PORTLAND, Ore. — In an instant, the fire in Greg Oden’s eyes was gone. As he was taken from the Rose Garden floor on a stretcher, defeat was written all over the seven-foot centre’s face.
Oden broke his left kneecap in the Trail Blazers’ game Saturday night against the Houston Rockets and is likely out for the season.
It is the latest injury to befall the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007, who some have compared to Sam Bowie, the often-injured big man the Blazers selected ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft.
Brandon Roy said that Oden apologized and bowed his head as he was wheeled off the court. Once he learned his diagnosis, Oden told his teammates in the locker-room he was sorry he let them down.
“He didn’t do anything,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge protested. “People don’t understand that injuries are part of the game. We all are at risk every time we play so I think injuries are going to happen. It’s unfortunate that it’s happened to him.”
The Blazers said Oden will need surgery. A timetable for his return was not immediately set.
“I’m obviously disappointed having worked so hard to get to where I was. This is a setback but I’ll be back. It’s in God’s hands now,” Oden said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank the fans, my teammates and everyone in the Blazers family for all of their good thoughts.”
Oden, drafted ahead of Kevin Durant, has been plagued by injures his entire NBA career.
He missed rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Then last season he sat out six games after injuring his right foot in the season opener against the Lakers, before missing 14 games after the all-star break with a bone chip in his left knee. He finished the season averaging 8.9 points and seven rebounds.
But this season Oden lost weight and was averaging 11.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a starter. He had a renewed confidence that was seldom evident in his delayed rookie season, when he admitted the pressure of being a top draft pick got to him.
“He did all the things he needed to do this summer to get himself ready for this year. He came back and showed the potential we felt he had,” coach Nate McMillan said.
The Blazers have not historically had the best of luck with their high-profile big men.
Bowie is considered one of the biggest busts in draft history, fairly or unfairly. The Blazers took the 7-1 centre with the No. 2 overall pick instead of Jordan.
While Bowie played in 76 games his rookie season, averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds, he appeared in just 63 games over the next four seasons because of injuries. He missed the entire 1987-88 season. In all, he had five operations on his legs.
Then there was Bill Walton, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1974 who, like Oden, was hailed as a franchise player. But his first two seasons were beset by injury, with a broken nose, leg, foot and wrist.
Walton’s legacy was turned around in the 1976-77 season when the Blazers won the title in their first trip to the post-season, with Walton the MVP of the finals.
Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said Saturday night he was just trying to get over Oden’s latest injury, but added he may soon have to look for help for the Blazers.
“The challenging part for me is sometimes life’s not fair, you know? I’ve seen this kid work his tail off. He has put in the work. He has done absolutely everything we’ve ever asked him to do, and more,” Pritchard said.
The Blazers have been beset by injuries. Starting forward Nicolas Batum needed shoulder surgery just before the opener. Fellow forward Travis Outlaw fractured his foot in mid-November and required surgery. Rookies Patty Mills and Jeff Pendergraph have both started the season on the injured list.
Forward Rudy Fernandez was out of Saturday night’s game with sciatic pain and set to undergo an MRI. It was uncertain if he would be with the team on an upcoming four-game trip starting with the Knicks on Monday night.
Even McMillan was set to undergo surgery Monday after rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon during practice.
The coach was participating in practice because the team is so short-handed. He will miss the team’s upcoming road trip, replaced by assistant coach Dean Demopoulos.
If Fernandez doesn’t make the trip, it’s likely the Blazers will only have nine healthy players.
Blazers owner Paul Allen, who himself is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, spoke to Oden, telling him to “hang in there.”
“That’s the kind of thing you certainly hope doesn’t happen,” Allen said. “Greg was just really starting to come into his own. Hopefully they’ll be able to repair the kneecap and he’ll be in good shape.”