk, high-reward. In some ways, Oden is the exception to the above “what if” cases, as it’s never felt as if we’ve truly given up on him.

Perhaps it’s because he never forsook his abilities, he just never had the chance to fully harness them. And when he did step on the court, he produced. In 21 games in 2009-10, Oden’s per 36 line read like the beginnings of a dominant center: 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.4 blocks while shooting 60% from the field. Or maybe it’s that the injuries didn’t so much hinder his development as they did prevent it from ever beginning. Oden spent so much time hurt and recovering from those injuries that he rarely had time to work on his game. Then again, maybe it’s just because there’s nothing quite so compelling as redemption.

He’s spent the past two seasons rehabbing, preparing his body to handle the rigors of an entire NBA season for the first time. The tools are there, and clearly so too is the will. He’ll likely never be the once-in-a-generation center we predicted, but it’s possible he can be a valuable contributor off the bench. Hope springs eternal.

Talking About Talking About Greg Oden

In 2012, Greg Oden’s very existence is a myth. It’s damn near impossible to speak about him in tangible, quantifiable basketball terms, because his time as a real-world professional basketball player was so fleeting that it feels like a dream. There was a seven-foot force of nature who played parts of two seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2008 and 2009, but those 82 scattered games don’t seem real. Oden has been a hypothetical for so long that it’s hard to analyze or break down his on-court résumé in any meaningful way. And as of today, when his third microfracture surgery in five seasons was announced unexpectedly, it looks like it will stay that way. It’s hard to be surprised by the news, because it was something of a given that Oden wasn’t playing this season. But there’s a clear finality about this announcement, an unspoken acknowledgment by the Portland brass that this was how it would end. Bringing him back for this season was itself understood to be a trial run, especially after he willingly let his qualifying offer be negotiated down to $1.5 million from the original $8.9. Now it’s almost impossible to foresee him staying a Blazer, no matter how well his next round of rehab goes.

When I heard the news, I hammered out a post that was more or less what you’d expect. I hit on all the usual talking points: how much it sucks that this keeps happening; how hard Oden has worked to get back on the floor, only to be told “no” by the basketball gods time and time again; how the vast majority of teams in the NBA would have taken him over Kevin Durant with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. I put together an extremely impassioned defense of a player who has played one season’s worth of games in five years and was drafted directly ahead of a consensus top-five all-NBA player. Teams make draft picks all the time that don’t pan out, and it’s usually easy to look back and admit. So why do I and so many other Blazers faithful make it our life’s mission to defend Oden? That’s what Matt asked me when he read what I had, and it may be the most valuable thing still to explore within the Oden experience.

There’s no karma involved here—Oden’s hard work and genuine desire to silence skeptics are rewarded time and time again with a kick in the teeth, or more accurately, the knees. He’s had enough bad luck in a pair of limbs to sustain another team’s decades-long curse. Nothing he does is good enough for the basketball gods, who have banished him to the worst kind of hell an NBA player can experience. He’s 24 years old, and his career has already been reduced to the giant what-if that is the Roy-Aldridge-Oden dynasty that never was.

This is the part where I remind you that the repeated injuries are mostly out of his control, in order to distinguish him from the type of draft bust who doesn’t want it enough. You have to remember that the Blazers spent the better part of the 2000s making a mockery of the city’s basketball history, on the court and especially off it. Things looked up starting in 2006, between Brandon Roy’s and LaMarcus Aldridge’s promising rookie campaigns; the improbable draft-lottery win in a draft class that featured two prospective once-in-a-generation talents; and, more importantly, the changing of the culture around the former Jail Blazers. The Roy-Aldridge-Oden nucleus was supposed to be a title contender for a decade or more, but they’re a few knee surgeries and forced medical retirements beyond the point of that being a possibility. Still, there’s a part of every Blazers fan that doesn’t want to admit the dream is over, and that voice wants to make sure nobody views Oden in the same light as, like, Qyntel Woods. We at least want people to give us that.

Oden’s story isn’t about Sam Bowie or Kevin Durant. The former is entirely unrelated, and their connection is played up only by the kind of people who genuinely believe the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 104 years because of a goat.

I hate curses and have no patience for them or those who propagate them. It’s basically my #1 pet peeve as a sports fan. So the Blazers missed out on the greatest player of all time 23 years before the Oden/Durant draft. That was a thing that happened, and everyone agrees at this point that it was one of, if not the worst draft pick of all time. But it happened when the team’s logo, uniforms, arena, owner, and front office were completely different. The only thing the Blazers of 1984 and the Blazers of 2007 have in common are a city and a name. That they passed on a future superstar in favor of an injury-ravaged big man both of those years is pure coincidence. I shouldn’t have to explain this. If you’re reading this site, you’re not stupid. But I want to slam my head against the wall every time I see an analyst or Twitter user try to connect the dots on some kind of Walton-Bowie-Oden lineage. Viewing Oden in this context forces us to think about a) the way the Walton era ended, and b) the fact that the team passed on Michael freaking Jordan. That’s why we want to distance him from the team’s past.

