Greg Oden has been much-maligned during his first four seasons in the NBA, being compared to Sam Bowie, being called one of the worst draft picks in modern sports history.
Most of the talk is unfair.
Oden’s latest setback came when an MRI revealed he’d need microfracture surgery on his left knee, forcing him to miss the 2010-11 season, his fourth in the NBA.
The same procedure, on the other knee, sidelined Oden for his entire rookie season of 2007-08.
He broke his left kneecap in December of 2009 during a game against Houston and missed the rest of that season and the start of the next, meaning if rehabilitation goes well and Oden takes the court at any point during the 2011-12 season, it will be his first game action in about two full years.
It’s all frustrating, for Oden, for the team, for the fans.
When the Trail Blazers won the right to select Oden No. 1 overall after the 7-footer had led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman, hopes in Portland were as high as ever. Portland had had just a 5.3-percent chance of landing that No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, so the sheer act of winning it certainly meant great things were on the way.
Brandon Roy was coming off a Rookie of the Year season. The team was loaded with improving young players who had shown flashes of elite-level talent. All that was missing was a dominant big man in the middle, and in Oden, the Blazers appeared to have that and to be well on their way toward making a run at an NBA championship within a few years.
Not so fast.
Three-and-a-half years later, Oden went back under the knife, set to sit his entire fourth season in the league and in the books with just 82 total games played in four seasons, drawing comparisons to famous draft busts in NBA history, including Portland’s infamous selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft.
First of all, let’s give Sam Bowie a break. Like Oden, he was merely the victim of some bad luck in the injury department, but unlike Oden, Bowie played 76 games as a rookie, averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Things went downhill from there. Bowie played in just 63 games over the next four seasons and was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 1989.
Since then, Portland has been mocked for drafting for positional need and not talent. Jordan was clearly the better talent, but the Blazers needed a post player, so they took Bowie, the former Kentucky star, second overall. The Houston Rockets needed a post player, as well, so they chose Hakeem Olajuwon – not Jordan – first overall.
If Hakeem had had Bowie’s luck with injuries, and Bowie had managed to stay healthy, it would be the Rockets, not the Blazers, being mocked for not taking Jordan.
Because what this debate is really about is hindsight. Everyone knew Jordan was a promising young talent out of North Carolina. NOBODY knew he would end up becoming the greatest player in NBA history.
The Oden debate has a similar overtone. The Blazers took the 7-footer instead of a player who, in hindsight, would have been a much, much better pick – Kevin Durant.
But that’s why they say hindsight is 20-20.
As frustrating as the Oden injury debacle has been, there’s still plenty of time for the 22-year-old to turn things around.
More on the Trail Blazers:
Rick Adelman’s run as Trail Blazers coach
Best seasons in Portland Trail Blazerss history
Greg Oden, Yahoo! Sports