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Greg Oden: Out For the Season (Again)

November 18, 2010

Another season ending surgery needed for Greg Oden. Just shows you that sometimes, coming out of college early is a good thing, financially.

From Oregonian:

It was hours before the Trail Blazers’ game in Los Angeles on Nov. 7 when Greg Oden walked off the court and received congratulations from Trail Blazers athletic trainer Jay Jensen. The center’s rehabilitated left knee, it appeared to everyone who had just watched Oden’s pregame workout, looked great.

“It may look great,” Oden said as he walked off the court. “But it doesn’t feel good.”

A ligament in Oden’s left knee is damaged, to the point where it will require season-ending microfracture surgery.

It was numbing news for a franchise that once had dreams of Oden leading them to an NBA title. His size and athleticism led many to rate him a “franchise-changing” center, and the Blazers swiped him up with the No.1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft.

But since that June day when fans danced and chanted Oden’s name after the pick, there have been only sprinkles of dominant play amid downpours of discouraging health issues.

Friday’s microfracture procedure in Colorado will be the third season-ending surgery Oden has experienced in his four years in Portland. In September of 2007, before he had even played an NBA game, Oden had microfracture on his right knee.

“It’s just really sad,” coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday night at a hastily called press conference at the Rose Garden. “Shocking news to hear.”

Oden, 22, was trying to come back from a broken left patella suffered in a game last December. Jensen said this injury is not related to the broken left patella.

Also, like his first microfracture surgery, this injury surfaced out of the blue, without an apparent incident.

All told, Oden has played in 82 games over four seasons –the equivalent of one NBA regular season. During that span, he will have been paid roughly $19.3 million by the Blazers.

On July 1, Oden becomes a restricted free agent, meaning he is free to test the market and sign with another team. The Blazers, however, will have the right to match any offer.

General manager Rich Cho said Oden will remain part of the Blazers throughout his rehabilitation, after which he will evaluate Oden’s progress.

“I expect him to work hard,” Cho said. “He wants to be a very good player, and he’s shown the ability to rebound” from injury.

McMillan said Oden was “devastated,” and team president Larry Miller, speaking via conference call from New York City, said it was “a very challenging day for the franchise.”

When healthy, Oden was a powerful, albeit raw, talent. He was incredibly strong and exceptionally quick and agile for a 7-footer weighing roughly 275 pounds.

He struggled at times with fouls, and was unpolished offensively, but he arguably was the Blazers’ best player last season when he leapt to contend a driving layup by Houston guard Aaron Brooks. On his way up, Oden clutched for his left knee, which had exploded. Later, doctors would say Oden’s massive quadriceps muscle was so strong that it caused the knee cap to break.

The game before he broke his knee cap, Oden had 13 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks against Miami. Four games before that, he had 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against Chicago.

“We got a taste of it last year,” McMillan said of Oden’s potential.

But mostly, the Blazers got a bitter taste of disappointment.

Before he even practiced for the team in 2007, Oden underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. The team said that injury came without incident, as Oden awoke one morning with a swollen knee.

When he did recover in time for the 2008-09 season, his debut lasted 13 minutes before he stepped on the foot of Lakers guard Derek Fisher, suffering a right mid-foot sprain. He missed the next six games.

He then played 45 consecutive games — his longest stretch without injury — from Nov. 12, 2008 to Feb. 12, 2009 without incident.

But in the final game before the All-Star break, Oden banged knees with Golden State forward Corey Maggette, suffering a bone chip in his left knee. He missed the next 15 games.

Eventually, Oden’s repeated trips to the trainer’s room came to symbolize the franchise’s uncanny string of injuries. Last season, 13 players missed a combined 311 games due to injury, and already this season, two players – Jeff Pendergraph and Elliot Williams – have been lost for the season. Meanwhile, the team’s star, Brandon Roy, is sidelined until at least Nov. 26 because of a sore left knee.

The injuries have become such a story that Miller, McMillan and Cho all defended the team’s medical and training staff.

Now, Oden and the staff will be faced with yet another rehabilitation, and perhaps Oden’s toughest.

Microfracture is considered the most serious of knee surgeries. The procedure includes making tiny fractures in the bone to stimulate bleeding and the growth of cartilage. Recovery is estimated between six and 12 months. Some players, like Jamal Mashburn and Chris Webber, never returned to their old form. Others, like former Blazers forward Zach Randolph, recovered to become All-Stars.

Denver forward Kenyon Martin is one player who has returned to play after having microfracture on both knees, even though he is sidelined for tonight’s game in Portland with a knee injury.

“He doesn’t deserve this,” Jensen said of Oden. “He’s worked his tail off.”

The Blazers thought Oden was nearing a return this season, despite Oden’s complaints after his Nov. 7 workout. The next day, at the funeral of Maurice Lucas, a former Blazers assistant, Oden complained of swelling and discomfort.

On Nov. 9, when the Blazers played Detroit at the Rose Garden, the team drained his knee of a “moderate” amount of fluid. On Nov. 10, Oden was sent to Los Angeles to receive a second opinion by noted knee specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache

ElAttrache told Oden what the Blazers doctors had felt: His broken left knee cap was healing well.

But the next day, Jensen said he met Oden in the lobby of their Los Angeles hotel. There was significant swelling from the day before. Two days later, on Nov. 13, the team ordered a magnetic resonance imaging on his left knee.

After reviewing the results, the Blazers sent the data to Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo. On Wednesday, the decision was made: Oden would once again undergo season-ending surgery.

“It was like we all got kicked in the stomach,” Jensen said, holding back tears. “It was like someone close to us had died. We didn’t know what to say. We were shocked.”

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