Durant’s superstardom can be grating during nationally televised Blazers-Thunder games, where the announcers insist on beating that tired narrative into the ground. Other than those two or three games a year, holding Oden’s plight against him does nobody any good. People love to play the what-if game. I can honestly say that I’ve never once tried to picture an alternate universe in which the Blazers had drafted Durant. That may be hard to believe, but it’s true. Oden was such the consensus pick at the time that the thought has never crossed my mind. I’ve never been as emotionally attached to an athlete as I am to Oden. I take this stuff personally, even though I know I shouldn’t.

This part is simple: I love Durant as a player, and I want to be able to enjoy what is potentially an all-time great without having my nose rubbed in my hometown team’s recent misfortunes. 98 percent of the time, I’m nodding along with the announcers who fawn over Durant, because how can you not? It’s just a little hard to stomach five minutes of talk about how poised he is because he didn’t pick up a technical on the rare occasion that he gets called for a foul when it directly follows an Oden/Durant head-to-head career comparison infographic. That’s always going to hurt. Therefore, I am left with no choice but to remind people at every opportunity how widespread the belief was that Oden was the pick. It’s totally irrational. I get that. But it is what it is.

In the end, this all comes back to Oden, and the only thing to do is feel awful for him. At this point, basketball is secondary. All that matters is Oden’s physical and mental well-being. You need knees for things besides basketball. Like walking. If he comes out of this able to do that, he’s golden. He’s made enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life (something, by the way, nobody should resent him for). The hard part will be dealing with the public derision and the being reduced to a trivia question, like Bowie or Darko. You have to hope he has the right people around him who can keep him grounded and not let the negativity get to him. If he gets a second chance in the NBA, so much the better. But I just want him to get a second chance as a healthy human.


All of This

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There will be roughly 2,348 tributes and dissertations written on Greg Oden today, so I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible.

Some will tell you that Oden’s story is one exposing the dark side of potential. Others will paint Oden’s situation as a cautionary tale, a warning against the “draft big” philosophy. The name of Sam Bowie will be invoked, even though his name is still far removed from Oden’s in this instance. Plenty of reflections will make this about injuries, rehab intensity, Portland’s history, Kevin Durant, NBA legends, tall tales, league truisms, and ultimate disappointment. If Oden’s story is reduced to a tagline, all of those are valid tangents. Yet if we appreciate Oden’s narrative for what it really is, we’ll find that just like all things Oden, his tale is extraordinary. All of this has not happened before, and all of this will not happen again. This is Oden’s story, and you’re not likely to find one like it.

I know that the natural inclination is to look for thematic elements in all things. Sports fans, by nature, are hoarders. We collect stories linked by the thinnest of threads, put them all together, and find comfort in the parallels even if we had to weave them ourselves. Oden’s story just strikes me as something a bit too unique in its basketball tragedy, a bit too atypical in its combination of expectation, frequent promise, and unending loss. Oden has seen the court enough to wet the palate, but he may never have the opportunity to fully satisfy. His talent makes him worthy of so much more than a bust label, but he’s somehow both proven (have you seen his rebounding rates?) and incomplete (his post work is robotic at best, wild at worst). We’re just stuck at this weird intersection with Greg where no one quite knows what to make of him, his talent, or his injuries, and I think forcing connections where they aren’t natural is a disservice to all of our comprehension of what’s going on and what’s at stake.

Greg Oden has had injuries and operations, and how he’ll face another round of the dreaded microfracture surgery. He’s not the first to have injury problems, yet history isn’t repeating itself. He’s not the first to undergo a microfracture procedure, but there is no real precedent. We have nothing to learn here, nothing to bring into this conversation, and nothing to connect to future players.

All of this has not happened before, and all of this will not happen again.

Greg Oden: Basketball Tragedy

Tragedies happen in basketball that transcend the sport.

I’m not talking about the passing of Maurice Lucas or Hank Gathers collapsing on the court or Len Bias overdosing on cocaine.

Those aren’t basketball tragedies. They’re real life tragedies that happen to be related to basketball in some way. While it was cruel for Reggie Lewis to be taken away from us at an early age or for Bobby Phills to have died while racing his car or for Malik Sealy to have been killed by a drunk driver, they have very little to do with tragedies in basketball and everything to do with life just not going the way you thought it should.

