Greg Oden's career is not over.
Greg Oden's career in Portland? Yeah, that's probably over.
Wednesday's news that the Blazers' 22-year-old center will undergo microfracture surgery on his left knee -- the same procedure Oden underwent on his right knee in 2007 -- sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. In Boston, players and coaches from the Celtics and visiting Wizards shook their heads in stunned disbelief when told about the latest injury to the former No. 1 pick.
Could any career be more cursed? Chipped kneecap, broken kneecap, microfractures -- Oden's fragile knees should be donated to a medical school for future study.
"As I've told Greg, he has to deal with it," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "We've seen some of these injuries right in front of our own eyes. Some things you just can't explain."
Oden has played only 82 games with Portland, and it is difficult to envision him playing another. During a conference call on Wednesday, Blazers GM Rich Cho repeatedly referred to Oden as a restricted free agent next summer. But Oden will only be restricted if Portland extends him an $8.8 million qualifying offer. That seems unlikely, as you don't pay $8.8 million to a player who may not play for you next season. Oden could still choose to re-sign with Portland at a cut rate as an unrestricted free agent, but after all the drama of the last three years, it may be in the best interests of both sides that they move on.
Where does that leave Oden? Consider: The NBA faces an uncertain future, with tenuous labor negotiations leading most observers to believe there will be a lockout in July. If the lockout extends into January, as it did in 1999, Oden will have more than a year to recover from this latest operation. He will spend the second half of his rehabilitation away from the Blazers and the NBA, but his agent, Bill Duffy, has the resources to place Oden with some of the top medical people in the world.
After that, who knows? As of today, Oden is damaged goods. But a year from now, if Oden proves he is healthy, it's likely teams will be lining up to sign him. Remember, Oden was averaging 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks before he snapped his kneecap last season. In his last full game, he overwhelmed Miami with 13 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. He won't be in line for a lucrative deal -- an informal poll of three NBA executives suggests a one-year, short-money contract with a team option for the second season sounds about right -- but there will be some competition for Oden's services.
What about Miami, which desperately needs a big backstop for its front line? Or Phoenix, which has one of the NBA's most innovative medical staffs that once-wounded vets Steve Nash and Grant Hill swear by? How about vertically challenged Oklahoma City? Three years ago, no one could have imagined Oden and Kevin Durant ever playing together. Now? It's an interesting possibility.
Much of this will depend on Oden. His body will heal. Amar'e Stoudemire's did after microfracture surgery. So did Jason Kidd's. Kenyon Martin underwent microfracture surgeries on his right knee (in 2005) and left (2006) and bounced back to play 71 games in the 2007-08 season.
It's the mental scars that linger. Oden will need to believe that every time he leaves his feet to block a shot there isn't nine months of rehab waiting for him when he lands. Or that every high-speed collision won't result in him having to be carted off the floor on a stretcher.
Can he do it? Probably not in Portland. The final pages of that chapter of Oden's career have probably already been written. But if Oden wants it badly enough, there is a good chance there will be more to his story.