When I think of the infamous Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant debate, this billboard always comes to mind – “Honk once for Oden; Honk twice for Durant.”
It was a little over four years ago that the Portland Trail Blazers launched this marketing campaign as a way to engage fans in one of the most exciting times in recent franchise history – winning the lottery and receiving the number one overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Coming off of the “Jail Blazers” era and a 2006 draft where then general manager Kevin Pritchard somehow managed to run away with both the second overall pick, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the sixth overall pick, Brandon Roy. Although the team ended the 2006-07 season with a 32-50 record, Brandon Roy proved to be just the savior Rip City was looking for, winning Rookie of the Year. With a young, promising guard and forward, there was only one piece left to complete the puzzle – a powerful, young center.
Ultimately, the Blazers ended up honking once, selecting the Ohio State center NCAA fans couldn’t take their eyes off of, Greg Oden. He was welcomed with open arms and a huge smile, and fans became instantly infatuated with him. He was the perfect piece to complete the Blazers’ version of a “big three.” With a strong scorer in Roy, a defensive force in Oden and a mix of the two in Aldridge, the Blazers were viewed as the up-and-coming team in the Western Conference. Finally, after being the laughing stock of the league for years due to continuous off the court issues, the unfamiliar feeling of hope filled the air in Rip City.
All of the excitement surrounding the emergence of the new era of the Portland Trail Blazers came to a heartbreaking halt when it was announced that Oden would be having season-ending microfracture surgery on his right knee. While disappointed, fans rallied behind Oden knowing that they only had to wait one more year before Portland’s very own “big three” would take the court together. While fans’ hearts ached for Oden, they were fixated on Roy, whose play was so respected by coaches that he was selected as an All-Star reserve during only his second season, in addition to many other internal and league accomplishments that year. The Blazers finished the season at 41-41, their winningest record since 2003-04. Things were finally looking up for the residents of Rip City.
With a full recovery to his right knee, Oden made his NBA debut on October 28, 2008. After slightly injuring his foot and sitting out for two weeks, Oden returned on November 12 and began to prove he was the player the Trail Blazers franchise knew he was capable of being. Despite another minor setback due to a chipped kneecap, Oden delivered on the court and showed Blazers fans that he had the potential they had been waiting for.
It seemed as if everything was going right for the Blazers during the 2008-09 season – Roy was named an All-Star for the second time in his short three-year career, now former Blazer Rudy Fernandez competed in the Slam Dunk completion, the team made the playoffs for the first time in six years, and Oden was finally able to become the seven-foot pillar the team needed to do some damage in the post.
After 82 of engraining memorable double-double performances into the minds of eager fans, the dream of Portland’s young “big three” came to another heartbreaking halt.
While taking on the Houston Rockets in the Rose Garden on December 5, 2009, Oden fractured his left patella, forcing him to have yet another surgery, and miss yet another season. The image of Oden lying on a stretcher on the hardwood of the Rose Garden with his second season-ending knee injury will always remain vivid in the minds of Blazers fans.
Rip City was heartbroken, not just for the team’s sake, but for Oden himself. Yet, because Portland fans are amongst the most faithful in the NBA, they still believed he would be back, stronger than ever.
Just when everyone thought things couldn’t get worse for the Blazers, they were plagued by injuries, knee injuries in particular, throughout the 2009-10 season. The first on the list of casualties? The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, Greg Oden.
On November 17, 2010, when the Trail Blazers announced that Greg Oden had to undergo microfracture surgery on his other knee (the left knee), it was almost as if the city of Portland was living in some kind of NBA nightmare. How is it possible that one person has to have three knee surgeries in three years? And more than that, Blazers fans wondered how much of a tole yet another season-ending injury would take on Oden’s mental state. While some fans began to criticize Oden for physical aliments he has no control over, Oden still had the support of many.
As we all know, Oden missed the entire 2010-11 season. He has only been able to play 82 games during his four years in the league. At the young age of 23, he has been forced to listen to the world call him a failure. Despite having the intense drive to succeed, his body hasn’t allowed him to.
Now, as we are approaching the start of the 2011-12 season, the Trail Blazers are faced with the question of what to do about Greg Oden. His agent has said that he is exactly where they want him to be healing-wise and estimates that Oden will be able to return to practice sometime in January.
Both the front office and Oden himself are faced with the decision of how to move forward. Trail Blazers president Larry Miller and interim General Manager Chad Buchanan both sound confident in Oden’s progress and stated that they want him to be a part of the team moving forward.
The Blazers have extended a qualifying offer of $8.8 million. Since Oden is a restricted free agent, he is able to entertain offers from other teams, at which point the Blazers would have three days to match that offer. If Oden does accept the qualifying offer from the Blazers, they are at some point faced with the decision of whether or not to offer Oden a new contract.
With all of these “if this, then that” scenarios surrounding the air recently, it brings up another important question, one that the front office probably won’t take a look at.
Do you, as a Trail Blazers fan, still believe in Greg Oden?