However, horrific and career-altering injuries are true basketball tragedies. When Shaun Livingston’s knee has an out of body experience or Danny Manning just can’t seem to All The King’s Men his health back together again in order to be the league-changing talent he’s supposed to be, those are real basketball tragedies. And the rancor of basketball tragedies has once again befallen its favorite victim – Greg Oden.

Microfracture surgery again for Greg Oden.

Those words mean so much pain and suffering in the relative basketball sense. Yes, there has been pain and suffering in basketball past. The Kings getting bested by the Los Angeles Lakers was extremely frustrating for Kings fans. John Stockton and Karl Malone getting out-legacy’d by Michael Jordan in back-to-back NBA Finals was its own form of suffering. Kevin Garnett not being able to take overmatched team after overmatched team out of the first round was a crappy basketball experience for eight years.

But there is a huge difference in what happened in those situations and what is happening with Greg Oden and Portland Trailblazers fans. Those chances for greatness or legend or some type of validation were thwarted time after time over the past decade and a half. Hopes rose up into the air and then got smashed back down by the hammer of shoulda-woulda-coulda. Greg Oden, on the other hand, never got a chance to get off the ground.

He’s been a punch line for years now. It’s been customary and downright cliché to make fun of his age by throwing out the name Benjamin Button, or make a veiled/blatant comparison to the ghost of Sam Bowie’s past, or talk about the time it appeared he was doing telemarketing through text message while trying to push this product (NSFW). After this latest blow to the start of his career, I find it hard to believe any decent person could find any humor or lighthearted nature to his latest setback.

Greg Oden is going to miss this entire season. It will be his second entire season in four years that he misses. And just to be realistic, let’s assume he’s not going to be around for the 2011-2012 NBA season because he’ll be rehabbing and taking another cautious approach to coming back at full strength. That just sucks.

When I was gathering my thoughts for trying to bring myself to write this piece, I just kept getting more and more depressed about what is supposed to be of his career. John Krolik and I briefly GChatted about this Wednesday night and remembered that Dwight Howard was supposed to bridge the gap from the last great center, Shaquille O’Neal, until Greg Oden was ready to take over. THAT’S supposed to be Greg’s legacy. He was the next big thing.

So many of us were so sure about it too. Greg had all of the makings of the stuff legends were sculpted from. He had an impossibly big frame that moved amongst the trees like the Predator big game hunting California’s future gubernatorial punch line. He was the protective device behind the emergency glass you were supposed to break on defense if someone dared to approach the basket. Now, he’s getting unfunny Mr. Glass references thrown his way. Nobody should ever be subjected to M. Night Shyamalan movie references.

This hits a sore spot with me because I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the birth of the next great big man. That big man was supposed to be Greg Oden. Like many Blazers fans, I’ve been sitting here in the refuse of injury after injury with him, just anticipating the day when he was going to prove us all right and take his place amongst the dominating forces in the NBA. I attempted to wax poetically about him a long time ago and try to make the case (poorly I might add) that either I was a freaking genius about what he would become or just plain insane. Turns out I was naïve and insane.

What’s that old joke? How do you keep an idiot in suspense? The punch line used to be that you just waited in silence after stating the question and the person waiting for the answer that was strategically not going to come was the idiot. Now the answer is to get that person to believe Greg Oden can still be something someday and watch as I take spoonful after spoonful of this pipe dream.

You can make the case that if you give up on Greg Oden then you might as well give up on Andrew Bynum because he too is injured and unaware of when a comeback might happen. He too is sitting on a volcano of untapped potential and leaving us all wondering when it’s finally going to erupt. So if you’re going to write off one 22-year old wannabe phenom in Oden, shouldn’t you write off the other 22-year old phenom center who is battling knee ailment after knee ailment?

But Bynum isn’t exactly there with Oden right now. He’s not out for another two seasons. He’s in knee injury purgatory while Greg has been shipped right back down to patella hell.

When I was gathering my thoughts for this piece earlier like I mentioned above, I decided to go for a run and throw on the music in my iPhone. I didn’t care that it was nearly midnight. I strapped on my knee band, put a brace over my ankle, threw on a hoodie and took off for a little 40-block excursion. I decided to push myself a bit, despite not stretching at all, because I wanted to feel like I was working. Maybe in a way I was trying to empathize with what Greg was going to go through AGAIN. There’s no doubt in my mind Greg Oden will have the surgery, get back in the rehab process and try again. He’ll work his tail off one more time, and try to get back to a position in which he can be a functioning member of the NBA society.

Where will that leave him? What’s the best-case scenario for Greg, his psyche and his potential for making something out of his career? He works his ass off, gets the benefit of a lockout shortening next season so it doesn’t seem like he missed so much time? The NBA resorts to another 50-game season and by the time the next full regular season is upon us in the fall of 2012, he is back with a tryout as a free agent somewhere? Doesn’t that just suck?

