By Sean Beckwith – Contributor, Commentary
A buddy and I have a theory about the NBA. There are NBA teams and there are association teams. Association teams typically play exceptional defense, exploit rebounds and can deliver in the half court. The Spurs, Lakers and Celtics are a few examples of association teams. NBA teams, on the other hand, win shootouts, play average to below average defense and usually struggle in the playoffs. Atlanta, Phoenix, Golden State and New York are NBA teams.
Association teams win championships and NBA teams don’t. Look at the last eight years. The Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Pistons played great defense and had multiple half-court options on offense.
The Portland Trailblazers had all the makings of an association team a few years ago. Coach Nate McMillan runs great half-court sets, hates running (almost to a fault) and preaches defense first. When they drafted Greg Oden it looked as if the Blazers would be perennial playoff contenders. Brandon Roy is still clutch, Lamarcus Aldridge is becoming a true power-forward and Portland remains deep with role players. However, Oden looked like he would add an extra dimension: a guy who could control the paint, rebound and potentially force double teams on offense. Guaranteed association team, right?
All that talent and potential, along with that sexy young team aura (think Oklahoma City), seemed to be in place. Three and a half years and two first round exits later, the Trailblazers will be lucky to make the playoffs.
Oden has played a total of 82 games – one full season of action in four years. He had micro fracture surgery during his rookie year, an ankle sprain and knee bruise in his second year, a broken kneecap in his third year and is now sitting out his fourth year with another micro fracture surgery. Both surgeries came during recovery periods (his first came when he was recovering from getting his tonsils removed; the second came when he was recovering from a broken kneecap). The other injuries came during routine plays. He sprained his ankle running, broke his kneecap jumping and knocked knees with Corey Maggette.
By the way, Maggette didn’t even come close to missing the 20-plus games Oden did.
Oden is Mr. Glass from the movie “Unbreakable.” However, he’s still only 22 years old, even if he looks 40. I’m not saying that he will never play again, but at some point you just aren’t the same.
Chicago Cubs fans know all too well what I’m talking about. They had the young team with crazy talent. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, once an electric one-two punch, are now after-thoughts.
An injury is the one completely random part of sports that can make or break a team, season, or career. Penny Hardaway, Bo Jackson, Grant Hill and Ken Griffey, Jr., are just a few players whose once-promising careers failed to live up to expectations because of freak injuries.
Oden’s career is not over, but it certainly feels like it. From now on people will think of injuries when his name comes up. Then again, maybe they will talk about the 2007 NCAA National Championship game when he outplayed Florida’s Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Ronnie Brewer. Maybe he will make a comeback and maybe he will even play a full season, but the freakish athleticism that made him the first overall pick in 2007 is gone.
The Trailblazers thought they had the makings of an association team when they drafted Oden, but the hand of fate has proven otherwise. Oden has become a walking Greek tragedy, while the Blazers have been left wondering what could have been.