Monday December 7th, 2009

The shame of Greg Oden's latest season-ending injury is based mainly in what it means for Oden. Does it mean a long-suffering career of promising starts and painful stops? How much will he be able to accomplish in the NBA? How much joy can he create in between the pain?

This should not be one of those monumental we'll-never-make-the-playoffs kind of injuries for Portland. The young Blazers won 54 games last season without major contributions from Oden, so why shouldn't they be able to win without him again? His rebounding and shot-blocking can be replaced to some extent by Joel Przybilla, and while Oden was scoring efficiently, it's not as though his 11.4 ppg average leaves an unfillable hole in the offense.

The traumatized Blazers have nine healthy players as assistant coach Dean Demopoulas (in place of injured coach Nate McMillan) leads them on a four-game trip to the East this week. But three of the games are against losing teams, and the Blazers still have their key players in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Just as important as the loss of Oden is whether the Blazers can develop a helpful role for point guard Andre Miller, whose offseason signing has affected the balance Portland established last year.

Oden appears to be a terrific guy who hasn't allowed himself to be carried away by his overwhelming talent. He doesn't look down his nose at others; he treats people with respect. I've been looking forward to seeing what he may accomplish, because he clearly would have been geared toward helping the team at the expense of his own career. Through no fault of his own, he can't get out of his own way.

It was always going to be difficult for him to fulfill his potential because so much was expected of him as a No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. Can he overcome the injuries that have now ruined two of his first three seasons in the league? The only hint of good news is that the patella injury he suffered to his kneecap Saturday did not damage the ligaments. But when he returns next season he is going to be out of sorts again, and he will need strength to simply play hard and to not fear another injury. It will be an amazing story if Oden overcomes this rotten fortune to become a dominant center but, in fairness to him, those elite expectations may have to be reduced now.

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