When I was running through darkness and the light fog tonight, attempting to make sense of such a cruel joke being played on one of the kinder, gentler giants of my generation, I threw on some Biggie Smalls to try to get my head in the right frame of mind. Somehow, I accidentally hit the “Genius” button on my phone and it created a playlist of allegedly related songs. Randomly, “Many Men” by 50 Cent came on as I hit my full stride. This part of the first verse stuck out for me:

“Now these p**** n***** putting money on my head
Go on and get your refund motherf*****, I ain’t dead
I’m the diamond in the dirt, that ain’t been found
I’m the underground king and I ain’t been crowned”

Doesn’t that kind of sum up Greg Oden completely right now? It feels like the basketball Grim Reaper has put a contract out on him. But he’s still not dead. At least, I’m hoping he’s not. In my mind, he’s always been this diamond in the dirt since the knee injuries started to pile up and I claimed I had found him last year. Except he still hasn’t been found. In my mind, he was always the underground king, waiting to sit atop his big man throne, but he hasn’t been capable of taking his crown yet.

Greg Oden has become the answer to a trivia question, instead of the answer to Portland’s prayers. It turns out I was dead wrong about him. Maybe he is good when he’s healthy, but that idea/argument has been vaporized. It doesn’t matter what he’s done when he was healthy because health isn’t a luxury you get when describing the situation of Greg Oden. I’ll still hold out hope that he can come back and matter in the NBA because I’m just stubborn like that.

It’s not about not wanting to be wrong. I am/was wrong about Greg Oden. A lot of us were.

It’s about holding out hope that at some point this guy can catch a freaking break. That Blazers fans can finally enjoy watching this guy game after game. That the NBA die-hards can rejoice in watching him master the art of protection.

Some guys never get that break though.

Some guys are just destined to be basketball tragedies.

Get well, Greg.

NBA Playoffs: Thunder Just Experienced What Playoff Basketball Frustration Is All About

After the Jazz “beat” the Thunder with a 140-139 overtime victory on Tuesday night, I looked at the reaction from the Thunder fans in the Daily Dime Live chat, I looked at the fallout on Twitter and I had some playful banter back and forth with various people in the blogging and blog-reading world. But still, I debated on whether or not to write this piece.

Despite what the proprietor of this website would lead you to believe, I really like this Thunder team. I’ve been big on Russell Westbrook since he was at UCLA. I’ve enjoyed watching him prove to the doubters that he’s a legit NBA point guard and one that will star in the association. I love the deadly repertoire that Kevin Durant destroys his opponents with. I’ve definitely seen more complete scorers throughout the history of this game than Kevin Durant but it isn’t a big number and it certainly isn’t a list of players that are more fun to watch than KD. I marvel at the amount of weapons he has at his disposal. He’s the NBA equivalent of Iron Man out there. And they have so many fun role players on this team (including my favorite college fan crush in Eric Maynor) that it is literally impossible for me to not enjoy this team play on a nightly basis.

Then you’ve got the community of Thunderites (a horrible nickname I came up with tonight). Royce Young is one of my favorite people to read because he has such passion for this young franchise and he’s just damn good at what he does. He has good people writing for him at Daily Thunder and whenever I peruse the comment sections of the site, I’m amazed at the thoughtful and intelligent nature of the ideas the readers type out to help add to the discussion.

I knew that if I wrote this piece, I’d end up most likely offending a fan base that I really do enjoy and that’s not my intention. I’m probably going to come off as smarmy, snarky or some other “S” word that ends in a “Y” that nobody wants to be labeled. Hopefully, they’ll see the merit in this post instead of reading it as hatred because that does not exist in my words here.

So here goes:

You’re blowing this no-call against Kevin Durant and the Thunder WAY out of proportion.

I’m reading things all over the internet about how Kevin Durant not getting a foul call at the end of a regular season game in which the Thunder will still get to go to the playoffs regardless of the outcome is a tragedy. Apparently, it’s a travesty and a sham and a mockery.

I’m sorry but you’ve got to get over this and put things in perspective.

CJ Miles did block Kevin Durant’s shot at the end of the game. You can clearly see that he gets a little ball. The problem with the block though is that he hit a crap-load of hand on the follow-through. It’s not even close. It should be a no-brainer call. Put Kevin Durant at the line for three shots. Considering he’s having a historic free throw shooting season, I’m guessing he makes two of the three at worst and the Thunder have to wait out a desperation heave with 0.6 seconds left. If the heave falls by the wayside, the Thunder are sitting pretty with 49 wins, five games to play and their sites on a possible division title.

Unfortunately, the whistle didn’t get blown. Welcome to the NBA.

