THE NEWS last week that rookie Greg Oden had season-ending microfracture surgery on his right knee was devastating for the Trail Blazers. They thought they had struck gold in May, when they landed the No. 1 pick despite only a 5.3% chance of winning the draft lottery. Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard says the team's predraft exam had showed Oden's knees to be in "pristine" condition, but some around the league aren't surprised the center broke down.
"Our doctors saw some early signs of arthritis in his knees," one team executive told SI. "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."
Microfracture surgery is a procedure in which small holes are drilled in the bones to stimulate tissue growth. The 19-year-old Oden, who had the operation last Thursday, faces an arduous recovery. "For the next six weeks he needs to put as little pressure on it as possible," says David Altchek, an orthopedic surgeon who performed a similar procedure on Nets guard Jason Kidd in 2004. (It took Kidd five months to get back on the court after the operation.) "At the same time he has to be moving the joint in a nonimpact manner, such as riding the stationary bike, to stimulate the tissue growth."
This isn't Oden's first major injury—he needed ligament surgery on his right wrist in June 2006 and missed the first six games of last season at Ohio State. The Trail Blazers are optimistic that the seven-foot Oden will return at full strength next season, but once he's playing again, Oden will feel pressure to prove he is more like the dominating Bill Russell than the fragile former Portland center Bill Walton. "He's going to have the tag that he is injury-prone," says Pritchard. "He's going to have to prove people wrong."