A few nights ago, as I was scouring the internets in search of decent basketball-related journalism, I came across the news that Greg Oden was to undergo yet another season-ending microfracture surgery. The surgery will be his second microfracture surgery in his three-year career and his third knee injury in as many seasons. The Blazers have not (and will not) be offering the third year, former No. 1 overall pick a contract extension, making Oden the first No. 1 overall pick to not be offered an extension since Kwame Brown.
This was all very sobering news. As a fan of basketball, you have to pull for the injured youngsters to bounce back and realize their true potential. Blake Griffin looks like he's doing just that after a season ending knee injury that kept him out of his rookie season. Unfortunately for Oden, the bad news seems to be endless. However saddening this may be, this is the opportune time for teams to make a play for the 22-year-old big man. Yes, Suns fans, I am pleading the case for Oden to become a Phoenix Sun.
I will say this from the get go: it will not be easy to pry Greg Oden from the Portland fan base. Once hailed as the savior of the franchise, Greg Oden was exactly what the team needed. A soft-spoken, hard working big man who seemed to be the exact opposite of everything that had gone wrong during the "Jail Blazers" era. He seemed to be the perfect compliment to former Rookie of the Year and explosive guard Brandon Roy. The Blazers were the league's hottest team after having piled up draft picks upon draft picks, adding gobs of young talent to a roster teeming with potential.
For a few short months, even I thought Greg Oden had the potential to be more of a franchise altering player than the now-NBA superstar Kevin Durant. How often have you seen a big man come into the league and take it by storm? In recent memory, I can think of a few. David Robinson. Shaquille O'Neal. Tim Duncan. Yao Ming. All of these names have had bigger impacts on their teams than the hot shot scorers coming out of college. That's not to say that theAllen Iverson, Joe Johnson, or Ray Allen's of the world haven't been equally as helpful to their respective teams. It just goes to show how meaningful a dominant big man can be to helping a franchise become championship contenders.
As we all recall, Oden's rookie season was the season that was not. The hype and love for the young big man was delayed another season as he required a microfracture on his left knee. He returned to start on Opening Night of the 2008-09 season, but missed significant time during the season due to a chipped left knee cap. He again returned to start the 2009-10 season, but fractured his right knee cap, thus ending his season. And now, here we are, catching news that Oden will again not play in a single game in a season.
The Blazers' Reactions
There is no doubt that the Portland fan base is sick. After seeing their pride and joy undergo so many surgeries, it hurts as a fan to see their potential all-star riding pine. And as much as it hurts, after enough bad breaks, one almost becomes numb to the news. Even the team is devastated to catch wind of the news. "We sat there and it was like we'd been kicked in the stomach," team trainer Jay Jensen said. "It felt like hearing someone close to us had died."
Head coach Nate McMillan commented as well. "As you can expect, the young man is devastated by not having the opportunity to play this season. It's like 'Here we go again' for him."
As much as the injury has dampened the spirits of nearly every basketball fan in Portland, some teammates have learned to take it in stride. "We're fine," veteran center Marcus Camby said in an interview with The Oregonian. "We're ready to play basketball. We really can't harp on it. We feel for Greg. Don't get me wrong. I know it's been tough for him the last couple of years, but it wasn't like he was playing with us ... It was definitely sad to hear about Greg but we've been doing all this without him thus far."
What This Means For The Rest Of The League
As mentioned before, the Blazers have not offered Oden an extension on his contract. The team still has yet to offer the big man the Qualifying Offer. If offered and accepted, it would mean that Greg Oden would remain a Portland Trail Blazer for the 2010-11 season, barring some ridiculously overpriced offer from another team. If the QO isn't offered, Oden would become an Unrestricted Free Agent, making him available to any team in the league. It would make sense for Portland to pony up and offer the QO, right? That's where things get interesting.
Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller delve deeper into this in a great article outlining all the hubbub of the Qualifying Offer, but I'll pull out the bullet points. Oden's QO is $8.8 million. Quite a steep number for someone who has contributed more time warming the bench than he has on the actual basketball court. Secondly, Portland already has lucrative contracts on the table for Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and to a lesser extent, Marcus Camby, which is putting them in luxury tax range in and of itself.
This is where trade scenarios become more intriguing for the Blazers.
There is no doubt that there are a slew of teams who would take on Greg Oden's injury risk for the chance at rehabbing a potential star player, all while on the cheap. There are even more teams that could use the bulk down low, even if after rehabilitation, Oden is nothing but a mere shadow of his former self. There likely won't be any teams chomping at the bit to get Oden away from his Portland employer, but there will be enough interest in him that it will become chatter around the league.
Can Oden Rise Again With The Suns?
The Phoenix Suns spent the 2010 offseason loading up on wing players and handing out extensions to the role players that made for a successful 2009-10 campaign. Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick were the recent additions, with Channing Frye and Jared Dudley inking the new contracts. While all of these players have worth to the team and potential to be strong contributors, there are only so many roster spots available. The logjam at the SF slot has been well documented, and newly hired GM Lance Blanks hinted at there being a plan to try and use the plentiful middling contracts the Suns have as a way to land a superstar.
However, it's not that easy. Unless we're talking Los Angeles and Memphis a few years ago in the Pau Gasol steal of the decade, superstar players generally aren't sold off for a few solid role players. The Suns would have to craft some skillful execution and have lady luck on their side in order to land a franchise player for a few contracts around the MLE. Also, taking into account the injury to Lopez and the general state of Phoenix's in-paint defense, and you've got yourself quite a situation. Here's where trading for Oden could help.
Oden will be out all season, and since we'd likely have to give away a few key players (Childress/Dudley/Warrick and Clark, for trade fodder) would essentially mean that we're giving up this season for a chance at a possible lottery pick and look at our options next season.
Since Portland has Miller, Roy, Batum, Aldridge and Camby up front, we likely wouldn't have to trade away any of the starters. Sure, Roy has some potentially serious knee problems, but he and LMA are locked up. Miller and Camby work perfectly for the slower pace of the team. Batum has potential and is one of the more exciting parts of their lineup. There wouldn't be any use taking on Grant Hill or Jason Richardson, just to create problems with what is otherwise a solid starting lineup. What the Blazers would be interested in is deepening their bench. Any combination of the aforementioned players would help shore up their bench, while our bench stays relatively unmarred. Maybe ol' Blanks-y knew what he was doing from the get go.
Will a trade for Oden happen? Who knows. Portland may just wind up giving him the QO, even though I find it hard to believe that they will. Will Oden even be able to return to a state of productivity after two surgeries in three years? There are a lot of chips that still have to fall in order for the Suns (or any other team, really) to have a shot at getting Oden, but the possibility is out there. But now it's your turn to chime in...