This happens a lot. There is a definite problem with the officiating in the NBA. This isn’t any big newsbreak. There are missed calls all the time. There are missed calls that influence the final moments of a game. But they don’t decide the outcomes of the games. There were 45 missed OKC shots, 17 missed threes, five missed free throws, 18 turnovers, 28 points off of those turnovers, and 16 offensive rebounds given up in this game by the Thunder. One missed call did not lose the game at all.

Does it suck that you essentially got screwed on the final play of the game? Absolutely. Is it going to be the last time this happens to your franchise? Wait until you play the Lakers in the playoffs someday. This swift kick to the gonads is going to feel like a Swedish massage.

The Thunder fan base is extremely new to the NBA. You haven’t gone through this stuff before; I realize that. But you’re going to have to get used to it and get used to it quickly. You have a young, talented team that is going to be in the playoffs for the next 10 years, minimum. This is going to be a regular occurrence since you’re in a small market, according to most NBA fans. You’ve experienced the frustration of the Salt Lake Bias that sweeps through the NBA year after year. Just wait until you feel the East Coast Big Market Bias or the Lakers Need To Be In The Finals For Ratings Bias.

This is not a travesty. This is not tragic. This was losing a regular season game. You may think this took you out of division title contention or it might cause you to fall into the dreaded eighth seed by season’s end. It had no more affect on the standings than the Thunder dropping an early season road game in Sacramento. What about the other three overtime games the Thunder lost this season? They mean the exact same in the wins and losses columns that this “crushing defeat” does.

A tragedy is watching Danny Manning’s knees fail him time after time when he should have been one of the best players of the past 25 years.

A tragedy is watching a player get called for a foul because Kobe Bryant elbowed him in the nose during a crucial inbound moment of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

A tragedy is watching Greg Oden’s knee explode when he was starting to show that he could have a huge positive impact on the game and the future of the Western Conference.

A tragedy is watching Dwyane Wade get to the line in the 2006 NBA Finals because the Mavericks shot him a questionable glance as the fate of the 2006 NBA Finals was seemingly being scripted right in front of everyone’s eyes.

A tragedy is seeing Shaun Livingston’s knee ligaments play a game of Twister on the court.

Those are basketball tragedies. What you experienced Tuesday night was a great game have a deflating ending because Tony Brothers decided to swallow the whistle. You just experienced the equivalent of basketball indigestion.

Should you be mad? Sure. Should you be outraged? That’s taking it a bit far. This is not that big of a deal. You need to put it in a little bit of perspective and respect the history of bad NBA calls before you. This was no different than the phantom call on Paul Millsap in favor of your team a couple months earlier.

Do two wrongs make a right? Often never. But this is the officiating world we all have to live in until the machines take over the Earth and we get perfect robot referees.

Don’t let losses like this consume you. Take it for what it is, mull it over for a few minutes and move on. You don’t want to become that bitter fan base. That’s not fun for anybody.

And remember, you still have Kevin Durant and I owe Matt Moore a cake because of it.

Still Standing. Still Here.

Redemption. Determination. Validation.

These are things we all seek.

We seek them in all different aspects of our lives. We seek them in all different avenues of our lives. Most recently, I’ve noticed this search in one of the most cherished activities that I participate in – coaching JV basketball. I know I’ve written about this here before and I’m sorry if it’s getting bothersome but it’s such an invested part of my life (with the final week starting today) and I feel like it helps me make sense of the NBA events that go on.

With our basketball team, you can preach and pretend you know the way to hoops success all you want but if you don’t get the kids to produce tangible results on the court that they can see, it’s hard to prove that all of the work, drilling and practice is actually worth anything. When our team is down, they seem to be REALLY down. Every time we’ve lost a game during our season, we’ve followed it with a second straight loss. We can’t explain why, either. Often it’s a simple issue such as free throw shooting or playing help line defense. But there has been something that holds us from being able to bounce back right away from a loss.

This past week, our team had a chance to wrap up a JV league title with two wins away from our home gym. The two games were against teams we had already beaten at home. In fact, we’d beaten everybody in league up until this point in our campaign. We were 6-0 in league and had designs of going a perfect 10-0 in league. It was something that seemed inconceivable at the beginning of the season but was becoming and more real possibility with every bounce of the ball.

In our first away game of this past week, we were playing a team that nearly came back against us by hitting a ton of improbable three-pointers in the second half. We knew going into their gym, we were likely to suffer a similar barrage of long-range luck because they couldn’t handle us athletically and would be willing to jack up threes in order to upset us.  And that’s exactly what they did – they hit three-pointers in this rematch.

In the final minute of the game, we found ourselves with the ball and down two. Our freshman guard took the ball strongly to the hoop, got fouled and made the basket. He sank the free throw for a three-point play and put us up one with just under a minute left. After some questionable officiating that belabored both sides, the opposing coach received a technical foul, which helped us retain possession of the ball and have a chance to push the lead to three. Instead, we missed both free throws and followed those misses up with two more misses by another player. We were given a chance to ice the game and improve our record to 7-0. Instead, we missed our 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th free throws of the game.

