I found myself two tables away from a conference room’s closed doors in June of 2007. I watched Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest of the Trail Blazers walk into the restaurant’s private section, and then close the doors.
It was a day before the NBA Draft, and Portland had the No. 1 pick. Soon enough there was clapping and a few muffled yells coming from the pre-draft banquet. It sounded like excitement.
Then Pritchard stepped out to take a call. Reading his lips failed to grasp, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?
Either way, it looked like the future.
He walked back in and no one would know for another day. Now, no one needs any more time, of course. Oden’s an unmitigated failure while Durant ascends to MVP status.
We’ve seen this coming for a long time, but it became official yesterday. Oden, going into surgery to clear out debris in his knee, instead had it turn into his third microfracture surgery. He’s out for another year, but let’s be honest, his career is probably finished. I had been at that restaurant, outside the conference room, by chance that day. Portland’s decision, however, was weighed by every indicator. Something was missed in those evaluations.
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There are several reasons it doesn’t feel good to write that. First, I’m a Blazer fan. Second, in Dime #63, I wrote a feature with the idea that, if given another chance, Oden could develop into a younger man’s Marcus Camby or Erick Dampier. Even at that point, there was no mystery that two microfracture surgeries in, he’d lost the spark that made him the No. 1 pick. But, I figured, he could still be more than productive given a narrow role of rebounding and defense.
Chance plays a role here, too. I believed his injury run â€” even at that point â€” was just too random to be a pattern and that chance had stolen his first two years of his NBA career. Mike Conley and Grant Hill believed he was in a rut of serious bad luck, but nothing he couldn’t work out of.
For that feature Oden and I had spoken over the phone two weeks before his second microfracture surgery, before he even knew he’d need that, and he was upbeat about what he saw coming up because of his rehab and the support of the team, he said.
And that’s the reason Oden’s failure is the biggest disappointment: The Trail Blazers bucked the trend of the team that didn’t care throughout this process. In some cities, he’d have been done in the public eye well before his rookie contract was up and the team had the chance to formally end a wholly lackluster era. In Portland, Oden had every chance to succeed. He was brought back this year for a one-year deal after meeting his qualifying offer. Then, they signed him for nearly $7 million less.
Make no mistake, after Pritchard was axed in 2010, president Larry Miller and then-GM Rich Cho were deciding his future with winning in mind, not compassion. But in the process they gave him a shot, and another, and another. Why keep doing that? The Trail Blazers have had egg on their face and chants of “Sam Bowie” in their ears since just months after they decided to take him. Maybe that, in part, drove their moves, knowing they couldn’t risk any further embarrassment and that any successes would be pure profit.
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Well, Oden’s career might be over and it’s true, that’s nothing to be surprised about. But after a lockout where one of the easiest arguments for the players was that owners and teams didn’t care about their well-being, Oden’s situation seemed different. Stories were brought up about players being cut on a whim to save money or move on. Oden, meanwhile, repeatedly said he didn’t want to leave Portland, his only professional home.
Both sides wanted to make this work. No one now believes Portland made the right decision in the first place by picking Oden over Durant. But after that was done, every chance was given to make it right. That it never was able to is the biggest disappointment.
Did Portland treat Oden’s situation correctly?
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