The opposing team went down the court and made a three to go up two. We came back down, put the ball in the hands of our freshman once again and he scored on an aggressive baseline drive to the basket to tie the game. What happened next can only be described as a swift kick to the groin that took away our ability to breathe.

With just four seconds left, they advanced the ball to half court, inbounded the ball to their best shooter, and he drove up the left side of the court. With one of our guys draped all over him defensively, he motored to the left corner of the court. He jumped off one foot (the wrong foot), contorted his body side ways from the deep corner and threw up a running, one-handed floater, Jeff Malone style. Despite the fact that he shot it from the left corner while falling out of bounds, someone how it banked off the backboard and fell through the hoop as time expired.

At that point, there was nothing that could be done. We were beaten. Our perfect league season was murdered. Our chance to clinch sole possession of a league title that week was toast. A desperate team with nothing to lose beat us. We didn’t play with any desperation and it ended up hurting us. We were beaten by a H-O-R-S-E shot.

So what does any of this have to do with the NBA?

Everyone is trying to figure out the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs. Everybody (including those who don’t have Patella Cake on the line) expect the Thunder to get in despite the fact that they have to prove they can beat Western Conference teams that aren’t the Warriors the rest of the season. Memphis is another feel good story that objective fans seem to be rooting for because their run this season has been so improbable. You also have a starless Houston team scrapping everything together and a Hornets team that will vault to the top of the feel good stories once Chris Paul comes back from his knee surgery.

So where does that leave the Portland Trail Blazers? During the first month of the season, it seemed like they’d be gunning for their own perfect league record. Obviously, they weren’t going 82-0 or challenging the ’96 Bulls for the all-time record but what they were doing was coming together nicely. Their early set backs were significant but nothing that could be considered crippling to the overall success of this season.

Nicolas Batum wasn’t able to start the season with the team because of shoulder surgery. No problem. Rudy Fernandez needed to miss six weeks because of a procedure to alleviate nerve pressure in his back? That’s not an issue. Kevin Pritchard had built this team into a deep roster of “Most Likely To’s” and justified fan favorites. It didn’t matter that Travis Outlaw was going to miss three to five months with foot surgery because they have positional putty to fill these holes. Martell Webster was there to reemerge as the small forward of the future.

But then Greg Oden went down by breaking his kneecap (which was foreseen by everybody but me). At the time, Greg Oden had been a defensive stalwart in the lane. Was he still in dumb foul trouble? Yes. Was he still a step too slow at times? Yes. But his rebounding rate and the amount of block shots he was accumulating in foul trouble-ridden minutes was astonishing. Hell he’s still in Top 50 for blocked shots this season and he hasn’t played in nine weeks. Were 11 points and 8.5 rebounds setting the world on fire like I predicted? No but it was better production than most centers in the NBA were giving their respective teams.

After he broke his kneecap, Joel Pryzbilla decided to join the party too. He ruptured a patella tendon and was also lost for the season. This left Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Dre/Blake/Bayless triumvirate to fend for themselves with Jeff Pendergraph, Juwan Howard and Dante Cunningham as the interior presence. Even their coach is injured!

And yet much like Antwone Fisher, they’re still standing. They’re still here. Brandon Roy isn’t coming back until after the All-Star break? No big deal. Andre Miller just scored 52 against one of the eight best teams in the league and I wouldn’t be shocked if Jerryd Bayless had a 40-point explosion chambered for the next opponent.

Their ideal season has been taken away from them with blow after excruciating blow. It’s a sudden, random act of heartbreak that keeps finding new ways to infect the team. And yet they still hold a good record at home and are seven games over .500 right now. They keep getting handed these impossible H-O-R-S-E shots to beat and continue to bounce back.

After my JV team lost that game, we still had a chance to lock up at worst a share of the league title with our next game.

Based on our history of this season, we were slated to lose that game. We were going into a hostile, uncomfortable environment and they played an unconventional, hectic style that was feast or famine. Throughout most of the first half, it was nothing but famine for them. But in the third quarter, their hectic style started to break our kids a bit and you could feel the game about to unravel. Our freshman guard banged heads with a player on a loose ball and ended up splitting open the area between his eyelid and eyebrow so badly that I could see the shape of his eye through his wound. We were turning the ball over and not getting quality possessions.

But then something clicked. All of a sudden, the game started to slow down for our kids and even though we were being pestered, it seemed like we were a step ahead of everybody on the court. We broke the pressure, scored the ball and rebounded their misses. The offense ran properly. The defensive help was always there. The rebounding (led by one of our kids that outworked everybody on his way to 21 rebounds in a 32-minute game) belonged to us. We finished the game on a tear and ended up winning by over 20 in a game that we started to lose control of.

Our kids were doing everything we asked them to do. Free throws were buried. Help defense was a support system the team could rely on. We weren’t taking bad shots. Everything we had been working towards for the previous three months was coming to fruition. We were validating our own claims and stakes on the season at hand. We were redeeming the confidence in ourselves that a BS falling out of bounds, one-handed, running, banked-in three-pointer tried to take away. We were determined to finish our goals from the beginning of the season even if they weren’t exactly what we had envisioned.

The Portland Trail Blazers are getting this same opportunity. It’s easy to look away from them like a broken toy and pretend we don’t care if they make the playoffs this year. We can look to other upstarts like the Thunder, Grizzlies and new-look Rockets as our picks to round out the playoff landscape.

However, ignoring this Blazers team because they seem too injured is a mistake. They’ll be there in the post-season because of three things that injuries have tried but failed to take from them.

Redemption. Determination. Validation.

It’s Not So Easy

The circumstances and implications of Greg Oden’s nightmarish weekend are certainly ‘news,’ but to convey these happenings with the cold, clinical approach of an AP-style report is downright cruel. This is a tragedy in the truest sense, and though the final acts have yet to be written, it’s difficult to shake the overwhelming feeling that things are bound to get even worse before they get better.

I want to make one thing abundantly clear, and it’s a shame that this really needs to be reiterated: Greg Oden is not Sam Bowie. He is not Bill Walton. And at the same time, he is not Bill Russell, or Dikembe Mutombo, just as he’s not Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard. Greg Oden is Greg Oden, and though that may not always be a beautiful thing on a basketball court, it’s an effective one.

It’s both simple and convenient to toss around Oden’s name with the NBA poster children for frequent injury. But sometimes NBA players avoid such convenient classification, and to me Oden is such a player. Kelly Dwyer nailed that point home with a magazine full of bullets at the beginning of last season, and another injury to Oden’s medical record doesn’t radically change what should be obvious: the man has had his fair share of injuries and he’s had some terrible luck. He’s had surgery on one knee, a kneecap problem in the other, a broken wrist, and a few sprains and twists. Hardly a clean bill of health, but there’s still a dramatic difference between Oden and those whose careers have been destroyed by new incisions on old scar tissue.

And because Greg Oden is Greg Oden (and no one else), his fractured patella is not just a line on a Wikipedia page or a quip in a blog post. This is a night that will forever change Oden’s career. And not only because a recovery from knee surgery could leave Greg a step slower or a bit less confident in his own skin, but because any injury-prone label he once had is now tattooed to his forehead. Fans, players, coaches, GMs, front office officials, talking heads, barbers, lawyers, trainers, beat reporters, and newborn babies will be active participants in creating and reinforcing a new aspect of our basketball consciousness: the notion that Greg Oden is a tremendous bust, and is destined to face injury for the rest of his career. It’s hardly a fair assessment to make about a 21 year-old, but if we as a society can’t understand sports in an easily digestible capsule of generalization and hyperbole, we can’t understand it at all.

So Oden will be left to walk alone, surrounded by a cloud of doubt, while the same fans that doubt his talent and durability openly praise DeJuan Blair. The man with no ACLs managed to slip through the cracks on draft day, and though the hype has been fully eclipsed by Jennings and ‘Reke fever, Blair is still considered a prize of the 2009 draft class. As a second rounder, it’s impossible to dispute Blair’s value. But while Oden is mocked for his inability to stay on the floor, Blair is beloved for fighting to ‘prove the scouts wrong,’ even if the balls of styrofoam in his knees act as a ticking time bomb for his career. I completely agree that taking Blair was not only a calculated risk, but a brilliant choice. But I also add the caveat that Blair is nowhere near the player Oden is. In this case perception is everything, and Oden’s significantly higher draft position distorts our ability to project expectations.

Here, again, is where that infamous Blazer of old comes into play. As Kevin Durant’s star rises with each day and each silky jumper, the Oden-Bowie comparisons will only spread. But Sam Bowie is essentially a myth, a creature who once roamed the Earth with promise, only to fall victim to a supernatural snake in the proverbial grass. I do think there was a legitimate school of thought that considered Michael Jordan to be a great in the making, but to claim that anyone within the Bulls organization had a firm grasp on what MJ was or what he would become is poppycock.

As Jordan bound up the league hierarchy, it’s understandable that those of Blazer Nation would have felt some anxiety over Bowie’s injuries. Those injuries precluded him from absolving himself and the organization of a draft day ‘blunder,’ even if the casual fan expects perfect science from the art of the NBA draft. No one ever said that picking superstars out of a lineup would be easy, and to turn Bowie into a punchline over medical history is ridiculous. The year was 1984, Bowie was a talented center out of a big-time college program, and he figured to be a franchise cornerstone (alongside Drexler) for years to come.

We all know how the story unfolds, and even though Bowie’s injury history and the greatness of that ’84 draft class have radically changed how we evaluate Portland’s choice, it’s not always about getting the best player possible or unearthing the prize of the draft. The managers who consistently succeed in the NBA draft are those who look to pick for value, not necessarily the highest value; while you’d like to end up with the best player in the draft or the best player available, it’s much more important that you come out of the draft with something, with a player able to contribute to your team (or at least act as trade bait) in a meaningful way. Bowie may not have been Jordan or Barkley or Stockton, but who’s to say he wouldn’t have been an impressive player in his own right if given a full head of steam and a reasonable shot at establishing his young career? And even if Oden never gets the best of Durant, isn’t it enough for G.O. to develop into a high-quality starting center and a bonafide defensive presence?

I know that there are few topics beaten to death more thoroughly or more frequently than the selection of Sam Bowie, but the fact that his name and Oden’s are inextricably linked really irks me. That’s nothing against Bowie, who ended up with a decent career, and it’s not meant to elevate Oden, who still has plenty to prove. A few basic similarities just aren’t enough to equate the two. And though I’ve been discussing the two in comparable terms, there’s a glaring difference between the Bowie narrative and the Oden one: one of them isn’t over. Not even close. While it’d be nice to see Oden further along at 21, every misstep is not an apocalypse. Every ankle sprain or knee injury should not have anyone fearing the end of days. There’s nothing but time for The Big Chill to get his career back on track. The clouds look dark today, but a in a year? When Oden is still just 22? And still a seven footer? And still one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, a shot-blocking force, and an emerging post threat? Maybe we’ll hear a different tune. 2010-2011 seems like a world away for those who look at each game under a microscope, and I’m sure that every second of it will be painful for Oden. But when all is said and done, this is just a row on the back of a basketball card.

This all means a hell of a lot to Oden and a hell of a lot to the Blazers, as it should. But happily-never-after declarations on Oden’s career are as ridiculous and lazy as they sound. We’re not even to the meat of Oden’s narrative, so why would it make sense to write his career synopsis? I’m not saying that Greg Oden will be anyone but Greg Oden, but here’s the thing: even after everything that’s happened, even after this latest injury, that may be enough.

Not To Twist The Dagger Or Anything

Here’s a link to a picture of the last time Greg Oden will be introduced this season. Think of it as a last happy memory.

Greg Oden Being Introduced on Flickr – Photo Sharing!. (Credit: Sarah Moon)

But here’s a picture via Flickr of the last time Oden was introduced. I feel like this is that picture of JFK smiling and waving in the caravan.

The Revelation And The Tragedy Have Nothing In Common Except They Happened In The Same Time Period

And then Dec. 5, 2009. Oden’s 2009 is off to a nice start. The seven-footer from Ohio State is averaging a meager 11.7 ppg, but a nice 8.7 rpg and 2.4 blocks per game in just 24 minutes a night. He’s not Bill Russell like some thought, but he’s certainly developing into a worthy center. Keep in mind, it is just Oden’s second season. But like so many feared and pictured, six minutes into a game against the Rockets, Oden goes down a large heap clutching his knee. It quickly goes from “Oh, I hope he’s alright” to “Oh no. Oh no. OH NO.” Oden is on the floor writhing in pain. A stretcher comes out. Oden is carted off. His 2009-10 campaign is likely over just like that with a busted left patella.

And Durant apologists smirk and shake their heads. Which is the point I’m trying to get to, even through that ridiculously long intro. Don’t. Don’t even think it. I know you already have and most will continue, but don’t. Greg Oden’s devastating injury has nothing to do with Kevin Durant. Absolutely nothing. Well, other than Portland is a little less good and the Blazers happen to be in Kevin Durant’s team’s division. But in terms of what you’re thinking, Oden’s injury isn’t related.

via Rejoice you have Kevin Durant and about nothing else | Daily Thunder.com.

Royce at Daily Thunder with a brilliant piece asking for Thunder fans, KD fans, all fans not to simplify this situation into “The Blazers screwed up by not taking KD.” And furthermore, to not confuse the fact that these two were drafted at the same time with the idea that they’re somehow related.

Greg Oden has had multiple injuries since being drafted by Kevin Pritchard and during the same time, Kevin Durant has evolved into one of the best players in the league. This is a coincidence. The two are not outlined in the stars. They’re not bound by that draft. It was just a coincidence. And to consistently compare the two is madness, like comparing a barn fire in Jersey and a stock jump in California. Assess each within the context of themselves.